Question: Three years ago our firm merged. The merger involved three solo attorneys and their staff merging into one firm. Now the firm consists of three partners and six staff members – a firm of nine people. While the firm is doing well financially and we are on a growth track we are having issues involving conflict among the partners and staff. In some ways we are still operating as three law firms. Staff are not working well together and they refer to old firm and new firm. They are resistant to change and they have created personal fiefdoms. We merged to create one firm – not three – but we fear that we are still functioning as three law firms. Do you have any suggestions?
The people issue is often the major hurdle that law firms face when implementing a merger. In your situation you are now a firm of three lawyers and six staff members – nine people – a firm three times the size of the individual firms. You are now a law firm – not solo practitioners – and you must adjust you management and communication styles accordingly. Partners must begin to think in terms of firm-first rather than their individual practices or me-first. Roles need to be spelled out for the partners regarding management and leadership of the firm (structure and management plan). Roles and performance expectations should also be spelled out for the staff as well. While conflict can result from personality clashes and having the wrong people on the bus – often conflict results from unclear roles and expectations and poor communications. Fix these issues and you often will reduce the conflict. If you are not having frequently scheduled team meetings I suggest that you start having them. This will do a lot to improve communications.
You must also review your work processes and practices and consolidate as much as possible into a set of firm – rather than three firm's sets – of policies and procedures and everyone should conform to these rather than the practices of the past.
If the conflict is due to personality or behavioral issues – confront the behavior and if necessary put the individual off the bus.
John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC