To you and me, a silo usually means something big in a field in Norfolk. But to managing partners – usually the ones who've gone on that Law Firm Management for Softies course run by Harvard Business School – silos are a Bad Thing, unlike synergy, which is a Good Thing. You see, gentle reader, those Boston chaps tell us that a silo is what happens when a group or department doesn't integrate with the rest of the firm. Silos have to be broken down.
DJ Freeman managing partner Laurence Harris has managed to break his silos down by the simple expedient of getting rid of them. With the property and media groups moving almost wholesale to Olswang, it represents the most radical gamble in the legal sector for years. Harris is clearly hoping that there will be minimal disruption in business terms.
A decade ago, on the brink of collapse during the last recession, DJ Freeman regrouped into three businesses: property, media and insurance. All laudable theoretically. Unfortunately, the three businesses barely had any crossover; DJ Freeman was essentially a collection of little villages.
So when Harris met Olswang chief executive Jonathan Goldstein three weeks ago with the proposal that Olswang should take on on the property and media teams, he must have felt pretty confident that the move would not destabilise the core litigation practice. The very fact that the property and media businesses could be so easily decoupled from the rest of the firm underlines how little connection they had with one another in the first place.
Meanwhile, Olswang has got a pretty good deal – not least because it can now start to fill the extra two floors in its shiny new building. The acquisition is entirely consistent with the firm's strategy of diversifying its client base. Up until now, Olswang's only headline property client has been Minerva. With Jonathan Lewis coming on board, Olswang will get a chance to add the likes of Benchmark and Capital & Provident to the roster. What's more, Olswang was able to cherry-pick the more robust parts of the property and media practices – as Emma Vere-Jones reports on page 1, not everyone is moving over to Olswang.
Let's hope that Olswang can integrate the teams better than DJ Freeman ever could. And after all, you wouldn't want to see Jonathan Goldstein grapple with a silo.