Lessons from a mid-pandemic merger
Six months ago, Atticus and Velocity Legal merged under the latter’s banner. That marriage has proven successful, one of its directors says, and offers teachings for other boutiques looking to expand.
In September 2020, east coast-based boutique law firms Atticus Lawyers & Advisors and Velocity Legal joined forces and now operate under the latter’s name. Speaking to Lawyers Weekly, Alexandra Doig (pictured) – who founded Atticus and now serves as a director for Velocity – said that the merged entity is “bounding along enthusiastically”.
The transition to operating under one banner has been relatively seamless, she explained, with the teams from both sides, and their clients, having benefited from having greater expertise at their fingertips.
“We’ve picked up some really interesting and complex work from existing and new clients, and I think that comes down to the healthy marriage between complementary skills and a lovely balance of personalities amongst the directors and staff,” she explained.
“Our challenge has been navigating the merger of the two brands themselves – which is something we’re still working through; but it’s given us the opportunity to step back and discuss who we are as a brand, and who we want to be moving forward.”
There were also significant unprecedented challenges, Ms Doig mused, in actually completing a merger in the midst of a global pandemic.
“It obviously isn’t ideal trying to negotiate a merger and build relationships with your future business partners and team via Zoom – it was a bit like internet dating. We didn’t get everyone together in person until the Christmas party, but like any good blind date, alcohol helped!” she said.
“Jokes aside, video conferencing technology was really a lifesaver for those tricky merger discussions, and we’re pretty proud to say that we managed to work together really well towards a common goal.”
In a lot of ways, Ms Doig continued, the physical constraints on meeting in person that the eventual merged entity overcame “probably confirmed for us” that the values of the brands, and their people under them, were aligned, and therefore the merger was ultimately the right move for both sides, she said.
Ensuring such alignment of values and goals is something that is fundamentally important for any boutique law firms looking to merge in the near future, she advised.
“It isn’t enough that your skill sets are complementary – you have to be moving forward in the same direction in terms of your business aspirations, and be really open with your communication around those aspirations,” Ms Doig submitted.
“It’s also good to play it safe – make sure you know the other firm, work together for a while, make sure that your definition of success is the same as theirs.”
The lessons don’t end there, however.
There are unique rewards and challenges in operating boutique firms, Ms Doig recalled, which are often isolating, depending on how big one’s practice is.
“If we’ve learned anything from COVID-19, it’s that support is so integral to navigating your way through a crisis. It will be interesting to see whether more smaller practices look to consolidate in the coming months and years, and equally whether we see new small or break-away firms emerging as a result of the pandemic-inspired acceptance of alternative and flexible ways of working,” she suggested.
Looking ahead, she said the bolstered Velocity brand is “really excited” about its future.
“The next 6-12 months will be focused on refining and communicating the offering of the merged entity and showcasing the incredible people we have in our team. It’s been a huge six months with a lot of really positive change, so we’re trying to catch our breath while still climbing the mountain and enjoying the view,” Ms Doig concluded.
“The possibilities are endless, and we want to make sure that the merged entity reflects our shared values around service, client experience, and challenging the traditional practice of law.”
Last month, Lawyers Weekly published a feature exploring the marketplace appetite for firm mergers and acquisitions as the post-pandemic world looms, and how best SMEs can undertake “strategic reboots” in order to grow and succeed. You can read that feature here.