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When it comes to law firm merger media, most law firms still do not get it quite right. Successful merger media starts with early and honest planning. It communicates why your clients and prospects should care. And it’s rolled out over time. From 1999 to 2001, a law firm merger occurred somewhere in the world, on average, every four business days. While a merger is big news for the lawyers involved, it has gone — like the space program — from revolutionary to pass� in a terrifically short period of time. So if you do not articulate the value to clients repeatedly over time, you will have failed to take advantage of a crucial positioning opportunity. The essential point that needs to be articulated — beyond how pleased everyone is about the merger and how many offices the firm will now have — involves the benefits the merger will provide to clients and prospects, broken down by industry and practice area. There have been a handful of truly important mergers, each one presenting unique strategic challenges. In each case, lessons were learned in terms of opportunities effectively taken and opportunities squandered. Lesson 1: A merger is a long-term story, not a news release. Lesson 2: The mere fact of a merger does not guarantee media interest. Lesson 3: It is imperative to identify key practice groups that will strongly benefit from the merger. STRATEGIC FACTORS Every merger has to have dominant themes that firms must emphasize in a media campaign, or it doesn’t get press coverage beyond the announcement. What makes the combination unique? • Clifford Chance was about globalization. • Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw was about an American firm deeply penetrating the United Kingdom. • Foley & Lardner was about creating the largest health care general practice law firm of its time. • Howrey Simon Arnold & White was about creating the largest IP general practice firm and further cementing the entire firm’s national stature. What are the truly unique advantages your firm will be able to offer clients as a result of your merger? What is your “-st”? Will your merger make the firm the first, the largest, the deepest? What is your differentiating point? For a lot of firms, mergers are stepping stones. Even Clifford Chance will say that they are not yet done growing, and that the merger gives them a unique global management platform. Piper Rudnick, Nixon Peabody, and Bingham McCutchen are law firms positioning themselves for even greater things. There is nothing wrong with saying so. Presumably, one or more practice groups will gain critical mass as a result of the merger. The opportunity for the firm is to send a strong message, in the trade press, as well as the legal press, that the merger significantly affects whole industry groups. When Steptoe & Johnson merged with Rakisons, the focus was on its combined telecommunications expertise. (In fact, the firm organized the first telecommunications roundtable in a British telecommunications magazine.) Target audiences would not have cared to hear about how happy the respective managing partners were about the merger. But they did care to hear about something they actually wanted to buy, and now could buy, from the firm’s deep new practice area. Send the message that the merger has succeeded because it truly integrates the lawyers in various offices. Begin early in the planning stage of the merger to develop concrete examples of how and why the culture of the merger partner plays a large, salutary part in how the whole firm operates, both internally and in the marketplace. Integration is truly a linchpin issue, since the media will judge those firms it perceives as integrated (such as Jones Day and Shearman & Sterling) from those perceived as franchises. Being global was yesterday’s hot-button media issue and is still of some interest. But being globally integrated is today’s hotter issue, particularly as it affects client service. While a firm’s merger will likely not be the first of its kind, a merger of significant size is considered newsworthy if it comes as a surprise. It is essential, therefore, to maintain utter secrecy until the story is ready for release. Assuming the story does not leak, information should be released first to the most important legal, business, and financial publications, as well as to the daily media in appropriate markets. Long Aldridge’s merger with McKenna & Cuneo garnered substantial coverage in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, while a Womble Carlyle merger into Atlanta a few years ago even received television coverage. But these are by far the exceptions, and partners should never be led to expect that kind of coverage. WHAT IF IT LEAKS? Unfortunately, the sheer number of journalists covering the legal profession increases the chances of a leak, particularly in crowded legal media markets like San Francisco and London. The aggressiveness of reporters means that firms should keep the information confined to a minimal number of partners and staff within both firms. Only those who need to know should know, and they must be formally advised against sharing the news with outsiders. The dangers of a leak will increase as the deal moves closer to completion. Leaks are sometimes inevitable, in any environment, so create an action plan, including a statement, for that event. Respond to early leaks with honest but very general comments such as, “Of course we are speaking with Firm X, as we do with many firms, to explore opportunities for synergy. In this market, it is the only wise course of action.” As the merger nears completion, you may need to provide a reporter with a promise of exclusivity in exchange for temporary silence — and then you must keep your promise. Other bargaining chips, redeemable after the merger is announced, are access to high-profile partners or valuable new information. Such tactics require careful planning and communication with the multiple reporters involved. FIRM SPOKESPERSONS Identify a spokesperson in each firm. Simply having them appear together to address substantive merger issues makes them powerful messengers, which enhances their remarks about their newly constituted firm. Few professional observers were unimpressed by the multiple interviews and speaking engagements that Lee Miller and Jeffrey Liss made together right after Piper Marbury and Rudnick & Wolfe merged. Their mutual admiration was obvious and served as a metaphor for the entire new firm. After the merger, immediately develop first-party interview opportunities for firm spokespersons to comment in the press. Also develop ongoing third-party opportunities for firm spokespersons to address substantive legal issues related to their practice areas, particularly if those practice areas have been strengthened by the merger. When CVS buys out drugstore chains in local markets, it takes every opportunity to communicate the new name. Law firms need to do the same. MEDIA TOUR During the first few weeks of the newly merged firm, develop relationships with key reporters. Press coverage throughout the first year is a major element of the ongoing media rollout. Arrange a meeting between the managing partners of both firms and important reporters in the print and broadcast media in all key markets. The conversations can encompass the merger, substantive practice-related legal issues, and trends in the legal industry. The relationships being formed are more important than the topic of conversation. In many cases, these meetings will lead to future stories involving the firm. YEAR-END REVIEWS In addition to the ongoing interview opportunities, we advise working the firm into “year in review” stories. These features bring the firm and its merger once again into the forefront of the legal and business press, as these stories always include the year’s major mergers. This is how you get another bite at the apple. Prepare for this type of story by identifying what has been accomplished by your firm over the course of the year and why it’s important. The legal industry, even at the global level, is a small realm, and one that is changing rapidly. It is an environment ruled by stare decisis. When you have accomplished something unique, make sure to claim the credit. A decade later, for example, Howrey Simon is still remembered and rewarded for creating the first law firm advertising campaign, as the firm that “thinks differently.” What will your firm be able to take credit for? MESSAGE POINTS Message points are brief statements that serve as guidelines for answering questions in a way that supports the firm’s strategic objectives. They flesh out the broad themes. Each message point expresses a benefit of the merger, a motive, a goal, or some combination of the three. For example: • This merger positions Jones, Smith & Jones as the largest U.S.-based Paris firm. (benefit, motive) • Our growth is part of an ongoing, well-thought-out strategy. (motive) • The merger means immediate and unique depth and access for Jones, Smith & Jones’ clients in the X industry. (benefit, goal) • Jones, Smith & Jones is a fully integrated firm. (benefit, goal) (If possible, this benefit is best articulated by clients, not the firm spokespersons.) In addition, anticipate the questions reporters are likely to ask and rehearse answers, always getting back to the message points. At the end of the day, the merger should always be communicated exclusively in terms of benefits to clients. The messages should be delivered vertically — that is, by industry or practice area where the firm is now particularly deep. Communicate your messages repeatedly at every opportunity, not just on merger day. Find your client-centered benefit mantra and start chanting. Elizabeth Lampert is executive vice president of Levick Strategic Communications. She can be reached at the firm’s California office at (925) 932-4420.

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