How to Play a Key Role in Making Your Firm’s Merger a Success

The recent legal marketplace has seen many firm mergers, acquisitions, and combinations. Whether your firm is acquiring new practice groups or merging with another firm, your involvement is critical. Your role as a recruitment professional may include helping new attorneys to integrate successfully and communicating how the merger will affect current and prospective associates.

Based on my interviews with four NALP members who have recently undergone a merger or combination, I will share key ways a recruitment professional can help his or her firm make a smooth transition. There are three stages during which you can take action to ensure that your recruiting programs run smoothly and that all involved feel a part of the “new” firm: prior to the merger, during the first 100 days, and during the first year.


When Piper & Marbury’s 400 lawyers merged with Rudnick & Wolfe’s 350 lawyers on November 1,1999, it was the largest domestic merger to date. Nearly one year later, all those involved hail the merger as a great success. Marguerite Strubing, Director of Legal Recruiting, explains much of this success by saying “lots of work was done pre-merger.” The two firms were in discussion for nearly one year determining whether there was a good fit between the two cultures and synergies between the practice groups. This is a key step in ensuring that a merger is a long-term success.

Do the two firms value the same characteristics in their associates? Do they approach the practice of law similarly? Will their areas of practice complement each other? Do they have a united long-term vision for the firm’s future? If the right questions are asked and the answers look similar, there is a good chance for success.

During the pre-merger stage many rumors often surface regarding what is happening. Strubing says, “A real emphasis was made to communicate what was going on to associates. Partners went out of their way to explain how the new firm would be even stronger and provide more opportunities for associates.” Her advice to those who might have a merger in their future is, “Keep the communication open!”

Clifford Chance Rogers & Wells announced their merger months before it actually took effect on January 1, 2000. Laura Saklad, Manager of Professional Development in New York for the merged firm, says that “pre-merger, a great deal of effort was made to inform employees ? legal as well as non-legal staff ? as to what the new firm’s policies would be.” All employees will feel more comfortable if they know how the merger will impact their day-to-day lives.

To ensure that students knew how to view the new firm (which did not yet officially exist), Madeline Conlon, Clifford Chance Rogers & Well’s New York Legal Recruitment Administrator, states, “Pre-merger the two firms agreed on unified goals and conveyed a clear message to law students.” Their message was as follows: “Students who accepted an offer would join a new firm that had a well-developed U.S. practice and equally strong global presence. They would now have access to an integrated global network.” In addition, the two firms interviewed as one combined firm before the formal merger was announced. This made callback interviews particularly challenging since Clifford Chance’s and Rogers & Wells’ offices were at opposite ends of Manhattan. Conlon says, “It took a lot of coordination with interviewers traveling up and downtown between the two firms, but we were able to have recruits meet with lawyers from both firms so that they had a true sense as to what the firm would feel like when they came for the summer.”

The First 100 Days

Squire, Sanders & Dempsey (SSD) combined with Graham & James’ (G&J) three California offices on July 16, 2000. One hundred and twenty-five new lawyers were added to the 550 pre-existing SSD lawyers. The combination of the two firms began with a 100-day plan to address initial integration issues.

Morgan Smith, Firm-wide Legal Personnel Manager, describes the two Integration Teams that were established immediately and their roles: “One team was composed of all administrators and the second team was made up of partners. All the administrators were flown together to one of the former G&J offices to oversee the successful integration of the day-to-day functioning of both firms. The partner team focused on addressing issues that impacted associates such as compensation, seniority, and training. This partner team became the main source of information for all new and pre-existing SSD associates.”

Another way that Squire Sanders & Dempsey fostered the integration of lawyers was through training initiatives. Smith says, “We brought attorneys from different offices together and had them get acquainted during substantive activities.” For example, the Litigation group held an Advocacy Training Program for all SSD associates practicing on the West Coast. This training session was held at one of the former G&J offices so that the newest members of the firm could host the event. This training program was so successful in providing a meaningful mechanism for the lawyers to get to know each other while learning new skills that the corporate group is planning to sponsor a transactional training program for all new and pre-existing SSD attorneys in the near future.

During the first 100 days of the combination and prior to the start of the 2000 recruiting season, SSD also conducted an Interviewer Training session that was held in seven of the pre-existing and new SSD offices. This program emphasized the cultural commonalities of the old and new firms and the shared characteristics that both firms looked for in target hires in addition to providing a forum to discuss the unique selling points that the combined firms offered recruits.

Since SSD did not previously have offices in California, it was necessary to position the “new SSD” with West Coast law schools. The firm hosted lunches for career services offices to introduce them to the “new SSD.” In addition, there were letters sent and calls made to educate former summer associates (who had accepted their offer to Graham & James and were now joining Squire Sanders) describing the opportunities the combined firms offered them.

The First Year

Approximately six months after their merger, all New York Clifford Chance employees moved uptown to join their Rogers & Wells colleagues. A “Buddy System” was established to help integrate all Clifford Chance lawyers and non-lawyers. The firm encouraged the pairs to have lunch regularly and to share resources during this transitional period. Once the Clifford Chance employees were settled in their new home, the firm sponsored floor-by-floor cocktail receptions so that lawyers and non-lawyers could get to know their neighbors.

When Piper, Marburt Rudnick & Wolf’s merger became official, managers from each firm collaborated to identify the “best practices” each firm had to offer. For example, in determining firm policy on such issues as length of summer programs, flex-time, and bar stipends, managers shared how each firm had addressed these issues in the past and then created the best practices response that the new firm would adopt.

Now that the first 100 days of integration are complete, Squire Sanders’ focus is on mazimizing the business syllergies and associate opportunities that the combination has created. For example, key senior attorneys will be relocated to offices where they can help specific practice areas realize their full potential. In addition, SSD, which has a tradition of cross-utilizing associates between its different offices to maximize the firm’s ability to service clients, is making a real effort to have attorneys from the different offices work together on client matters. Morgan Smith believes that “working together is the best form of integration. Mutual trust and respect are built through working together. We mix teams and members of teams as much as possible.”

A merger can be an opportunity for you too

There is no question that a merger, combination, or acquisition affects your role as a recruitment professional greatly. It will definitely impact your recruitment programs and legal personnel policies, but there is also a great deal of opportunity for you to learn, grow, and have impact on your “new” firm’s strategic position in the legal marketplace. Having been through the entire experience, Madeline Conlon of Clifford Chance Rogers & Wells’ reports a very positive outcome: “The 2000 recruiting season has been wonderful so far. We have seen a great impact from the merger. Students like all the options and global opportunities this new firm offers them.”