Property Writes – July 2013

Liberty Co.CourthousePhoto081010_JPG_1106953256
Megan Wierenga Aumentum, Newsletters, Resources July 29, 2013


It has been two months since I became the Managing Director for our government business. I come to this team with 26 years experience in the tax space, the last 19 years with Thomson Reuters – my most recent position based in London as General Manager for our Europe, Middle East, and Africa market.Tom-Walsh

It has been an exciting start. In May our team organized a Thomson Reuters Newsmaker with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in Washington, D.C. thanks to our important work in Liberia around land registration. This event was moderated by Axel Threlfall, Reuters TV News Anchor, the event focused on economic and social development with land reform and administration as an important theme. 180 people attended the event, and 5000 people watched the live broadcast.

After the Newsmaker I had a few moments to chat with President Sirleaf. In speaking about the MCC and USAID Land Policy Institutional Strengthening (LPIS) project our team has supported, President Sirleaf requested we consider how we can further support her nation in overcoming their capabilities gap. She explained that once technically educated, many of the newly educated Liberians are leaving the country as the lingering effects of the prolonged civil conflict are still weighing on the economy, and this poses significant challenges for her administration, because the government needs to retain skilled and talented people in order to sustain growth and prosperity.

These words from President Sirleaf crystallized for me the impact our team can have on not only deploying technology and tools to support land administration and tax reform, but also how and why we need to invest even more in developing tools and resources that can provide even more support for our government customers through ongoing and sustained training, educating, advising, and consulting on the important transformational work we are engaged in. As such, we are increasing the size and expanding the skills sets of our team.

I also had the good fortune to have been invited to a G8 workshop in London June 15 hosted by British Prime Minister David Cameron. Over 150 participants, including five African Presidents, numerous African and European ministers, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and members of PM Cameron’s Cabinet, met to discuss the 2013 G8 Agenda of Trade, Tax, and Transparency.

I participated in a break-out workshop on transparency in land rights and transactions, however, I came away inspired that the whole of Thomson Reuters is well aligned with the G8 priorities. Reuters News professionals support press and speech freedom – important to transparency. Additionally, we have information platforms that support trade (Eikon), legal professionals (Westlaw), intellectual property (MarkMonitor), and tax compliance (ONESOURCE). Plus the Thomson Reuters Foundation has provided much leadership by providing pro bono legal and research support for non-government organizations, including on land rights and gender rights.

It’s the sum of parts at Thomson Reuters that is providing the insightful and intelligent information solutions that support Prime Minister Cameron’s 3Ts (trade, tax, and transparency) for this year’s G8. It energizes me to see that our day-to-day work is so well aligned to the contemporary needs of global development.

Our mature and growing experience domestically in the US permits us to extend that learning to our emerging markets and customers and to in turn pass new learnings and experiences back to our US market. After all this circle of learning is how international best practices are derived.

To our customers, I have met many of you and look forward to meeting all of you, so as to better understand how we can even better support you. Thomson Reuters continues to invest in research and development, but also in our people and processes, so we can continue to enable excellence through expertise, technology and people – to help you govern more transparently, efficiently, and equitably.

Please do not hesitate to contact me directly at or by calling +1 734 426 7650.



Tom Walsh
Managing Director and SeniorVice President
Thomson Reuters tax & accounting government business


Monique Villa

Monique Villa is the CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation; also a journalist, business leader, and a passionate advocate for women’s empowerment. In this interview, she highlights how the Thomson Reuters Foundation supports NGOs and civil society groups through a host of services, including legal research work on land rights and gender equality.

Q: What was the genesis of the Thomson Reuters Foundation? How did it come into being?

The Foundation celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. I took over as CEO five years ago, and was asked to expand the organization to reflect the unique set of skills of Thomson Reuters. Before I came on board the Foundation was focused mainly on the training of journalists around the world while also managing the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, which – thanks to a partnership with the University of Oxford – produces outstanding research on journalism and its trends The Foundation was also the driving force behind AlertNet , a website for humanitarian news, well established among aid workers internationally.

Three years ago I launched a new program called TrustLaw. The idea was to create a marketplace to expand the practice of pro bono legal support around the world. Pro bono legal assistance is in fact very well organized only in a handful of countries mainly the U.K., U.S., Australia, Canada and South Africa but it’s only regulated ad hoc in other countries while simply not existent in others. So the idea was to spread the practice to support non-government organizations (NGOs) and civil society in more countries. Law firms told us that they needed assurance that NGOs were not covers for nefarious groups or to make sure social entrepreneurs were not billionaires who could otherwise pay for legal services.

Since then, TrustLaw has grown massively to 1200 members and with 300 law firms connected. We now operate in 145 countries, and the service has become the biggest market place for pro bono legal services around the world. Three years ago, when we embarked on this journey, I only had one person to support the project, today Trustlaw is a vibrant and fast-expanding team of 15 people some of them located in Beijing, Bombay, Sao Paulo, and soon to be South Africa. In the first two years, law firms donated $25 million in legal support to NGOs and civil society groups through TrustLaw. It’s quite remarkable.

Q: How does the Foundation support land reform and land rights?

We have been involved in land rights because organizations such as One and Landesa are members of TrustLaw. Both asked us for help, and we were happy to assist. So, to an extent, our involvement with land rights has been a direct result of the needs of the Trust Law clients

Q: So you’re seeing land issues bubble-up through the NGOs and civil society groups?

Absolutely. Corruption and women’s rights are among the key areas of focus for the Foundation, and they are cross-cutting among all three programmes Land rights is naturally intertwined with all this.

Q: Going back to women’s rights, based on your global insights, what is that connection between land tenure security and gender equality? How can better more secure land rights lead to healthier and more prosperous communities?

