Making the most of law firm mergers

Having been involved in a number of professional mergers, as Weightmans and Mace and Jones work towards their mergers over the coming month I can envisage the fervent activity in the various management teams as they seek to marry two systems for accounting, personnel, IT, marketing, facilities management etc.

The attractions of a merger fall into two categories: cost savings generated from economies of scale, and increased sales generated from cross selling and exploitation of new synergies.

Achieving the cost savings is comparatively straightforward as these are likely to have been identified in advance and an outline plan agreed as part of the negotiations.

In my experience, exploiting the business development opportunities of a merger is not such a quick win, and requires an often unanticipated level of investment before returns may be forthcoming.

It can be hard to sustain enthusiasm and momentum as people are keen to get back to normal business.

Initially, the focus is likely to be on any rebranding.

This can involve significant costs, particularly if the aim is to have a complete relaunch of the corporate identity on a single day with a potentially short notice period for the marketing team and the need for external support.

Costs soon add up. These will include new stationery, signage, brochures and launch publicity materials.

Whilst it may be possible to re-skin one website to accommodate both teams, often a new website is required. Professional photography will be needed for the merger press release and consistent team profiles.

PR support is required for the launch announcement.

The next key step is to communicate the merger to clients, contacts, prospects and the media.

Typically each firm will communicate to their own client base, as it may be difficult to co-ordinate client contact data and is likely to result in a few duplications on this occasion.

However, it is not possible to manage future communications in an uncoordinated way, so the job of combining marketing databases is required at an early stage.

Failure to get to grips with this and follow up with subsequent communications going into more detail about new areas of expertise, and potential client benefits, is a classic mistake and missed opportunity.

A programme of client facing events will be necessary to introduce new specialists and communicate the range of new services and opportunities available to existing clients.

Internal events are also invaluable in order to develop a common culture, understanding, mutual trust and the close working relationships necessary to lead to team working and cross selling.

This all takes time as partners will naturally be hesitant about introducing their clients to unknown colleagues, even if they are now part of the same firm.

For a firm intent on a strategy of growth via mergers, if their brand is strong enough then it is possible to develop a brand roll-out plan for a programme of mergers and achieve a degree of efficiency.

For most firms though, a merger involves a significant investment in time and resource to realise the anticipated business development opportunities – and long days for the marketing team.

I wish them well.

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