Merger Most Foul

February 8, 2012

Your firm’s merging. These tips could help you keep your head and your job

Photo: Thinkstock

You can hear the celebratory back-slapping for miles around. McGrigors and Pinsents have agreed to merge. For those leading the pre-merger negotiations, this must feel like the end of a long road.

But of course the real work is yet to begin: to take the two businesses and turn them into one. This is where the firms’ staff and lawyers alike will be viewing their future job prospects with some trepidation.

Facing the insecurity of merger

Mergers do not generally do what’s said on the tin. A ‘merger’ suggests a meeting of equals when it is usually anything but. It’s generally an acquisition – which means the smaller/weaker firm takes the bigger hit, often losing its brand, systems, processes, culture and, of course, people.

A merger can be particularly hard for those who have worked for years to help build a firm – only to find that even the name will be dumped in just a few short months. It is not uncommon to find partners and whole teams jumping ship before such ‘assimilation’.

Nor does that mean the ‘stronger’ partner gets an easy ride. Depending on the strategic focus of the combined operation, anyone can find their job or even their whole practice on the line.

Some merger integrations are relatively smooth affairs (if never simple) that result in a genuinely more powerful brand and competitive proposition. Some never seem to achieve integration at all, while others leave so much blood on the floor that recovery can take years.

With the number of law firm mergers only likely to increase in the year ahead, the following five simple tips are designed to help get you through the minefield of merger.

TIP ONE: ABN

Or: Always Be Networking. Don’t wait until you read about your firm’s merger in the legal trade press. Get networking from the day you join your firm and you will be more likely to hear of rumours of any mergers in the offing. Forewarned is forearmed!

TIP TWO: Make your plans

When you suspect your firm intends to merge – perhaps because an enthusiastic IT manager has registered a new domain name curiously combining your firm with another’s – then do your homework. Research the other firm, including your potential future colleagues/rivals to your job. Consider the relative strength of your departments, including clients, prospects and profits (or costs/value if you are in business services) and ensure that you can fully articulate what your personal contribution would be to a combined firm. If you think you are likely to come off badly in a proposed merger, it might be time to clean up your CV and start looking at other opportunities. You may even find you become part of a team that leaves to set up a new firm, which in this new age of alternative business structures could be an altogether more exciting proposition.

TIP THREE: Be positive

Assuming you decide to stick around, focus on the benefits. Yes, of course there will be casualties. But a good merger will also present myriad opportunities. Perhaps you will get the chance to move to a new office overseas, or enjoy new clients off the back of your merged firm’s deeper market penetration and/or breadth of expertise. Perhaps you will be able to look forward to more interesting work and better rewards as your firm’s profits grow. You never know.

TIP FOUR: ABN some more

The announcement of a merger deal is only the beginning. Now it is vital to get out and network with as many people from your merger partner as possible. Embrace the get-together meetings and events, join committees, sign up to the netball squad. Do whatever you think will embed you as quickly as possible into the fabric of the new firm. The quicker you do, the quicker you will be seen as indispensable to the new firm’s future.

TIP FIVE: Let go of the past

If there’s one thing that stalls a merger it’s cultural differences. Each firm, pre-merger, had a way of doing things, and no-one is willing to let go. You eye each other up as if you’re in a strange law firm rendition of ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’. But take the Buddha’s advice and remember that everything appears and disappears – even law firms. Open your mind to the possibilities of your new colleagues and you never know, you might even come to like them. Might.

Of course, all the above is helped immensely if the firms’ combined leadership effectively communicates the changes wrought by merger, and support all staff throughout the process. Sounds simple, but many a disgruntled comment in the trade press suggests an awful lot of firms forget this critical part of the process.

Pinsent Masons and McGrigors start out with a strong foundation – as both bring their own successful growth to the partnership, combined with good sector compatibility. Only time will tell, however, if their people will give this union their blessing and really knuckle down to make this merger work. Because at the end of the day, it’s only the reality of merger that counts. And that depends on the good will (and continuing sanity) of the combined firm’s people. CP

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Comments

  • Claire Cavanagh

    This is a really interesting and apt article, with some sound advice. Well done.