SLATER & GORDON is showing no sign of slowing down on its acquisition rampage, with the firm announcing that it will now be acquiring Sydney firm Blessington Judd.
With the firm having now acquired aroundten practices in the last two years, the question arises - is the firm growing too fast? According to the firm’s managing director, Andrew Grech, it’s an issue the firm is keeping a close eye on.
“Growth is a risk and you have to make sure that you have the resources,” he said. “All businesses that are growing at the rate we are will experience growing pains. So far we’ve been able to manage that. We’re constantly going back to our staff and management team and making sure that we’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves,” he said.
According to Grech, there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to integrating a newly acquired practice, andthe process has to be adapted according to the size, scale and nature of the particular firm. They have, however, developed some general procedures.
After the agreement to purchase the practice has been executed, Grech explained, there will be a due diligence period ranging from one week to two months, in which time the systems and processes of the firm are carefully scrutinised, and staff are interviewed to determine their levels of skill, training and computer literacy. In addition, management of the two firms liaise to develop a “practice plan” setting out which of the acquired firm’s systems will change and which will stay the same, as well as a training program for the firm’s staff.
After the due diligence period, there is another period before completion, in which time the acquired firm’s clients are notified, data is transferred across, staff training takes place and Slater & Gordon formally takes over responsibility for the practice.
According to Grech, the due diligence process in particular can open up a lot of opportunities for Slater & Gordon to improve their own processes.
“One of the great things about this [due diligence process] is that you can learn a lot from the practises and processes that other firms are deploying,” Grech said. “It’s very important not to make the assumption at the outset that the way you do things is necessarily the best way to do things, and to keep yourself open to learning new ways of doing things, and adapting your policies if the way other people are doing something will actually improve your business processes.”
One example Grech gave was Slater & Gordon’s adoption of an acquired firm’s procedures for things such as opening matters and conflict checking for conveyancing matters in New South Wales, an area where it wasn’t previously practising.
“This is one area where we’ve literally adopted or built new systems and processes around the existing systems and processes of a merger-acquired firm,” he said.
While Grech believes lawyers tend to adapt to change well, he said that it would be unusual for the transition process to be completely flawless.
“It’s not unusual that throughout these processes there will be hiccups along the way, and you’ll have to go back and retrain people. We’ve found that it’s sensible to just go slowly and make sure that there’s plenty of follow up and plenty of group and one-on-one training, to make sure people’s needs are being met,” he said. “It’s something that we are continually refining and developing, learning from mistakes and making sure we don’t repeat them along the way.”
The hiccups might be fewer with the Slater & Gordon’s latest acquisition, Blessington Judd, with the two firms having already enjoyed a 15-year association. According to Grech, the acquisition will help deepen the firm’s commercial service offerings in New South Wales.
“We’ve been building a very substantial commercial litigation practice and we’ve been wanting to deepen the commercial business advisory area — just to fill out the expertise and competency of the commercial team so we can offer a fuller service to client,” he said. “[The firm’s principal] Stephen Freeman has a great practice and a terrific client base, so we think that the competency he and his team of lawyers will being to the firm will be a great addition to our practice.”
Consideration for the purchase will be a combination of cash and $350,000 in Slater & Gordon shares.