Given the high rate of M&A activity in law firms, it is likely that you will be involved in an acquisition at some point in your career.
I have – a few actually. I worked on the merger of McKee Nelson with Bingham McCutchen when I was an in-house marketing professional and today, as a consultant to small- and mid-size law firms.
A merger or acquisition presents unique marketing challenges. At the heart of it, the merging of two organizations, no matter how carefully planned, brings strategic, logistical and cultural pressures that must be recognized and addressed in order to avoid confusion, errors, loss of clients or loss of key employees.
There are so many things to think about when it comes to a law firm merger and having a strong marketing and business development plan in place is incredibly important.
A merger should not be an endgame for its own sake. Instead, it should serve a broader business goal.
For some firms, that might be reaching new markets or adding practice groups that clients are demanding. For other firms, that might be recruiting higher-caliber lawyers or creating efficiency.
Your main focus during a merger should be on your people – your clients and your employees.
Here are some things to think about when it comes to planning your marketing strategy.
- Create a transition team that includes all functional areas of the firm
- Clarify marketing roles and relationships
- Identify the firm’s key clients, resolve conflicts, appoint client relationship partners for each, assemble new client teams, consult with these clients to explain the benefits of the merger to them, draw up client service plans for each and put these into action.
- Build PR plan, internal communications plan and social media plan
- When crafting communications of the change, ensure they are positive, detailed and offer additional resources for those who want to learn more. An internal FAQ document can be an effective way to quickly answer common questions.
- Work closely with recruiting and human resources on the various people issues that will inevitably come up during the merger process
- Create and implement client communications plan and strategy
- Address branding/rebranding issues
- Meet early on with key partners at target firm to discuss BD/marketing strategy and other important items
- Talk to target firm’s web site company about plan for switching over website once combination is complete.
- What will the message be on the site?
- Which pages will still be active?
- Make sure all email addresses from prior firm are forwarded for a prolonged period to the new firm’s email (at least 6 months)
- Review and revise all bios/practice and industry descriptions as necessary
- Rewrite web copy – about us, diversity, recruiting, pro bono, etc.
- Identify marketing redundancies and opportunities
- Take stock of pitches and proposals in the pipeline and work to combine experience together
- Take inventory of marketing assets that need to be changed
- Do you need to co-brand or rebrand your marketing collateral?
- Create a new logo? Apply an existing logo from one of the firms to both firms?
- Website, bios, printed collateral, business cards and even signage are among the many items that will have to be updated.
- Be sure to make a very detailed list of all the moving pieces to ensure that nothing is missed.
- Take stock of upcoming events, sponsorships and other commitments that both firms have to plan ahead and to strategically decide on who should attend/speak
- If there is overlap with offices in the same city, discuss strategy for communication and listing those on public facing materials until lease issues are worked out.
- Ensure that any new offices obtained as a result of the merger are incorporated into your strategic marketing and PR plan (think about local markets for press and events).
- Regularly communicate internally during this time – it is very important to build your employee advocacy program
- Identify key audiences and tailor messaging and communicate regularly to your key audiences – clients, prospects, alumni, law schools, recruits, vendors, etc.
- Plan website updates to announce the acquisition/new firm name/transition
- Distribute email announcement to clients and other key audiences
- Above all, approach everything with empathy, understanding and transparency – especially when it comes to the firm being acquired. Change is not easy for anyone – and this is a big one – even if it is an exciting time.
Also note that information leaks can derail merger plans.
Be sure that only key internal stakeholders are aware of the plans for as long as possible. Once you begin sharing the news with a broader internal audience, have your key messages, press release and social media posts ready to go.
Make sure you can answer these questions:
- What are your contingency plans if the media leak specific details of the merger before the firm is ready to release information?
- How will you deal with leaks to the media if merger negotiations fail?
Post-merger, your main marketing challenges will be to manage the communication around any departing lawyers, clients who may be leaving the firm and to monitor that any promises made before the merger, especially to key clients, are being delivered.
Also, ensure that partners, lawyers and staff are happy in their new roles. If they aren’t, they could leave the firm and that’s the last thing you want during a merger.
Law firm mergers are complicated, and you should have a strong professional at the helm when it comes to marketing. Feel free to contact me if you need help in this area.