Mergers & Acquisitions and Letters and Ice Miller and Law Firms and Opinion and Deals and Law

Be prepared for this merging legal world

December 15, 2008
The recently announced mergers of Indianapolis law firms Sommer Barnard, Ice Miller and Locke Reynolds with firms outside the state [reported in the Dec. 8 issue] mirror a larger national trend.

These consolidating firms are making merger and acquisition moves to quickly grow and tap into a pool of larger clients. The decisions are designed to increase a law firm's reach, lower costs from redundant services and boost profits. But many of these firms' clients have begun asking questions about where this movement leaves them.

Most corporate leaders view their law firms as trusted advisers and extensions of their own teams. And they may be uneasy about the prospect of change. Now is a good time to assess what happens to your relationships and pending legal issues if your company's law firm is acquired or merged.

It may be worth noting that a merger is generally found to work out better for firms and their clients than an acquisition, though it may sometimes be difficult to see at the outset which is truly a marriage of equals and which is a merger in name (and PR positioning) alone.

Hopefully, each law firm has done its due diligence before finalizing consolidation to ensure their infrastructures and accounting procedures align for a smooth transition. More important, a strong agreement on core values and commitment to existing clients must be present.

Good mergers should be client-centric and will provide increased access to outside expertise, new or deeper levels of service/practice areas, and increased geographic reach for those companies doing business nationally or internationally.

Ideally, a client should see and feel very little change in the day-to-day interactions with their lawyers. Firms are required, however, to keep clients informed about potential impacts to their service throughout the process. The legal industry's ethical codes also dictate that a law firm engaged in litigation on your behalf must see that process through to completion.

However, change in a merger or acquisition is inevitable. Do your due diligence and determine whether the sum of the parts is really as good a fit for your company's needs. If in doubt, it may be time for a candid conversation with your legal team and a review of your legal needs.

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Doris L. Sweetin
Managing principal
SweetinBleeke Attorneys
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