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Law Firms: The makings of a merger
Fowler White Boggs and Pittsburgh's Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney discovered they had complementary objectives.
A September 2013 phone call between two old friends set into motion the merger that has created one of the 100 largest firms in the nation.
Joseph A. Dougherty, head of the Philadelphia office of Pittsburgh-based Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, called Joe Coleman, president of Fowler White Boggs, to chat. The two had kept in touch since they were classmates at Georgetown University.
During the phone conversation, Dougherty and Coleman talked about their firms and discovered they had complementary goals.
Buchanan Ingersoll, with 425 attorneys, was looking to expand in Florida. The firm already had three small offices in the state, employing fewer than 20 attorneys combined, but felt it needed a bigger presence to benefit from Florida's improving and diversifying economy.
"It seemed like the right time to do a deal in Florida," says Jack Barbour, the firm's CEO.
In Tampa, meanwhile, the 92-attorney Fowler White Boggs firm was finding that many of its clients were doing business outside of Florida, particularly in the Northeast.
The firm wanted to increase its geographic reach and, at the same time, beef up some of its practice areas. The Dougherty-Coleman call led to others. And six months later, the firms merged into Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney/Fowler White Boggs. Next year, the name becomes simply Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney.
Six months into the merger, Barbour, the CEO, and Rhea F. Law, Florida chair and formerly Fowler White's CEO, spoke with Florida Trend about the merger's progress.
Culture: Merging the firms' cultures has gone smoothly, says Law, because the two cultures were "remarkably similar" to begin with. Both firms stressed client service, community involvement, pro bono work and attorney accountability.
A firm-wide retreat helped the attorneys get more comfortable with their new colleagues and encouraged them to engage in cross-firm work. I know from the legacy Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney side, I heard a ton of ÔI didn't know we got so many good people out of this merger,' Ó Barbour says. "And I think from the Fowler White side it was pretty much the same reaction."
Advice: Law says the six months the firms devoted to due diligence paid off. That's when the partners worked out the deal's details and determined that the cultures matched. "The last thing you want is to be surprised when you effectuate a merger," she says. "That upfront work that you do is well worth it and will pay dividends because you can hit the ground running and start focusing on the very goals that caused you to consider a merger in the first place." Another tip: Be sensitive.
Barbour joined Buchanan Ingersoll from a smaller firm after a 2006 merger, so he's aware of the potential problems a merger can generate, from implementing a new computer system to hammering out firm-wide rules and procedures. He has made a point of communicating to employees at Fowler White that "stone-in-the-shoe" type issues were sure to occur but would be resolved.
Barbour plans to visit Florida often.
"I can get from Pittsburgh to Tampa easier than I can get from Pittsburgh to most of our offices on the east coast because of direct flights and Tampa's airport," he says. "You can get out of the Tampa airport where, in some of the east coast cities, your journey is just beginning when you land."
Results: The merger addressed Buchanan Ingersoll's desire to become a bigger player in Florida and Fowler White's need to reach the Northeast and strengthen some of its practice areas, including cyber security, health care, life sciences and manufacturing.
So far, Barbour says, the merger has gone "about as well as can be," but he warns that it's too early to declare it a success.
"It's a five-year process to really integrate large law firms and practices," he says, "so we're six months into a fiveyear process."