Our firm is a 16 attorney insurance defense firm in Central Illinois. We have 8 partners and 8 associates. We are in second generation, have inherited our existing clients from the original founders, and currently have no rainmakers. We need to bring some rainmakers into our partner ranks and have been discussing the possibility of merger. I would appreciate your thoughts.
While mergers can be a valid option making them work is often another matter. Research indicates that one third to one half of all mergers fail to meet expectations due to cultural misalignment and personnel problems. Don't try to use a merger or acquisition as a life raft, for the wrong reasons and as your sole strategy. Successful mergers are based upon a sound integrated business strategy that creates synergy and a combined firm that produces greater client value than either firm can produced alone.
There can be a whole list of reasons for failure including poor financial performance, attorney defections, loss of key clients, and leadership and management issues. However, it has been our experience that most failures have been the result of poor cultural fit. The merging firms - after they have moved past conflict checks and excitement about new client potential - jump immediately to an examination of practice economics and the financials. They fail to perform proper due diligence on the people. It is critical that firms insure that cultural due diligence is a key component of the merger assessment process. Philosophies, personalities, and life styles should be generally compatible. The partners should like each other and the deal should make sense.
The question is not the what (merge) but the who (people).
I would suggest that you consider a lateral strategy as well as a merger strategy and let the WHO and right fit direct your thought process. Also insure that you have fully explored whether you have really developed the business development potential of the partners you have now.
John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC