How to successfully run your law firm through a merger

Derek Rodgers, Managing Partner at Gardner Leader Law Firm, reflects on his experience growing his firm through mergers and acquisitions.

Founded in Newbury in 1895, Gardner Leader has grown rapidly over the past decade, beyond its roots in West Berkshire. The acquisition of Heath Buckeridge from Maidenhead in 2014 kicked off a period that saw the company triple in size. A London office was opened in 2019, and in 2021 a small acquisition in Windsor was followed by a merger with the 16-person team of Swindon-based trading and boutique firm Clark Holt, carrying the The company’s workforce at around 175, with a combined turnover of £ 12million.

What is your vision for the business and why is it important?

Our aim is to grow prudently and prudently so that we can continue to attract the best people and deliver high quality services to clients, recognizing that this comes with an increasing cost in terms of investing in people, technology and other resources as well as the basic expenses of running the business, such as insurance. It’s not about growth for the sake of growth, but rather making sure that we have the infrastructure and the resources to allow us to be the type of business we want to be, remaining independent and providing a realistic alternative to large companies for customers and staff.

To succeed in this strategy, it has been essential to carefully assess each merger opportunity to ensure that it will help achieve these goals and not be a distraction or dilution. We explored a lot of potential opportunities and turned down more than we looked for.

It’s almost a cliché to say that culture is key, but it’s true. If the purpose of our growth is to enable us to maintain the independence of the company we all love to work in, then anything that would be detrimental to our existing culture and values ​​is not the answer. That doesn’t mean finding a clone, but it does mean having confidence that the people who arrive, especially at the leadership level, are aligned enough with your vision and approach to avoid fundamental changes you don’t want to see. We got a net employee promotion score of +70 in our last staff survey – it’s not something we want to endanger.

It’s not about growth for growth, but rather about making sure we have the infrastructure and resources to allow us to be the kind of business we want to be.

Beyond that, the potential merger must be able to increase the bottom line and improve your service offering. Just adding more revenue is unlikely to do much.

Our recent merger with Clark Holt was the culmination of a working relationship that dates back at least 12 years. This meant that both sides had a long history of what makes every business tick, what kind of people they are, what matters to them and what kind of future we all want to have.

Naturally, we were quite different firms, one being a small, highly specialized team based in an office focusing on corporate, commercial and real estate real estate, the other spread over five offices and offering services ranging from transfer from property to complex international arbitration. But our teams have worked closely together for many years, each helping each other’s clients in areas that a firm did not offer and also working together on common client files. We already had a common network of contacts and referees. We could see very clearly that our way of working, our approach to customer service and our approach to people were quite close. When the proposed merger was announced, the response from several customers and contacts was “why have you waited so long?” “.

From a financial standpoint and in terms of the range of services, the merger was perfectly in line with an approach – which we have been following for several years – of building and developing our corporate and commercial offer to balance our offer for individual customers. With the significant expertise available at Clark Holt, the merger represented a sea change in this strategy and significantly improved what we could offer to clients and potential clients across the Thames Valley. Partnering with us also meant that for Clark Holt the range of services they could offer “in-house” changed overnight.

It’s almost a cliché to say that culture is key, but it’s true.

Make the process work

There are many stakeholders to consider when approaching a potential merger. Obviously, the buy-in of all partners from both firms in principle at a very early stage is key. For those leading the project, it is important to make sure that everyone is genuinely happy with the prospect of reaching the proposed destination rather than just accepting the steps along the way and leaving the more important matter until at the end.

The support and commitment of your professional liability insurers throughout the process are also essential. We have been fortunate to have very constructive feedback from our brokers, Marsh, and our lead insurer, QBE. You need to make it easy for them by having a clear picture of what you’re trying to accomplish and how you’re going to go about it, especially when it comes to due diligence. They will want to see that you have identified and considered all relevant risks and that you have a plan to mitigate those that cannot be eliminated.

Inevitably, much of the first discussion should take place with confidence and with only a very small group of people involved, but at some point the rest of your leadership team will need to be involved. At this point, it is not only essential that they clearly understand the project and what is needed on their part to move the process forward, but also that you are aware of any concerns they may have themselves. as to what that means to them. in relation to their own roles, workload and place in the team.

A clear and consistent message to all staff at both firms is essential and is a process of discussion, consultation and allaying any concerns. The task of creating a team out of two should begin as soon as possible, as soon as news of the merger project is announced. Communication must be regular and continuous, and at all levels in the company.

At least as important is communication with (and with) customers of both companies, their networks of contacts and the wider market. This should focus on the benefits to them and why they will get better service as a result.

Signing and closing the deal, and enjoying the champagne and celebratory cakes, is well worth it. Then you realize that the hard work has only just begun!

Derek Rodgers, Managing Partner

Head of garden

White Hart House, Market Place, Newbury, RG14 5BA

Phone. : +44 01635 508080

E: [email protected]

Derek rodgers has been the Managing Partner of Gardner Leader since 2011, having joined as a partner in 2005. Prior to this role, he was an experienced business and commercial lawyer with expertise in corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions, general company law and commercial and employment law.

Head of garden provides a range of services for businesses and individuals, including commercial, corporate, dispute resolution, residential property and property transfer, estate protection and family law. During Derek Rodgers’ tenure as Managing Partner, the firm has doubled in size since 2012. Gardner Leader is also a member of LawNet, a group of over 60 independent law firms committed to quality and excellence. , for over 25 years.

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