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Magazines > Online > March/April 2003
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Online Magazine
Vol. 27 No. 2 — March/April 2003
The European Legal Information Market: An Interview with Judy Vezmar, CEO, LexisNexis Butterworths Tolley
By Marydee Ojala • Editor

Because our schedules didn't mesh during the Online Information conference and exhibition the first week of December 2002, Judy Vezmar graciously invited me to LexisNexis Butterworths Tolley headquarters in Chancery Lane, located in the heart of London's legal community, following the show. As CEO of LexisNexis Group Europe, Vezmar has responsibility for Europe and Africa. She ushered me into the boardroom, with its impressive bookshelves filled with bound legal tomes and its walls graced by portraits of Butterworths Tolley founding fathers (all male, looking suitably solemn as befitted their status in their legal world). In this environment, Judy Vezmar is a breath of fresh air. She's from the U.S., she's not a lawyer, and she didn't grow up in the information industry. As we began our conversation, she gestured to the paintings and chuckled, "It's said that I'm part of the new landscape of LexisNexis." There's little doubt of that, I realized, as our conversation ranged from markets and media to branding and training.

MO: Why don't you tell me, to start, a little bit about your background and how you got involved with the online information industry.

JV: It doesn't quite fit the profile that you would expect. My background is all on the business side. I was with Xerox in the States for almost my entire career. I started as a new sales rep out of university, went into marketing, and then I led a couple of major product launches. Essentially, most of my career has been running operations.

In 1998, I was based in Manhattan, organizing Xerox around vertical markets, when the company reorganized. The chairman sent me to London to run P&L across multiple European countries, focusing on the financial services industry. We were developing solutions around document management, which leads to the whole area of knowledge management and understanding how to take digitized words and organize the company's intellectual capital around it.

One day I had this call from a search firm about a position at Reed-Elsevier. And I said, "Why?" They said, "Talk to Crispin Davis and Andy Prozes, and if you still say, 'Why,' we'll understand." We had the most amazing discussion. Andy explained how he had just taken over the International Legal Division, which was very much a loose federation of states around the world; it was individual countries in a very traditional legal publishing area. Then I had a meeting with Crispin and the two of them came back and said, "Well, you are not a lawyer and you are certainly not from a traditional publishing background, but you are perfect for the job." I remember laughing and saying, "OK, where is the fit?" The fit actually came quite naturally. What they really required in Europe was a business leader who had experience of running operations, driving P&L, and organizing the business across multiple countries.

MO: The operation here is not just online. You've also got print publishing. Do you have a different mission than what we are accustomed to in the States from LexisNexis?

JV: I would say it's an evolutionary mission. If you look on the walls here in the boardroom you will see the bound, printed material that is still a very significant part of the business. It's driven by the market needs that each country has. My unit is inclusive of the U.K., France, Poland, Austria, South Africa —I'm giving you the primary ones.

MO: Poland?

JV: Poland. Yes. We actually have a strong business with significant growth every year. It is an amazing market that you wouldn't expect.

MO: Do you have any sort of customer base in Eastern Europe, outside of Poland?

JV: We do. We do business in Hungary and in the Czech Republic. There's a lot of interest. But until we are absolutely sure that the market is there and ready, I'm not willing to expand. You have to look at infrastructure, support, budget.

MO: What about South Africa?

JV: Our headquarters is in Durban. We have a phenomenal business in terms of market presence and entrenchment. We have a very creative, extremely talented team. Africa is a difficult market, but it's incredible from the legal standpoint. Countries like Nigeria have a surprisingly large number of trained lawyers. That makes it a market with great growth potential that nobody is really investing in. Ghana is a country where they are aware of our products, our technology, and our services. We just recently did an interesting deal with the Ghana police. Now, they are not yet online to the extent you find elsewhere, but they'll use our CDs. We'll continue to manage our accounts in Africa from South Africa, however, rather than set up offices in other countries.

MO: And Scandinavia?

JV: Interesting market, Scandinavia. Our market research, if you were to stack rank the key markets of Europe, should put it at the top of market opportunity. But it's actually at the bottom sector of market opportunity because of the low number of lawyers and practitioners. Therefore, when you put it all together you say, if we go into that market, how big will it be in terms of return?

