In a growing legal services market, firms are seizing opportunities for growth. A merger or acquisition is often the shortest path to expansion. Some firms employ an M&A initiative to strengthen an existing practice, add an office location, or expand into a new practice area. Others strategically acquire or merge to add strength to the leadership team or increase services to support a growing client base.
Newly combined firms must not only find ways to bring together two cultures—just as important as that is the task of combining two sometimes quite different technology platforms, hopefully resulting in a more efficient and productive new firm. Is a firm merger or acquisition in your future? Consider these key points for planning a smooth technology integration.
Assemble a Cross-functional Team
A firm merger is a business initiative foremost, and the business goals and strategies will help direct decisions on the technology integration phase of the project. To assure buy-in and avoid missteps, involve representatives from every function in the firm. Identify key business stakeholders—these will include one or more partners, finance, operations, IT, HR, firm administrators, and training staff from one or both firms.
Conduct a Business Assessment
Do a Thorough IT Assessment
Conduct a comprehensive and thorough review of technology systems. Build a list of all the devices, networking tools, and applications currently in use. Hold interviews with key users or department managers to identify the firms’ mission-critical applications. Identify duplicative applications and arrive at a process for deciding which of the two firms’ current applications will go forward to better support the combined firm. There may be an opportunity to evaluate and select an entirely new application suite for the merged organization and to retire outdated or underperforming existing applications from both firms.
Create a scoring system to assess which applications to keep, replace, upgrade or retire. Scoring will help the team evaluate options and select the best solution. Considerations for scoring may include: How well does the application align with the goals and objectives of the post-merger firm? Is the application widely accessible, reliable, and in active use? Does the application contain critical data that should be retained or migrated to a new system? Does it integrate with other core applications the firm will keep? Finally, consider the cost. How much does the application cost per year? Include licensing, capital costs, and often hidden costs for support and maintenance.
Prioritize Practice Management
Many firms rely heavily on a practice management platform – a ubiquitous work environment that supports the firm’s operations, from onboarding, client and case management to time, billing, payments, and business accounting.
Most of the post-merger IT project efforts in integration, migration, and training will involve the practice management system. Because it is often the most widely used application in firms and touches so many aspects of the business, this is the priority application to focus on.
Gather and Track Costs
Throughout the project, identify all merger-related costs, including technology implementation, data migration, application integrations or customizations. Also include the ongoing costs of licenses, training, consulting, support, and maintenance.
Connect with Vendors
Gather all contracts, agreements, and commitments with technology vendors and service providers. The goal here is to understand ownership and terms of existing licenses. This information will be helpful in transferring existing licenses or negotiating new user licenses needed for applications the expanded firm will continue to use. In the process, nurture a relationship with each vendor to better understand the scope and quality of services and support it will provide.
Create Integration and Migration Plans
Data is a law firm’s most valuable asset, so project planning is critical to avoid missteps, exposure, or loss of data. Perform end-to-end data profiling to understand the quality and quantity of data in source applications. Determine which data needs to be integrated or migrated. Data integrity checks, deduplication, optimization, and cleanups may be required.
Fortunately, working with an experienced legal solutions provider is one of the best ways to mitigate costly delays during the data migration process. Expert vendors can help minimize firm disruption and maintain data quality in the transition to a new practice management system. Look to your cloud practice management provider for tips for a successful data migration.
Protect Data Archives
Legal and compliance regulations may require that certain financial and case data must be retained for a particular length of time. Consider both active and historical data when creating your migration plan. Work with records management and administration experts to identify proper data retention requirements.
To ensure merger or acquisition activity does not compromise security, do a thorough security assessment of both firms. Consistency of protocols and training across the merged firm is paramount. Evaluate and update data privacy policies, access controls, virus protection, and firewalls. Ensure the use of data encryption, multifactor authentication, and secured backups. Encourage strong passwords and enforce regular password changes. Educate users on best practices for protecting data and recognizing external threats like ransomware and phishing exploits.
When your law firm goes through a merger, you are not just joining workforces, cultures, and client lists; you are also merging two potentially different IT environments. By heeding the business strategies that inspired the merger and involving stakeholders, including IT and vendors, in the process, you will be better positioned to successfully meld two organizations into one secure, productive, and more successful firm. The whole can often be more than the sum of its parts when your technology transition plan is thorough and efficiently executed.
About the Author
Tomas Suros is a technology advocate working at the intersection of IT and client consulting. With AbacusNext since 2004, he currently serves as global product marketing director, guiding firms through the process of identifying forward-facing technology options and ensuring the successful implementation of a tailored solution. Reach him at Tsuros@AbacusNext.com