HOW WILL A MERGER IMPACT YOUR CAREER?
2019 was a significant year for law firm mergers. Pepper Hamilton and Troutman Sanders, Faegre Baker Daniels and Drinker Biddle, and Lathrop & Gage’s combination with Gray Plant Mooty were a few notable ones of many. We will likely see many more combinations take place in the coming years, with continued interest by management in scaled growth, and a changing economy forcing attorneys to assess options to remain competitive and active markets.
The Mestel team has decades of experience successfully helping law firms achieve large-scale growth. We have brokered combinations which include law firm mergers, acquisitions of boutiques, and lateral group hires. While each firm may have its own reason for, and strategy on how to execute a combination, this growth is motivated by both parties identifying a benefit to their bottom lines and a likely increase in future business opportunities. As an example, I most recently helped a national firm acquire a Los Angeles immigration boutique. The combination led to strategic opportunities for the acquiring firm and the boutique. In addition, all attorneys involved, partners and associates included, saw the new platform as a value-add to their practice and opportunities in both the short and long-term.
But what should you do, when a combination does not clearly benefit you as an individual attorney? The reality is that many combinations are made in the interest of the greater good, and in the best interest of a few core individuals, but this strategy may not always align with the goals, practice and priorities of everyone else involved.
So, when you find yourself on the cusp of a law firm change, and feel like you are along for the ride, what is your best next move to take back control of your career? The answer is that it depends on your particular circumstances. If expansion may be on the horizon for your firm, it’s always a good idea to consult with a recruiter who is well versed in your market, understands your practice, and who will provide consultative advice tailored to your professional goals. This conversation should ideally take place prior to any anticipated merger so that you can assess your options and maintain maximum control over your career choices throughout the process.
It is important to identify and connect with a recruiter who works as a career consultant and who can help you weigh the pros and cons of staying at your newly-formed firm. You may ultimately decide to stay the course, but you will do so being informed about the new opportunity as it compares to your options in the market, giving you control and comfort in that choice. If, after evaluating your situation, you do decide to consider other options, the recruiter can also help you find a new position. Here are five situations where a recruiter can help:
- Path to Partnership Has Changed
When firms combine, the associate ranks grow, presenting more competition for both partnership and coveted secondments. For associates of a firm poised to combine, if your firm’s leadership hasn’t discussed what the impending change means for you, you may want to ask a member of the management team if they will speak you about it individually. A secondary question in assessing path to partnership is making sure that you still find partnership appealing in this new firm. Understanding the new guidelines for partnership is important, including the requirements and expectations.
- Change in Culture
Sometimes a new firm’s culture is not the same environment that attracted you to your original firm. Whereas your legacy firm was flexible in allowing you to work remotely, perhaps the new firm values face time. While you may not like the new culture as much, it pays to consult with a recruiter as to whether the change warrants a move, and what, if any, opportunities you’d be giving up by leaving.
- New Billable Requirements
A cultural shift can also mean that the new firm is going to put more emphasis on hours. It may even raise the billable requirement without an increase in pay. We have seen several situations in which acquisitions resulted in increased billable requirements without the commensurate increase in compensation.
- Change in Practice Focus
The newly combined firm may choose to focus on and elevate certain practice groups at the expense of others. If your practice has fallen out of favor or is not a highly-valued group, your opportunity to advance – or even your ability to continue to practice the type of law you want – may be diminished.
- Reporting to Different Partners or New Management
Just like there will be an influx of new associates, there will also be an influx of new partners, in addition to a new management team. Associates may have to start reporting to someone they’ve never worked with before, and partners will have to report to new management.
Every time two unique firms combine, it takes time to integrate the disparate pieces. To determine whether the change is a positive development for your professional practice, try to evaluate how it is going impact your career both in the short and long term. Many times, you won’t be able to ascertain the true effect until six months to a year later. A recruiter who has observed the practical impacts of large scale growth, one who is knowledgeable about the merging of firms, their management, and their cultures – can counsel you in advance as to the likely impact, ensuring that you remain in control and the driver of your career choices.
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Randy Steinberg, Esq.
Senior Director, Associates, Counsel, Partners
Mestel & Company, Los Angeles