We're concentrating on a specific launch order. This year we've officially launched in Germany in a much bigger way than before. In November, I acquired a company called MBO that was, on its own, a very interesting little operation. MBO built the most comprehensive database of statutes in Germany—it had all the federal statutes and all the states already in a format that allows us to use it as the cornerstone of our new electronic platform—the LexisNexis platform that is going to be across the globe. For my business across Europe, Germany is the number-one point of entry in terms of market expansion.

The Netherlands is another strategic market. If you look at Dutch content, you would say, well, who cares other than people in the Netherlands, but, in fact, you have South Africa and other countries around the world where the Dutch language is understood. There'll be announcements in that area shortly that I can't really talk about today. [On December 16, 2002, LexisNexis Group announced the acquisition of FactLANE, a Dutch online news service, from PCM Uitgevers. FactLANE adds significant, unique content to the LexisNexis business intelligence product, including NRC Handelsblad and deVolkskrant.]

Spain is another target on my radar screen.

MO: Spain has always been a tough one.

JV: It is a tough market, but an interesting one. Clearly the language is very good for us because there's the link between Spain and the Latin American countries. There are a couple of very interesting online electronic services there, but it's still very much dominated by the traditional print, which is not a market that I will target. Print is significant in the U.K.; it's significant in France. It is not our intention to get out of it; if anything, our intention is to continue to be the leading provider. However, we want to really help the market migrate to online.

Online is not as pervasive in Europe and Africa as in the States. Take Poland. You'd think that it's print and then going to online. Well, they have such a poor infrastructure from the telecommunications side that it makes it extremely expensive. It's very difficult for online to be the media of choice. So at the moment a third of our business is CD-ROM-based. We continue to have a CD market in France and even here in the U.K., where we would have predicted a few years ago that by now it would be kind of dead, we continue to produce CDs for a portion of the market. It's shrinking, though, an indicator that online is taking hold.

We continue to see a very healthy increase in online usage in countries like the U.K. and France, and we're very happy about that. You've heard quite a bit I'm sure about our new global platform so you know that we are very proud about putting so much work into it—we've done, I think, the most research ever in the history of the company to prepare for it. It's all focused on the users. It is all about usability preferences.

MO: Talk to me a little bit about users because in the U.S., there are two pretty distinct user markets. One is the legal, comprised of lawyers, paralegals, and law librarians, and the news side, which is mostly used by the library market. Does that carry over here? It seems that you are much more legally focused with the company in Europe.

JV: Of course, everything in our business started out as traditional legal publishing, so by definition, it's the majority of the business.

MO: The online business?

JV: Yes, you have your researchers—of course the hub of it being in the library—and then you continue to have that part of the market that, based on the size of the firm, has more end-user requirements. If you look at the size of law firms in the States, you would measure them based on number of partners. You would have categories, 100 plus, 500 plus. Here, once you get to 20 plus and 50 plus, you are really in the top. We have all the international firms. It's the middle part of the market that has more of a need, a growing need, for us to create a product that allows the user to have ease of use, a lot of flexibility, and the capability to do their research online at the desktop.

MO: In these middle-sized firms, would they have a dedicated researcher or would they all be lawyers themselves?

JV: You see, that's the difference from the States, where many more of the researchers are dedicated to that task. Here, firms have lawyers and paralegals doing their own research, more so than in the States. So our excitement about the new platform is that one, we are able to bring tremendous feature functionality to the user, whether it is the researcher or the end user, and two, we are able to give them capability that everyone is after—more and more the ability to search another language.

MO: You have interfaces in French, German, and English?

JV: That's right. French, for example, isn't just for France. There are French-speaking countries in Africa and, of course, there's Canada.

MO: Are you going to expand into Spanish?

JV: We are doing it in order of launch. So we'll introduce, this year, the German launch. We will have as well as in France. We'll stress local language, content, and search capabilities.

MO: It seems to me that in Europe generally, the name LexisNexis does not have the name recognition it has in the States.

JV: It had none when I came. From my sales, marketing, and business background, I knew customers didn't know who we were because we weren't out there. Brand is a big deal. When you came today, you saw the LexisNexis knowledge burst and name on the door. You wouldn't have seen that 18 months ago. If you go to France today, you will see LexisNexis-France. Nine months ago, you would have seen Les Editions du Juris-Classeur because that was the brand. Now it's the LexisNexis brand in each of our countries.

MO: So, your branding is working?

