Firms are seizing growth opportunities in a growing legal services market. A merger or acquisition is frequently the quickest way to expand. Some firms use M&A to strengthen an existing practice, add an office location, or enter a new practice area. Others acquire or merge in order to strengthen the leadership team or expand services to support a growing client base.
Beyond the challenges of integrating two practice cultures, the firms must merge two sometimes very different technology platforms. The end goal is for the newly merged firm to be more efficient and productive.
Is a merger or acquisition in your firm’s future? Consider the following key points when planning a successful technology integration.
Form a Multi-Functional Team
A firm merger is, first and foremost, a business initiative, and the business goals and strategies will help direct decisions on the project’s technology integration phase. Involve representatives from every function in the firm to ensure buy-in and avoid missteps. Determine key business stakeholders, including one or more partners, finance, operations, information technology, human resources, firm administrators, and training staff from one or both firms.
Conduct a Business Assessment
Examine standard organizational policies that affect IT operations, such as information security policies, codes of conduct, cybersecurity protocols, terms of service, and data classification policies. Include critical business activities like quarterly reporting, tax deadlines, and regulatory submissions that could impact the timing of the IT roadmap. Make cyber-risk awareness and avoidance a top priority. Identify any gaps in security controls and assess data protection capabilities and compliance safeguards on the systems of both companies.
Conduct a Comprehensive IT Assessment
Conduct a thorough examination of technology systems. Make a list of all devices, networking tools, and applications that are currently in use with both firms. Conduct interviews with key users or department heads to determine the firm’s mission-critical applications. Identify duplicate applications and develop a process for determining which of the two firms’ current applications will continue to support the combined firm. There may be an opportunity to evaluate and select a completely new application suite for the merged organization and to retire outdated or underperforming existing applications from both firms.
Create a scoring system to determine which applications should be kept, replaced, upgraded, or retired. The scoring will assist the team in evaluating options and selecting the best solution. Considerations for scoring may include:
- How well does the application align with the post-merger firm’s goals and objectives?
- Is the application widely available, dependable, and actively used?
- Is there any critical data in the application that should be kept or migrated to a new system?
- Is it compatible with the firm’s other core applications?
- Finally, think about the price. What is the annual cost of the application? Include licensing, capital costs, and frequently hidden support and maintenance costs.
Prioritize Practice Management
Many firms rely heavily on a practice management platform – a ubiquitous work environment that supports all aspects of the firm’s operations, from onboarding to client and case management to time, billing, payments, and business accounting.
The practice management system will be the focus of the majority of the post-merger IT project efforts in integration, migration, and training. This is the priority application to focus on because it is frequently the most widely used application in firms and touches so many aspects of the business.
Costs Should be Collected and Tracked
Identify all merger-related costs throughout the project, including technology implementation, data migration, application integrations, and customizations. Include ongoing license, training, consulting, support, and maintenance costs.
Make Contact with Vendors
Gather all technology vendor and service provider contracts, agreements, and commitments. The goal here is to understand who owns what and the terms of existing licenses. This information will be useful in transferring existing licenses or negotiating new user licenses for applications used by the expanded firm. Develop a relationship with each vendor during the process to better understand the scope and quality of services and support it will provide.
Make Plans for Integration and Migration
Because data is a law firm’s most valuable asset, project planning is critical to avoid mistakes, exposure, or data loss. End-to-end data profiling is used to determine the quality and quantity of data in source applications. Decide which data should be integrated or migrated. Checks for data integrity, deduplication, optimization, and cleanups may be required.
Consider working with an experienced legal solutions provider to avoid costly delays during the data migration process. In transitioning to a new practice management system, expert vendors can assist in minimizing firm disruption and maintaining data quality. Consult your cloud practice management provider for data migration advice.
Archive Data Security
Certain financial and case data may be required to be retained for a specific period of time under legal and compliance regulations. Keep active and historical data in mind when developing your migration strategy. Collaborate with records management and administration experts to determine the appropriate data retention requirements.
Conduct a thorough security assessment of both firms to ensure that merger or acquisition activity does not jeopardize security. The consistency of protocols and training throughout the merged firm is critical. Data privacy policies, access controls, virus protection, and firewalls should be evaluated and updated. Ensure that data encryption, multifactor authentication, and secure backups are used. Encourage the use of strong passwords and require regular password changes. Educate users on best practices for data protection and identify external threats such as ransomware and phishing exploits.
When your law firm merges, you are not only combining workforces, cultures, and client lists; you are also combining two potentially dissimilar IT environments. You will be better positioned to successfully merge two organizations into one secure, productive, and successful firm if you follow the business strategies that inspired the merger and involve stakeholders, including IT and vendors, in the process. When your technology transition plan is thorough and efficiently executed, the whole can often be greater than the sum of its parts.