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Merging Law Firms Emphasize People During Transition

When Saul Ewing LLP and Arnstein & Lehr LLP merged Sept. 1, Jason M. St. John kept his partner status and added a new title: head of the integration. St. John has lived out of his suitcase the last two months, travelling to 11 of the new firm’s offices across the country.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a new organization, affect positive change and truly focus on this as a combination,” said St. John. “This is a combination of two law firms who thought that combining forces would be a benefit to their clients.”

More law firms view merging or acquiring other firms as the best way to expand services for clients and increase their geographic footprint. But after the press releases announcing the deal are sent out and the office signs and stationery are changed, the more difficult, nuanced task begins of acclimating attorneys to the new combined firm.

“It is extremely important that the leadership understand change is difficult for most people; therefore the integration plan needs to be designed with that in mind,” said Randi Lewis, director at global attorney consultancy firm Major, Lindsey & Africa, which assisted in the Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr combination.

Lewis, the Baltimore-based consultant, said forming bonds early is key to a successful merger.

“Cultural integration starts occurring intentionally or just granularly during the courtship process, during the interview process because people are in their mind determining whether the people they’re meeting are a cultural fit,” Lewis said.


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