JV: Branding is starting to work. Barristers, judges, they recognize Butterworths; they know it's been around since 1818. But, interestingly, if you ask them about online research, they now talk about LexisNexis. We're completing the brand changeover so all of online is branded as LexisNexis. When it comes to printed materials, we'll have the LexisNexis brand along with the older one. Halsbury's Laws is 300 years old; we're not going to take that brand away. People want local content, but we want them to recognize the LexisNexis brand.

MO: How do acquire local content? Do you look at acquiring companies or licensing content?

JV: Both. On news and business, it will likely be content licensing, because that is really the majority of what will be available. If it will differentiate our content from the competition, that is absolutely what we are after. We'll then use our global capability to bring the best technology to the market, and we ensure we have a local infrastructure that can bring it to the market the fastest possible way. That's the way we get the competitive advantage.

There is certainly a lot of competition in the market. We have made the conscious decision to do two things better than any of our competition. One is to have the technology that links us around the world, and the other is to invest in the local content market. We are working very hard to license all the major publications, to license all the major sources to include. What is surprising is how much these local news sources know about the scale and scope of LexisNexis. They are very proud to be part of a service so large, which isn't something that I anticipated.

MO: For Europe, would content acquisition come out of this office or from Dayton?

JV: It comes from here. But even in the U.K., you can't truly be the content licenser if you're looking at another country. You have to have people locally doing that. We are trying to get deeper and deeper into the fiber of the country to become the local provider. It's important for us to be seen as ingrained in the country locally, but having the power of international content and capability wrapped around it. So if you are an M&A banker in Germany, what you want is the best content that you can get your hands on both locally and globally. That's our job—to ensure we've licensed the content in all the countries that are important and that it all goes on the platform and therefore you have access worldwide, anywhere you are, to the content that you need.

MO: Is the use of the news and business growing in Europe?

JV: Yes, yes. In fact, the whole area of news and business—I would put under the terms of corporate market—is another area where LexisNexis U.S. is separate from LexisNexis Europe. We've done extensive research to find corporate markets across Europe. This is a significant area. Corporate market opportunity in Europe is roughly half a billion Euros across the key countries of Europe. If you look individually in those countries, you would say there are certain markets further developed than others. There are key markets that are growing. Financial services, media, pharmaceuticals.

MO: What differences do you find in the European corporate market versus the U.S. one?

JV: The top tier has the same companies, organized the same way. Individually, in each country, they want to feel they are in control of their destiny. So even if there's a regional office in London that controls what is going on across the European continent, they want to be able to make their own decisions locally. So, there is always internal struggle.

MO: What about multinationals and global accounts?

JV: We are so very keen to brand ourselves as having the capability worldwide to manage global accounts. Our global platform, with a globally linked organization and with presence locally in each of those key countries, that's what makes the difference. At Xerox, I ran global accounts for financial services out of Europe, but it was global, so it didn't matter where the offices were around the world. At LexisNexis I want to ensure that we handle the customer the way the customer wants to be handled—what is their buying process, what is their criteria, what is it they require? Very often what they require is that we are communicating worldwide very well with their people, but that we are selling to them on a unified approach so the contract turns.

MO: How do you train customers? If you want to ensure they are doing professional-level research, what do you do to help them?

JV: Well, we have the training resources in every country where we are resident. So, if you are sitting here in the U.K., you'll find that I have roughly 40 customer trainers that spend their time with clients in the way that they want to develop it.

MO: Is it usually going to the workplace or is it bringing people here?

JV: Both. We have it set up so that we can do training in house or we can do training at the location, even as so far as to say one-on-one training if that is what is required. We have extensive training capabilities.

MO: Do people pay for that or is it something that you provide free of charge?

JV: It's provided free of charge as a service, but, if somebody requires tremendous extensive, custom training....

MO: Then you would bill for it.

JV: Yes. But otherwise we really do provide training as a service to our clients.

MO: Good. I gather you are sticking around for a while.

JV: Yes. Personally I love being here. I've lived here for 4 years and I am delighted. Somebody asked me, "What do you think of this transition and this move?" And I said that I've never had buyer's remorse. Since the first day I never woke up and said, "My God what have I done?" I love the company and how it's metamorphosed from a stodgy legal publishing business to a dynamic online company.

Marydee Ojala [] is the editor of ONLINE.

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