Another law firm merger was called off this week with Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) and US firm Greenberg Traurig apparently failing to find enough commonalities for the tie-up.
Merger stories are always leapt upon by the legal press, even if talks are at a very early stage. Little more than an unsubstantiated rumour will start phones ringing in the press offices of the law firms involved and can prove a major headache the PR team. Handling enquiries about merger talks can be stressful and balancing the need to respond to urgent media queries with the importance of ensuring that partners and staff are communicated to is a tough balancing act.
As with most major announcements, preparation is key. It’s vital that the firm’s management inform their PR about any potential talks at the earliest possible stage so that holding statements for different scenarios can be agreed and Q&As and plans drawn up. That way, if a does call come in, everyone can respond quickly and the management team can ensure that communications with all stakeholders are coordinated. Even if management are convinced talks will remain secret, PRs should assume a leak is possible and prepare accordingly.
This can take up a lot of time and will often turn out to be unnecessary, however if the story hits it will prove more than worthwhile. Poor handling of merger communications can cause staff considerable anxiety, alienate partners, cause reputational damage and potentially scupper the merger itself.
The reality is that most law firms in the top 100 will consider mergers from time to time and these will often come to nothing. Whilst the largest firms are likely to be well-versed in handling the legal press, smaller firms may be unused to such scrutiny so should take time to prepare and plan to avoid being caught out.
BLP managing partner Lisa Mayhew told The Lawyer there was no single reason for ending the discussions. “As we progressed the conversation we just couldn’t find enough common ground,” she said. “We weren’t able to make enough progress in enough areas.” She added: “It was a really interesting potential business opportunity but it was always on the understanding that culturally and strategically it needed to make sense for both firms.”