Merger must come top of the agenda

Merger mania has once more hit the legal profession. According to the Smith & Williamson survey which contacted 35 partnerships of varying sizes, 86 per cent of firms have made an approach or been approached by another firm to discuss merger or acquisition. All the firms surveyed which have between 11 and 49 partners, have been involved in M&A discussions.

The survey also revealed that 80 per cent of solicitors' practices would consider a merger or acquisition. A number of mergers are imminent and if the rumour market is to be believed, many other firms are considering such a move.

The survey reveals the principle reasons behind firms merging as expansion or diversification of client base. However, other factors are prompting firms to review their strategic plans and contemplate the previously unthinkable.

Mounting demands from clients, the changing direction of US firms, the growth of in-house departments and encroachment by accountancy firms are just some of the pressures facing firms.

But no one would deny that the merger question is a difficult one.

A number have tried and failed, due in part to unrealistic expectations, poor planning and implementation, and simple clashes of culture.

While there have been successful mergers, these have not been without fall-out, but increasingly amalgamation is an option demanding consideration. Firms, particularly medium-sized partnerships, will have to review their strategy to allow them to compete in a crowded marketplace. Merger is an obvious route to take.

But it is not the only one. Firms would do well to complete a thorough strategy review before positioning themselves on the merger trail. Otherwise, they may miss the point.

And instead of merger being a solution to their problems, it may well be the beginning.