Is Your Firm Sailing To New Horizons?

Back in 2012, Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP was going bust, just as The Legal 500 EMEA was being dragged over the finishing line by an exhausted editor. In 2017, Dewey is no more but the directories cycle rumbles on. What has this got to do with mergers or new horizons, you ask? Well, more of that later.

Mergers can create an information overload for law firm communication departments and an information black hole for legal directories.

As the partners pick through potential conflicts and move on to exciting new horizons and enhanced prospects, the comms team works away to make sure clients and the wider world know about the synergies, all the while wondering whether they still have a job and who reports to whom now, anyway?

Though it’s a way down the to-do list, someone usually tells the legal directories. (But not always.) Directories might research a topic once a year, but it’s a year-round tool for the millions of readers who use them. And if you tell the directories the details, they will update the online versions – your insights make those updates more accurate.

With 2017 already having seen its share of sizeable mergers and with more combinations in the offing, it’s pertinent to look at the subject again and see what advice might be given. Which brings us back round to Dewey.

For the directory editor (me), the Dewey situation meant marshalling of researchers (what’s happened to Dewey in your practice area and where have the lawyers gone?) and copious scanning of scant newsbites and cross-referencing of available information. Most of the Dewey BD and comms people hadn’t been told much and many already didn’t have their jobs any more.

One international law firm picked up a large number of Dewey’s lawyers internationally (notably in central and eastern Europe) and did a sterling job of keeping us in the loop. It made the information black hole navigable, the time management possible (we know this is happening, we know when, we can’t say it yet but at least we know when we will be able to do so and thus whether we can process a change prior to publication or not) and it allowed us to communicate to the world accurate and up-to-date data on what the post-Dewey world looked like in numerous markets and practice areas.

Law firm mergers are similarly complicated things and there are many learnings to be had from the ongoing communications throughout the Dewey debacle. So, if you are in law firm BD or comms and have a merger – or team move – upcoming, here are some points which may be worth bearing in mind:

  • The directories are happy to provide factual updates when old information becomes out of date, so take advantage and get the merger reflected at the earliest opportunity.
  • Don’t leave the directories to find it out for themselves as it happens or, worse, 3 months later. A big international merger may come to their attention, but a smaller local combination (or a team move) might not.
  • Tell them ahead of time. Unless you’re lucky enough to time your merger to occur during a directory research process (in which case you can fully brief the researcher as it happens), the researcher will have moved on to other subject matter and might not be looking out for the merger that is underway. Communicate to them what is going to happen at what stage, so that the directory can reflect as accurately as possible the nature of the newly merged entity when the guide publishes and then make pertinent updates post-publication, as necessary.
  • The devil is in the detail – you need not do much, but what you do and how you do it can be immensely helpful to the directories and allow updates to be processed more efficiently and quickly. So, don’t tell them “we’re law firm A merging with law firm B” or just forward a press release in the hope that the researcher looks at it. Instead, give them details: when does the merger become effective? What is the formal new name of the firm? Which practice areas are being significantly augmented with additions? Where does the merger give you real strength in an area in which, before, you didn’t really have a team?
  • Lay the ground work with the editor for a full, close review of the case next time around. What does the merger do in each practice area? Which partners are coming in? Can you confirm if any of the clients have already confirmed they are coming over with the move? How many lawyers does this really give you in each practice area and how does this compare to the firms ranked higher than you? This allows the editor to brief the researcher to make a specific point of looking closely at this merger and what it means, even before the next research gets underway.
  • A merger might not directly impact a practice area, so the researchers will be looking to find out what difference has been made. In the event that the merger has made a difference to the dynamic of the practice, substantiate the point with evidence (e.g. new office in certain jurisdiction, two new clients from said jurisdiction as a result).

When communicated effectively, all of these relatively simple points can make a real difference in helping to persuade the directory of a need for a real re-evaluation of the merged firms rankings, rather than a broad-based assumption that might not fully do justice to the merged entity.