Women are penalized when it comes to land rights. The latest UNDP figures show that women own 1 percent of the world’s land. Let’s assume for a second that that percentage is wrong. Let’s assume that there is a huge margin of error and that they actually own 10 to 20 percent of the world’s land, that would still be a staggering figure, considering that women represent 50 percent of the world’s population. Something is clearly wrong.

Not to mention that there are still countries where a widow automatically loses all rights to the land her husband may have had. This is a not just a land rights problem, this is a big inequality issue.

We are currently working on an interesting project on women and land rights, in partnership with the World Bank. We are researching laws which affect women’s access to finance and financial resources, particularly women’s ability to own, use, and distribute assets including land. For example, in the event of a divorce, what are a woman’s rights over her land? Or can she leave land as part of her inheritance? The answers to these questions have a huge impact on women’s ability to participate in the economy. The research is looking at both statutory laws and customary laws (ie Sharia law or tribal laws). This research is ongoing in Bangladesh, India, Cambodia, Nigeria, Sudan, Uganda, Tunisia, and Zambia.

Q: The Foundation is supporting NGOs research the applicability of the U.N. F.A.O. Voluntary Guidelines on Land Governance, and also is working with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. So how can other groups get connected with TrustLaw?

It’s extremely easy, they just need to become members of TrustLaw. Membership is free. We receive requests for assistance from NGOs and social enterprises, and our team of lawyers helps them refine their requests before reaching out to the law firms which are part of the network. Once a NGO is matched with a law firm we make sure the engagement runs smoothly and we provide assistance on both sides all the way. When the research is completed we make it available to the public to maximize its impact.

Monique Villa recently gave a TEDx Houses of Parliament presentation on the power of data and the changing role of philanthropists. Against the backdrop of the recently launched Foundation-led alliance to fight human trafficking, Monique called on a new set of ‘unlikely superheroes’ including bankers, lawyers, and reporters to ‘suit up’ and join the global fight against crime and injustice. Click here to watch the video.


On-Site Team Leverages Aumentum Recorder Backfile Conversion to Scan and Index More Than 750K Historical Records and Images

Located northeast of Houston, Liberty County in Texas has a population of more than 76,000 people with lands that cover nearly 1,200 square miles. The County Clerk’s office manages approximately 75,000 land parcel records, with office personnel processing 100 to 300 documents per day. The County features such a widespread area that many citizens have to travel 30 miles or more to reach the County offices.

The Challenge: Preserve Aging Documents While Enhancing Record AccessLiberty Co.CourthousePhoto081010_JPG_1106953256

Having worked with Liberty County as an oil and gas landman for several years before coming on board as County Clerk, Paulette Williams already knew the County books that stored property images, documents and plat maps were deteriorating rapidly. “The more we use the books, the more the documents became worn and tattered,” Williams says. “We knew they would not last much longer, and given the historical importance of the documents, we needed to start preserving them.”

In addition to protecting land documents and images, Williams also wanted to streamline the process for viewing documents. Each time a document requires a review, the staff has to locate the appropriate book, unbind the book, and retrieve the document while requestors wait. The staff then has to go through the process in reverse once the document review is completed.

“In addition to the burden this placed on our staff time, the process was also a hassle for our citizens that often have to travel long distances to reach our offices,” Williams adds. “We wanted to find a solution that would make it easier and faster for citizens to access the land documents they require.”

To initially address the challenge, the Liberty County staff started creating digital images of the land documents by scanning current documents as well as historical documents when spare time allowed. But with more than 750,000 documents and nearly 5,000 plat maps, the task proved insurmountable. The County staff made some progress, but the process was painfully slow since the staff spends most of its day taking care of daily tasks and citizen requests.

“It took us about a year to scan a year’s worth of historical documents, and to create a truly efficient system, we needed to index the documents so each one could be found quickly,” Williams says. “We also wanted to make the records available to citizens via the Internet so they would not have to travel at all.”

The Solution: Thomson Reuters Aumentum Recorder Backfile Conversion

To take on the land-document scanning and indexing challenge, Liberty County turned to Thomson Reuters, which has provided integrated records management solutions to the County for many years. “For the scanning phase, we first collaborated with an oil and gas landman, who wanted to scan all of our documents and offered to provide us with copies,” Williams says. “But the process bogged down, and we soon realized scanning and indexing integration is critical. Scanning documents to create digital copies helps preserve them, but indexing is required for efficient access.”

Thomson Reuters suggested that Liberty County leverage the Thomson Reuters Aumentum Recorder Backfile Conversion Module. The module converts hard-copy media into digital images and provides rapid, highly-accurate indexing as well as indexing verification. In addition to providing secure and cost-effective storage of paper and digital images, Backfile Conversion also offers accurate redaction of personal information from public documents.

“There are other firms we could have turned to for basic scanning, but the combination of scanning, high-quality imaging and indexing Thomson Reuters offers is a unique, key differentiator,” says Williams. “Indexing enables a smooth and seamless search experience—without it, we would still spend a lot of time looking for documents.”
Another key aspect for the County in partnering with Thomson Reuters is the ability to help justify the cost of solutions. For funding, Williams needs to work with the Commissioner’s Court, which has to approve any records-management-fund spending by the County.

“Thomson Reuters came through for my team by presenting all key information that clearly demonstrated the ROI of Backfile Conversion,” Williams says. “They made it easier for the Commissioner’s Court to understand the value of the solution so we could secure the funding.”

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Recently, our team in the Portage, MI office along with others across TRTA-Government, gathered in order to celebrate one of our own.  Tammy Riggs was recently recognized in an article by Women Engineer magazine for her efforts and career here at Thomson Reuters.

Click here to read more and join us in congratulating Tammy!