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Finding a merger candidate can be a daunting process. However, integrating a merged group of attorneys into a new firm’s culture, practice environment and organizational structure so that attorneys from both firms work as one may be a greater challenge. The potential problems that may occur after the joining of two firms are infinitely complex. Such a merger will call for a change in the manner in which the attorneys in the newly merged firm currently practice law and manage their business. It will potentially require different approaches to management and compensation but will open numerous new opportunities, especially with the enhanced professional, substantive and economic objectives of the newly merged organization. As consultants to the legal profession, a segment of our business is derived from assessing the feasibility of law firm mergers and assisting partners with integrating the merged firms’ cultures and governance, methods for delivering legal services, enhancing interpersonal relationships between attorneys within the same and different practice areas and building a unified administrative and support structure to support the attorneys in the merged firm. Partners in many of the firms we work with raise the same concerns that the miscarrying of a merger provides more problems in the disentanglement of the firms than the original bringing together of these attorneys. This article is intended to identify those areas to be integrated and to discuss approaches to achieve the effective integration of attorneys into firms that have merged so that all parties may realize the anticipated benefits of the combination immediately and over the longer term. Seven General Ideas for Integration There are at least seven general areas for integration that need to be considered. These include culture, governance, performance standards, expectations and billing rates, practice areas, clients, internal communications, development of personal relationships and administration. Culture. The integration of cultures calls for meetings and the exchange of materials designed to introduce partners to each other and to enable attorneys in the merged firm to gain an understanding of the culture of the respective firms. Notwithstanding that one of the firm’s cultures may be predominant, the fact that partners in both firms make an effort to better understand the guiding principles and values of the partners in each firm is important for partners in both firms to better understand the reasons that partners adhere to certain values. Governance. Our experience shows that it is beneficial to develop concise descriptions of the governance, including how policies are determined and implemented, for both firms. The development of a plan for the integration of Firm No. 1′s governance into Firm No. 2′s governance scheme, including any appropriate modifications of Firm No. 2′s governance scheme, will be beneficial. Performance and Billing Rates. Even though performance standards, expectations and billing rates may be discussed during the pre-merger due diligence process, it has been our experience that it will be beneficial to develop and articulate performance standards and expectations of partners in the merged firm. Also, it is worthwhile to develop a strategy for integrating the billing rates of the various levels of partners and associates at both firms. In the event the hourly billing rates of particular partners and/or associates in Firm No. 1 are higher than the hourly billing rates of their peers in Firm No. 2, it may be desirable to phase in higher hourly billing rates of partners/associates over a two-year period. Practice areas. The development of concise descriptions of practice areas and specialty groups in both firms is recommended. Developing outlines for meetings between Firm No.1 and Firm No. 2 partners in the same or related practice areas will foster a greater sense of cooperation between the two groups. Further, the opportunity for partners in the same or related practice areas to begin to identify the best opportunities for the immediate expansion of Firm No. 1 and Firm No. 2 practice groups, the development of joint marketing plans and materials for industry and specialty groups and the development of strategies for promptly exploiting such opportunities frequently produce the desired results. Clients. Communications with clients about the merger is the lifeblood of the merged firm. Partners in each firm should develop strategies for communicating with those clients and lawyers who may feel threatened by business conflicts resulting from the merger. Personal one-on-one meetings with key clients are essential and recommended before the merger is consummated. Strategies should be developed for communicating with common clients. The identification of existing clients where cross marketing can be done profitability should be undertaken, and strategies should be developed for the exploitation of high priority client development opportunities. Firm brochures, modifications of Web sites to reflect the combination, preparation of additional newsletters, client alerts and other communications will be beneficial for the integration process. Internal Communications. All lawyer meetings should be scheduled with particular emphasis on immediate opportunities for leveraging the strengths of Firm No. 1 and Firm No. 2 in their served markets. Our consulting firm has had particular success when retained by merged law firms to design interactive relationship-building activities to enable partners from both firms to have an opportunity to begin to get to know each other, learn about each other, have some fun while spending time working together on joint projects while getting some important work done growing the firm’s practice and integrating the partners of the combined firm. Such activities, when properly conceived and implemented, begin to enhance the development of trust and personal relationships among and between partners in the same or related practice areas. Presentations by specialty groups and the identification and development of cross-marketing strategies and opportunities have proven to be extremely beneficial. Administration. Implementation of a plan for the integration of Firm No. 1 into Firm No. 2′s administrative structure is essential for the merger to succeed. Action plans need to be developed after analyzing the support requirements of attorneys in both firms, practice support technology, communications technology and intranet. Integrating the benefits administration for insurances and retirement must be addressed. Human resources activities need to be planned and coordinated and explained to all professional and administrative support staffs. Operational and human resources manuals have to be updated and distributed to attorneys and members of the support staffs. Common hiring and advancement policies and the development of integrated compensation programs for the partners, associates and members of the support staffs need to be articulated. Training and development programs for attorneys and members of the support staffs have to be developed and implemented to ensure consistency among all personnel who are working at comparable levels. Professional development and pro bono activities for the firm including bar activities, pro bono legal practice, community service projects and charitable contributions have to be articulated. Conclusion For partners in an increasing number of law firms, merging with another organization may be the only way to rapidly accomplish their professional and organizational goals and their desired continuity of existence. However, integrating a merged group of attorneys into a new firm’s culture, practice environment and organizational structure for the business, substantive and administrative sides of the merged firm’s practice so that attorneys and members of the support staff from both firms work as one may offer benefits immediately and over the longer term. JOEL A. ROSE is a certified management consultant and president of Joel A. Rose & Associates in Cherry Hill, N.J., which consults to the legal profession. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].

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