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HWL in merger makings

HWL in merger makings

A MERGER between national firm Home Wilkinson Lowry and Sydney-based Michell Sillar involved a long process that involved a high investment of time and energy, according to the leading partners…

A MERGER between national firm Home Wilkinson Lowry and Sydney-based Michell Sillar involved a long process that involved a high investment of time and energy, according to the leading partners involved. But, it has produced a “terrific” result that adds “significant critical mass” to the firm.

The merger with Michell Sillar represented the last major step in fulfilling a long-held vision, said Home Wilkinson Lowry (HWL) managing partner Juan Martinez. The firm was planning for further organic growth and strategic hires, but this marked a larger strategy for the firm, he said.

The process of the merger involved high levels of consultation, said Martinez, and demanded high levels of energy from both sides. “But even with the levels of tiredness we have — in terms of what needs to be accomplished in the time-frame — it’s been a great experience. It has been really well thought out, and the consultations levels have been high,” he said.

The firm had been looking for at least 12 months for a suitable fit for a merger. Using Naiman Clarke and various consultants to assist in the search, Martinez said that 9.9 times out of 10 nothing happens when meetings take place between interested firms. He suggested there may not be a cultural fit.

“I think there is a lot of luck associated with finding the right thing.”

The two firms were introduced by Naiman Clarke. Starting with a cup of coffee, “as most of these things do”, the firms met to introduce themselves. But the morning coffee grew into a three-hour discussion. “This was the indicator of the fit,” Martinez said.

“You can take a lot out of the leadership styles at the top of an organisation,” said Martin Downing, Michell Sillar’s managing partner. “The meeting touched on most of the hard issues, with real courage and robustness and no beating around the bush. It was a fair indicator of how things are going to work. The meeting was very robust and everything was on the table,” Downing said.

Martinez said the key to such initiatives was the foundation of what each firm wanted to achieve, and their cultures. He argued that if the firms’ foundations were weak, “then no matter how beautiful it seems, it will all fall apart”. This discussion took place in the first meeting, he said. “There were no illusions, no sacred cows, and no hidden agendas about culture, staff, and business objectives.”

As well, there needed to be a high level of energy about the change throughout the firms involved, said HWL chief executive Robert Patterson. There could be a certain inertia about change, he said, “and you need one person who is prepared to invest time and energy on each side of the fence”.

A merger between law firms also needed to make sense strategically, the partners involved agreed. HWL had received overtures from other firms over the past year, but believed none had made sense in building its own expertise.

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