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Prioritizing increases ease of mergers

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If you’re looking to expand your law firm’s geographic reach or portfolio of services, you might be thinking about the benefits of a merger – and the many steps involved in making that happen.

New letterhead, new website, new people – those are just a few considerations when attempting to grow your practice through merger. While firms may have different ideas about how to prioritize the many components of a merger, most managing attorneys or CEOs will tell you that your clients should always be at the top of the list.

Controlling the message

It’s no secret that firms are reluctant to talk about pending mergers. But inevitably, someone is going to get wind of the news and tell the press or tweet about it to a worldwide audience. If you lose control of how news of your merger is released, your clients may wonder if your firm is the proverbial sinking ship.
 

melanie green Green

Melanie Green, chief client development officer for the newly merged firm Faegre Baker Daniels, said that only a small group of upper-level management was involved in initial merger talks between Baker & Daniels and Minneapolis-based Faegre & Benson. Once the firms agreed to the merger and informed employees of that decision, they worked quickly to manage the news.

“We knew that with two firms making those announcements internally, that would quickly spread to other audiences,” Green said.

The firms acknowledged publicly that they were discussing a merger but released few other details. And management asked lawyers at both firms to call clients and let them know what was happening.

“So we took a pretty one-to-one approach,” Green said.

Phil Bayt, chief managing partner for Ice Miller, said that before the firm announced its merger with Columbus, Ohio-based Schottenstein Zox & Dunn, it had a thorough plan for disseminating the news.

“Well in advance of announcing the combination we developed a comprehensive internal and external communications strategy that included all our key stakeholders,” Bayt said. “Obviously, communicating the great news to clients was a top priority, and we did so through personal meetings, phone calls and email communication.” 

In November 2011, Jay McAveeney joined Bingham McHale as chief operating officer. In that role, he helped prepare the firm for its merger with Greenebaum Doll & McDonald, headquartered in Louisville, Ky.

McAveeney had been involved in mergers before, but he said the partnership that formed Bingham Greenebaum Doll was the first “merger of equals” he’d helped oversee.

“The ideal scenario is you try to hold off on an announcement until after the merger is approved by the respective firms, and I say that only because the success rate or the rate that mergers are actually consummated is not that high,” McAveeney said. “The hard part though is keeping it hush-hush. At some point, if it does get out and it hits the press somehow, you have to be ready to deal with that.”

Finding the right match

If your law firm lives for casual Friday, you probably don’t want to merge with a firm that strongly believes lawyers should always wear suits. In love, opposites may attract, but the same is not true for law firms.


froehle-tom-mug4c.jpg Froehle

Tom Froehle, chief executive officer for Faegre Baker Daniels, said that Baker & Daniels spent a lot of time thinking about what it wanted in a merger. Faegre & Benson seemed to be a good match – its practice areas like life sciences and corporate transactions were both areas that Baker & Daniels identified as desirable in its own growth, and both firms placed equal emphasis on diversity. But Froehle said that even when firms seem to have similar cultures, the true test of compatibility is how people get along face-to-face.

Baker & Daniels budgeted for travel so management could meet in person with decision-makers at Faegre & Benson and decide whether they all seemed to agree on general management strategies.

“That really is important – that personal interaction and spending a couple of days with people who you are likely to be working with,” Froehle said.

Patience is also a factor in finding a good match. When Sommer Barnard announced in 2008 that it would merge with Cincinnati-based Taft Stettinius & Hollister, the firms had been discussing plans for two years, said Bob Hicks, partner-in-charge of the firm’s Indianapolis office. More recently, Taft Stettinius & Hollister announced a merger with Chester Willcox & Saxbe, based in Columbus, Ohio, a plan that had been in the works for several years, Hicks said.


bob hicks Hicks

“So the old adage, ‘good things are worth waiting for’ is very much true when dealing with something so critical as a major law firm merger,” he added.

Prioritizing needs

You can probably wait until later to figure out how you’ll manage to provide enough coffee for a staff that just doubled in size, but some issues require more immediate attention.

Green said that Faegre Baker Daniels had new business cards and letterhead ready to go on Jan. 1, the day the merger became effective. The new website was launched immediately, too, as it had been in development for three months.

“We definitely had the benefit of some time to get those things done … but that’s not a general way of how all combinations come together,” Green said. Some firms may not have enough lead time to get a new website ready to launch by the merger’s effective date, she added, but they can find temporary solutions. That’s what Bingham Greenebaum Doll did.

McAveeney said that new email addresses were ready for use at the beginning of the year, but the website will continue to be revamped.

“The website – the way we’ve done it is we now have both our legacy URLs pointing to a merged firm website. It’s really just a landing page, but from there, you can click through to the legacy web site,” he said.

Pleasing people

Combining two firms with multiple offices while minimizing employee stress takes some finesse. And being forthright with attorneys and staff may help ease concerns.

“You communicate honestly, regularly and openly,” Hicks said. “Employees fear the unknown. It is the job of firm leadership to eliminate as much of the unknown as possible.”

McAveeney said with any merger, the key to employee satisfaction is making sure any new or changed responsibilities suit each person.

“That’s a delicate dance, if you will. It starts with not necessarily new employees, but in getting the right people in the right roles,” he said.

Despite management’s best efforts, some people may choose to leave a firm after a merger, especially if they fear their jobs may be eliminated.

“Part of the decision making that needs to be done is when you’re integrating, you have redundancies, and do you eliminate the people in those positions? But that’s usually a little bit down the road before you have start making those kinds of decisions,” he said.

Whether a merger is successful depends largely on how firms define success. Profit is just one marker of success, as far as McAveeneymerger is concerned.

“It all centers around servicing existing clients with a broader platform, so my idea of success is when a legacy Greenebaum Doll & McDonald client is now worked on by a legacy Bingham McHale attorney in Indianapolis that Greenebaum wouldn’t have had access to in the past,” he said.

Green said that internal harmony and ensuring that clients feel their needs are being met are two critical elements of any merger.

“Because law is a people business,” she said.•

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  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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