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James Edsberg, partner with Gulland Padfield, examines the pitfalls and advantages gained from law firm mergers, and whether ultimately the client benefits or not.
We’ve just completed a report comprising a fascinating series of interviews on this subject. We spoke off-the-record to a number of law firm executives who played a prominent part in negotiating the terms of recent law firm mergers or who are managing the post-merger integration process – and we’ve looked at these aspects from the clients’ perspective too.
One of the messages that came through loud and clear is that the ‘operational’ aspects of a merger, eg technology platforms and billing systems receive the most practical effort and focus before, during and even after a merger. Attention to ‘client strategy’ (eg account management, conflicts management, practice development, industry focus) and a firm’s ‘culture and people’ (eg agreeing common working practices, keeping and developing its joint talent) is far less intense. Addressing operational issues successfully is clearly an essential pre-requisite for integration, but it is the latter two areas on which the ultimate success of the merger depends.
This priority placed on operational practicalities of joining two businesses can crowd-out issues relating more closely to clients both during negotiations and in the integration phase. The very frank interviews we conducted with law firm management teams suggest that ‘biting the bullet’ earlier on some of these client-related and internal issues is worth it. Too often, the temptation is to hope that they resolve themselves over time.
Disapproval is a strong term, so I would say, only very occasionally, yes. It’s fairly common for law firms to have to think through awkward client-conflict
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