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Behind The Scenes: Making Mergers Work

Behind The Scenes: Making Mergers Work

Discussions were had, the deal struck and the announcement was made, so now two have become one. As law firms continue to join forces to share resources and grow, what really goes on behind the press release, rebranding and amended stationery?

On 1 April 2023, Dutton Gregory Solicitors announced the completion of its merger with Surrey law firm, Mackrell Turner Garrett, a 20-staff, £2 million turnover, multi-disciplined law firm based in Woking. In this article, we ask both sides to candidly reveal what has happened in the first year of the merger - the good, the bad and…… the logistics!


Mackrell Turner Garrett in Surrey

"We knew that we needed to grow," begins Derek Austin, Partner of Mackrell Turner Garrett. "It was October 2019, consolidations and mergers had been happening all around us, and we had just come out of a strategic alliance with a London law firm which we knew would bring a certain amount of complication to our proposition, but if we were caught treading water, we would simply have been swallowed up."

Fellow Partner, Marc Mediratta agrees. "We had plenty of business, a long-standing presence in our marketplace and a great team of staff, so we thought a merger with a firm that had an established structure, resources and shared our vision and values whilst looking to expand into Surrey was the most sensible way forward."

After several conversations had taken place, but fizzled out over a six-month period, a broker suggested a meeting with Dutton Gregory Solicitors, a firm with four offices across Dorset and Hampshire.

"I remember the first online meeting with Andrew Tilley (then Managing Partner) and Graham Carr, Finance Partner, and being refreshingly encouraged by their honesty and transparency," recalls Derek. "They made it clear that Dutton Gregory was a work in progress and explained what the firm was trying to achieve. There was not any hiding, distraction or pomposity in their approach, no hidden agenda and they even said 'We know we could be better and that is what we intend to be'. I really liked it."

Marc was not as impressed by the approach at first, but felt differently once he and Derek had met with Andrew and Graham face-to-face.

The two parties continued with face-to-face discussions on a 'slow burn' with Andrew keeping the momentum, and Derek and Marc took the decision to keep colleagues informed of progress.

"Although I can understand why others may want to keep things under wraps, we made the decision to be open about what we were considering," said Marc. "In addition to the fact that we wanted to manage the flow of information, we had colleagues whose opinions and feedback we valued."

So how has the past year been for the Surrey Team?

"The culture between the two firms has been the great fit we expected it to be," says Derek. "We kept most members of staff, and the couple who took the opportunity to leave, did so for personal reasons."

"Client service continued uninterrupted, we were able to hand over compliance issues to Dutton Gregory's team, save money on indemnity insurance and share the responsibilities of running a successful firm with others.  There has been an impressive amount of in-house training and opportunities for staff to meet, mix and get to know each other"

As one would expect, though, it has not all been plain sailing.

"The only big issue has been with IT. The migration of data did not work as planned, a lot of time has been spent physically floor-walking between our old system and the new, and for a moment we were seriously worried that stress and frustration would surpass the goodwill that had been earned at the start. Luckily, we got through it, but if it is one lesson we have learnt and can pass on to others, it is to thoroughly investigate, research and test your IT systems!"


Dutton Gregory Solicitors in Hampshire and Dorset

Having completed four mergers in Hampshire and Dorset during his career at Dutton Gregory Solicitors, then Managing Partner Andrew Tilley was focused on successfully completing the firm's largest merger yet.

Dutton Gregory has long included mergers as an important and proven method of growth in its business plans and the introduction to Mackrell Turner Garrett fitted its strategic plan to move north-east towards London.

"The single most important factor in mergers from our own experience, and observing others, is a good cultural fit," says Andrew. "For that reason, spending time getting to know, listen to and understand each other is absolutely paramount."

"In the case of Mackrell Turner Garrett, we knew how important it was to Derek and Marc that their firm was not viewed as an acquisition to be sold off, but a genuine partnership to building something bigger than we could achieve on our own. I remember liking them both immediately. They were positive, open and straightforward, asking the right questions directly."

Andrew kept information tight, initially between Partners and then with the firm's Management Board. "Unlike Mackrell Turner Garrett, we had over 100 staff across multiple offices, so needed to keep focussed and prepare communications that would be consistent when the time was right."

One of the first Equity Partners to be informed of the promising prospect was the new Managing Partner of the firm, Paul Sams who would take part in the due diligence for the merger. "I really enjoyed our first meeting and once we had looked into finances, claims record and logistics, we knew something exciting could happen."

The merger went smoothly from Dutton Gregory's point of view, but there was less change for the existing staff to accommodate.

"The IT complications were a huge disappointment," recalls Andrew.  "Maybe we weren't prepared, but we felt blind-sided. I do not think we appreciated just how many third parties needed to be aligned and willing to talk to each other. There will always be tension as some suppliers lose business to others, but the problems were substantial and that was a huge lesson we had to learn."

However, this difficult experience has brought about a positive initiative. "As a result of our experiences over the past year, we are currently engaged in a project to replace the entire Practice Management Software," says Paul. "The merger showed us that our existing system is not good enough, we are going to change it and we can move forward to future mergers better prepared than ever from an IT point of view."

So based on his experience of mergers, what is Paul's priority list for others to follow?

"Culture, Claims and Credit," he says, "We have learnt a lot in the past year merger, but we have never lost sight of the fact that a successful merger should result in more than the sum of two firms' parts. If you are honest in what you are trying to achieve, do your very best to take everyone with you, and commit to continual attention, development and assessment, you can create something that gives confidence and opportunity."