The Commercial Team specialises in editing and producing online and looseleaf products in a wide range of practice areas such as Corporations Law, Insolvency, Trust Law, Competition and Consumer Credit, Banking, Life Insurance, IP and Media.
The Team looks after over 30 products including Thomson Reuters’ top two highest selling looseleaf services: Robson’s Annotated Corporations Law and Australian Bankruptcy Law & Practice. The Team consists of 1 Team Leader, 2 Senior Editors, 9 Legal Editors and 1 Editorial Assistant.
We spoke to two editors from the Commercial Team to learn about a looseleaf editor’s role and the challenges encountered in this role.
Interview with Cassandra Siciliano and Sue Milne, Legal Editors.
Q: How long have you worked in the Commercial Team?
Cass: I joined the Lawbook Company (as it was then known) 22 years ago as a freelance indexer. After 2 years I was employed as a legal editor in the General Law Team by Adrian Deans. Seven years later, when I chose to resume full-time work, I was employed in the Commercial Team and have never left.
Sue: I’ve worked here for just over 3 years now.
Q: Cass, what has kept you in the Team for so long?
Cass: I have a background of practising in this area for 10 years prior to joining Thomson. In my opinion it is the most dynamic of all practise areas and one in which I continue to have a keen interest in.
Q: What was your background before coming to work for the Commercial Team?
Cass: Prior to joining Thomson I was enrolled both as a barrister and solicitor. I worked exclusively in the banking and finance sector. However, my role ultimately involved enforcement in the New South Wales Retail Banking Sector where I represented the bank before the DPP, NCA, ICAC and, occasionally, the District Court.
Sue: I was copy editor of the New South Wales Law Reports, employed by the Council of Law Reporting for New South Wales. I also worked for Butterworths in the far distant past!
Q: What are the typical editorial tasks required in order to compile a looseleaf update?
Cass: This depends on the nature of the product and the experience of the authors.
Accordingly, when dealing with experienced authors there is often little necessity to prompt, correct or direct content and it is mainly straight editing work.
However, where the work is newer and the authors are inexperienced, our role can be quite different. In a recent product, I had the opportunity of identifying potential authors, reviewing original manuscript and making suggestions regarding it. Further down the track I have a strong role in monitoring developments in the dynamic area, suggesting content, researching and writing the new developments section of the work, feeding the authors material for possible content and then reviewing and indexing the resulting manuscript.
In both scenarios above we are required to keep a watching brief on what our competitors are doing in this “space” and keeping abreast of it.
Sue: We spend a lot of time chasing our authors for manuscript, which we then prepare for publication. That involves putting it into house style, verifying all case citations and tagging the material in xml for online display.
Q: What do you think are some tasks a looseleaf editor undertakes that non-editors may not realise?
Cass: Keeping abreast of the legal developments and often complex concepts in the sphere of work that you edit can be a challenge. I find material that I am not familiar with, difficult but not impossible, to work on. For example, I have had to work on tax and accounting products in the past and I have no background in these areas.
Author relationships can also be a tricky area. Whilst most authors are real gems, others can be prickly, time poor and leave tasks to editors which really should be their preserve.
Other tasks which might not readily come to mind in our job include negotiating copyright release for third party material; reviewing manuscript for potentially defamatory material; and monitoring author performance and signalling when decommissioning and reappointment of “new blood” might be necessary.
Sue: A common misconception is that we merely “type up” the manuscript. In fact we do a whole lot more – a lot of our time is spent manipulating the material for the quite different formats of online and print. Content has to be styled and verified and then the online material has to be put into xml. We also play a big role in planning the content of each update which means that we need to be very familiar with each Service we edit. We need to know which areas of the Service need updating and we need to keep a finger firmly on the pulse of what’s happening in that particular field (including legislative developments).
Q: What are some differences in the way you treat manuscript for the online environment and manuscript for the hard copy looseleaf product?
Cass: Online environment is time sensitive so manuscript will sometimes be uploaded although further “tweaking” may be required later. Also, the online environment allows us to upload material progressively, as opposed to paper where it has to be in its final form prior to going to press.
Sue: The formats are radically different. I think of them as two different languages into which the material must be translated.
I try to look at it from the point of view of the subscriber. The print subscriber wants the information to be in a clear, accurate and easy to read format so layout is important.
Online subscribers also want clear accurate information but with faster navigability. Thus the accuracy and quality of the xml tagging is vital. I think the biggest issue for the online subscriber is dead links – they are infuriating. I try to ensure active links work.
Q: What are the biggest challenges a looseleaf editor faces?
Cass: Like many professions, time is money in publishing. Accordingly, time constraints often impose unreasonable demands on our work practises, resulting in weighing priorities and going with the best revenue result. Additionally, technological advances in the industry both help and hinder us. Often our equipment will be over-utilised around press dates resulting in long queues and inordinate stress on competing editors. Breakdowns of equipment and technology either not working or not working properly can also hamper our best efforts.
Sue: There’s quite a lot of pressure meeting deadlines – but it’s the same in all publishing isn’t it? That’s the nature of the beast.
Q: What are the most rewarding aspects of our work?
Cass: I genuinely enjoy working with the group of people in the Commercial Team. We share a similar work ethic which is always practised in a cooperative and good-humoured environment. Many a team meeting is peppered with good natured teasing and accompanied by delicious cakes J. Management has consistently been caring and responsive to our needs for professional development, tempered with benevolence where personal issues impinge.
Additionally, our work gives us the privilege of working with some of the finest legal minds in the legal industry, from Judges to academics to senior counsels and leading solicitors in their individual areas of the law. Few other jobs in this industry offer such an opportunity.
Sue: Quite right Cass. We have a wonderful group of people in our team. The camaraderie and excellent dynamics of the group combined with caring and responsive management make it a great working environment.