Prioritizing increases ease of mergers

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

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.•


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Especially I would like to see all the republican voting patriotic good ole boys to stop and understand that the wars they have been volunteering for all along (especially the past decade at least) have not been for God & Jesus etc no far from it unless you think George Washington's face on the US dollar is god (and we know many do). When I saw the movie about Chris Kyle, I thought wow how many Hoosiers are just like this guy, out there taking orders to do the nasty on the designated bad guys, sometimes bleeding and dying, sometimes just serving and coming home to defend a system that really just views them as reliable cannon fodder. Maybe if the Christians of the red states would stop volunteering for the imperial legions and begin collecting welfare instead of working their butts off, there would be a change in attitude from the haughty professorial overlords that tell us when democracy is allowed and when it isn't. To come home from guarding the borders of the sandbox just to hear if they want the government to protect this country's borders then they are racists and bigots. Well maybe the professorial overlords should gird their own loins for war and fight their own battles in the sandbox. We can see what kind of system this really is from lawsuits like this and we can understand who it really serves. NOT US.... I mean what are all you Hoosiers waving the flag for, the right of the president to start wars of aggression to benefit the Saudis, the right of gay marriage, the right for illegal immigrants to invade our country, and the right of the ACLU to sue over displays of Baby Jesus? The right of the 1 percenters to get richer, the right of zombie banks to use taxpayer money to stay out of bankruptcy? The right of Congress to start a pissing match that could end in WWIII in Ukraine? None of that crud benefits us. We should be like the Amish. You don't have to go far from this farcical lawsuit to find the wise ones, they're in the buggies in the streets not far away....

  2. Moreover, we all know that the well heeled ACLU has a litigation strategy of outspending their adversaries. And, with the help of the legal system well trained in secularism, on top of the genuinely and admittedly secular 1st amendment, they have the strategic high ground. Maybe Christians should begin like the Amish to withdraw their services from the state and the public and become themselves a "people who shall dwell alone" and foster their own kind and let the other individuals and money interests fight it out endlessly in court. I mean, if "the people" don't see how little the state serves their interests, putting Mammon first at nearly every turn, then maybe it is time they wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe all the displays of religiosity by American poohbahs on down the decades have been a mask of piety that concealed their own materialistic inclinations. I know a lot of patriotic Christians don't like that notion but I entertain it more and more all the time.

  3. If I were a judge (and I am not just a humble citizen) I would be inclined to make a finding that there was no real controversy and dismiss them. Do we allow a lawsuit every time someone's feelings are hurt now? It's preposterous. The 1st amendment has become a sword in the hands of those who actually want to suppress religious liberty according to their own backers' conception of how it will serve their own private interests. The state has a duty of impartiality to all citizens to spend its judicial resources wisely and flush these idiotic suits over Nativity Scenes down the toilet where they belong... however as Christians we should welcome them as they are the very sort of persecution that separates the sheep from the wolves.

  4. What about the single mothers trying to protect their children from mentally abusive grandparents who hide who they truly are behind mounds and years of medication and have mentally abused their own children to the point of one being in jail and the other was on drugs. What about trying to keep those children from being subjected to the same abuse they were as a child? I can understand in the instance about the parent losing their right and the grandparent having raised the child previously! But not all circumstances grant this being OKAY! some of us parents are trying to protect our children and yes it is our God given right to make those decisions for our children as adults!! This is not just black and white and I will fight every ounce of this to get denied

  5. Mr Smith the theory of Christian persecution in Indiana has been run by the Indiana Supreme Court and soundly rejected there is no such thing according to those who rule over us. it is a thought crime to think otherwise.