Asked and Answered
By John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC
Q. Our firm is a 26 attorney firm in Louisville, Kentucky. We are considering merging/acquiring a 12 attorney firm in the local area. This is virgin territory for us as we have not done this before. We would be interested in your thoughts as to where we should start and the process we should use to minimize the risk of making a mistake.
A. 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.