Q: I am a young partner in a firm that recently merged with a larger law firm. Although I have a solid, growing practice, I certainly was not a key to making the deal happen, as my firm has a number of other partners who have much more substantial practices. What are things that I should look for to determine if the new firm is really the home for me? How long does integration take?
A: Your first priority, at this early stage, is to be acutely focused on your clients. I trust that no major conflicts have been cited, as you would have posed some very different questions had that been the case.
You should get a very good handle on what other clients there are in your new firm, especially in your practice area. This is key as there could be certain types of work that your new firm may not want you to pursue, as that work, despite not being a direct conflict, could impair relationships with other firm clients. You then need to tell your clients why they will be better served now that you are part of a bigger firm. This could take many forms, such as being able to offer a wider array of services, a deeper pool of lawyers to work on cases, better access to decision makers, etc.
The explanation that you provide is important, as it dovetails with a likely discussion you may have about rates. Many lawyers in your situation are quite nervous about approaching clients about a rate increase that may follow a merger. If your pitch on why the merger is a plus for the client is truly compelling, the predicate is in place for an increase. You, however, have your finger on the pulse of the client and should thus have a good feel as to how much of an increase can be passed on and over what time frame.
It just may be that your rates were artificially low, because you were in a smaller firm, which may provide a cushion for a fair increase. The impact on your practice could be significant. For instance, even a 10 percent increase in the first year, assuming billable hours in the range of 1,700 to 1,800, should result in added fee receipts in the range of $50,000 to $100,000.
As to the telltales signs you inquired about, the first six to nine months are important in that regard. Most firms want to quickly capitalize on the excitement surrounding a merger. You should hopefully be riding the crest of a marketing blitz with your clients and should also be given the resources to now pursue others that you may not have been able to go after in the past. The firm, most likely through your department head, should also be getting to know you and your clients, much better, and should be making real attempts to integrate you into the department. Cross selling, a hoped-for synergy in these deals, also should be explored thoroughly with you.
Ultimately, it normally will take about two years to determine whether the merger made sense for you. Your new firm will want this to succeed, as keeping productive partners and helping them grow their practices surely was a key to the deal. There is, however, a shared responsibility in this endeavor. This could be a terrific opportunity for you to be a partner in a firm that you may not otherwise have had a chance to work in, and could also provide you with the platform, and resources, to build your practice in a way that you never could before.
It thus falls squarely on your shoulders to work very hard to make this a success. You will have to expend the effort to essentially network with lawyers in your new firm, so that they can know more about you, and your practice, which can only be a boon to growing your business. You should similarly do the type of things you likely did earlier in your career at your old firm, such as attending firm events, helping in lateral recruitment, etc., as those activities help to form the ties that bind, which should position you nicely in your new firm.
Q: I am an associate general counsel in a medium-size corporate law department. Our company was acquired last year. Our general counsel left shortly after the deal was completed, which left all of my brethren here in limbo, as she was not replaced. We just learned that our lawyers would be given the chance to move to headquarters, which is in another section of the country. I have not yet met with the general counsel but expect that I will be offered six months’ severance if I elect not to go. Any thoughts on how I approach this?
A: I urge you to keep an open mind until you have spoken with the general counsel and also have thoroughly checked out the area where the company is located. You have already made it through the toughest time period, where your fate was undetermined and out of your control. You now have the chance to drive this process, so make the most of it. You first have to assess the general counsel to ascertain if he is the type of person who would be a good boss.
For instance, how does he rate regarding leadership and management style, does he have a strong ethical bent, and, most importantly, is he your kind of guy? Other things to consider are the type of work you will do (will you have a chance to expand in that regard?), opportunities for advancement and the ability to continue working with outside counsel with whom you may have formed long, and productive relationships. Answers to these queries will provide you with a lot of data upon which you can assess whether the position might be a good one.
You did mention whether geography would factor into your decision. This, of course, can be complicated by your family situation, as having children in school, or having a spouse who currently has a great job, can greatly affect your decision. Assuming that making the move is possible, make sure you do not reflexively rule out the new location if it does not initially seem attractive.
My first general counsel opportunity arose in Buffalo, which immediately conjured images of winds whipping off Lake Erie in the winter and valiantly searching for our dog who could disappear in deep snow banks. After visiting the town several times, I became comfortable with it and ultimately loved it, as it turned out to be a wonderful city (and no, my dog did not get buried by snow).
Be careful about letting the potential severance impact your decision. I strongly feel that you should decide this on the merits discussed above. The annals of in house lawyers who snapped up a severance package, in the hope that they would pocket this, as this quickly found a new job, is rather long. Unfortunately, as the market for in-house lawyers remains very tight, those same annals are replete with in house lawyers who have been out of work well beyond the amount of severance they received. The truism that it is easier to find a job while you have one is in full force and effect today, so don’t be blinded by an apparent chance to sock away a little nest egg.
FRANK M. D’AMORE is the founder ofAttorney Career Catalysts, www.attycareers.com, a Pennsylvania-based legal recruiting, consulting and training firm. He is a formerpartner in an AmLaw 200 firm, general counselin privately held and publicly traded companies, and vice president of business development. He can be reached at .