The TLA team is made up of 9 Legal Editors, 2 Production Editors, and 2 Commissioning Managers. Together, they are responsible for keeping the TLA encyclopaedia up to date as a complete library of legal principles covering over 320 topics and every Australian jurisdiction.
Updates occur each month for every month of the year, and the past 12 months has seen over 60 Subtitles updated across many practice areas.
But what exactly goes into updating a Subtitle, and what does the process look like?
We recently took the opportunity to speak to Maki and Rebecca from the TLA team, to learn a little about what’s involved in putting a Subtitle to press.
Interview with Maki Watanabe, Senior Legal Editor and Rebecca Oakley, Commissioning Manager
Q: How long have you worked with TLA?
Maki: Just over two years.
Rebecca: I have been with Thomson Reuters since 2003 and have been involved with TLA in one capacity or another for about four of those years.
Q: What was your background before coming to work for TLA?
Maki: After finishing an Arts/Law degree at Sydney Uni (majoring in English Literature), I worked as a legal practitioner in private practice. So being initiated into the world of editorial work and publishing processes was all very new to me.
Rebecca: I also did an Arts/Law degree (at UNSW) and worked for one our competitors during University. After graduating I worked as a Tipstaff in the NSW Court of Appeal before joining Thomson Reuters.
Q: What sort of people work in the TLA team?
Maki: All of our Legal Editors hold an Australian law degree, but come from all walks of life. Some are former solicitors from top-tier firms who wanted a “sea-change”, and some others have a journalism/media background. We also have Production Editors, one of whom has more than 15 years’ experience in publishing, so I’d say the Encyclopaedia is in pretty good hands.
Q: What happens to a TLA manuscript when it is updated by an author?
Maki: Authors are approached to update a subtitle in one of their areas of interest or expertise. They address the subtitle’s content in terms of what’s changed in the legal landscape, and whether any groundbreaking or topical case decisions or legislative developments have altered the legal principles in that area.
The manuscript is then edited by one of our Legal Editors who not only helps polish and finalise the author’s update but checks that commentary and content accurately covers current legislation and case law, and ensures consistency of coverage across all the Australian jurisdictions.
Update manuscripts are reviewed by our Title Editors, who exercise general supervision of an area of law. A Title Editor is usually a leading practitioner or academic, with widely-recognised experience in that field of law. The Laws of Australia Encyclopaedia itself has the invaluable guidance and input of our Editor-in-Chief, the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG.
Q: With over 320 different topics in TLA, how do you stay on top of what is happening in the law?
Maki: We have the considerable resources of the Thomson Reuters legal, tax and accounting products and subscription services at our disposal, which helps us to keep abreast of daily developments, changes and proposed reforms.
As mentioned above, each update deals with very specific areas of law, so each of our authors and Title Editors, as leading practitioners and academics in their fields, play a valuable role in proactively alerting us to significant developments and emerging trends relevant to a manuscript –ultimately contributing to the pool of comprehensive legal knowledge that is The Laws of Australia.
Of course, there’s nothing like a bit of good, old-fashioned detective work in the library when hunting down obscure cases or Parliamentary bills, or filling in pieces of the puzzle in a manuscript.
Q: How do you decide which subtitles to update each year?
Rebecca: With a service the size of TLA there is no way we can update every subtitle every year. When I first came to the TLA team as commissioning manager in 2005, the product was facing some challenging times and currency had slipped below a level that we thought was acceptable. There were just so many subtitles in desperate need of updating and not enough resources to do all of them at once. So we came up with a system that prioritised subtitles on the basis of a range of criteria including age (obviously), extent of change in the law, and importance to users. This recognised that some areas needed more frequent updating than others. It is a system we are constantly reviewing and tweaking but it has meant that we are making significant improvements to our currency particularly in the areas that matter most. Besides getting feedback from customers and our Title Editors and authors, we also sit down at least twice a year with our Editor-In-Chief who reviews in detail our priorities and plans for the months ahead. We have also been increasing the level of investment of resources in the product which means we have been able to update greater numbers of subtitles every year.
Q: What are the biggest challenges TLA faces and how are you responding to them?
Rebecca: The expectations of our user base are changing. The vast majority of our users are now online subscribers and they use TLA quite differently than they would the paper product. As a company we have made significant improvements to our online platform with the launch of Westlaw AU which improves the functionality of TLA. TLA makes a great first point of reference in this environment because users can easily look for related content for example by following case law references into FirstPoint to check the status of the case, read the full text or look for similar cases. This allows them to be completely up to date with the law.
We are also facing a changing legal landscape. To cope with this we are always looking at whether we need to restructure content or incorporate new subtitles. We currently have a team of authors completely rewriting the Interpretation title and another team writing a brand new subtitle on internet law. We rely on our Editor-in-Chief, our Title Editors, authors and even our customers to help us!
Q: What is your favourite part of your job?
Maki: I enjoy the analytical and academic aspect of the research involved, as well as the sheer variety of topics you get to work on – in one month you could be working on Intellectual Property or Revenue Law, and in the next, it’s Environment and Natural Resources!
Rebecca: I really enjoy the feeling that what I am doing is contributing to making a great product even better.
To read more Behind the Scenes stories at Thomson Reuters, click here to read our FirstPoint Editing: Behind the Scenes interview with John Carroll, Senior Editor in the FirstPoint team.