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By now, after five acquisitions, Bingham believes it has honed the merger process to a science. “We have an actual integration plan that’s 45 pages long,” says chief operating officer William Bachman. “Ambiguity tends to be the enemy,” says the West Point graduate, who refers to himself as part of Bingham’s “M&A team.” He is proud of the firm’s efficiency in recouping its merger costs, which in the McCutchen deal were about $4 million between the firms. “We have not done a deal when the payback was not achieved in 18 months, including travel and meals,” Bachman says. He’s also guided by levelheaded expectations. “Everybody talks about synergy if one plus one equals three. We feel if one plus one equals 2.1, we’re in good shape.” The integration plan sets priorities. Clients must be contacted immediately. Bingham gives partners “talking points” to help them explain why the deal makes sense, and a mass e-mail goes out to all clients as soon as the merger is public. “It’s really important to reassure clients that the deal is good for them,” says Hank Shafran, director of communications. This may seem obvious, but chief marketing officer Elizabeth Chambers, who has worked at Bank of America Corp. and McKinsey & Co., notes that not all businesses do as much as Bingham. She says, “A lot of failed bank mergers were because people were not managing customer relations.” Most important, says Chambers, is to make sure partners introduce clients to their new partners, to create cross-selling opportunities. “You can’t repeat it enough, like a drumbeat,” says Chambers. That impetus has to come from the practice group level, as well as the top. Reconciling billing systems is also a high priority. “By 60 to 90 days you want to be on one platform,” says Bachman, noting: “It’s like trying to change the tires on a moving car.” In the McCutchen deal, a consultant helped convert the San Francisco firm to Bingham’s system. Later comes what Bachman calls operations — synchronizing such things as how buildings are being run and how office conference centers are used. Layoffs and job changes also aren’t rushed. “We have taken a light touch in staff reductions, especially in the first year,” says Bachman. He estimates the McCutchen merger resulted in only a dozen net staff jobs being lost out of 450 positions. One area that the firm has not yet reconciled is recruiting. At first the firm had adopted most of Bingham’s policies, including a rule that summer associates could not split their summer with another firm. (McCutchen allowed it.) West Coast lawyers thought they were losing good candidates. So for now the firm permits the California offices to have a few regional differences, including a policy that allows splitting.

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