For small or solo practices, the idea of being acquired by a larger firm can be intimidating or even downright scary.
Recently, I explored why acquisitions and mergers are a great win-win opportunity for both the small practice and the larger firm.
This week, I’m diving deeper into one of the most common fears small firms have about joining larger organizations: Micromanagement.
Small firms worry that being acquired means they will always have someone looking over their shoulder. But the reality is usually the opposite.
If you are the local office of a larger firm, chances are you are not being micromanaged, but rather MACROMANAGED — and that means macro opportunities.
Let’s get into more detail.
Why are partners so concerned about micromanagement?
For many partners, it’s a PTSD-style holdover from their associate days.
They remember the feeling of working as if under a microscope, their every move scrutinized by their boss.
This management style, in which a higher-up closely monitors and controls the work of their subordinates, can have its place. A new, inexperienced employee tackling a complex, challenging project may even be grateful for clear structure and guidance.
After a certain point, however, it gets excessive.
Micromanagers are typically involved in every detail of their team’s work and likely spend more time validating every step of a task than they do focusing on big-picture strategic objectives.
This can create a stifling, stressful environment for the employee, leading to dissatisfaction and decreased productivity.
For a partner who has earned their position with years spent working their way up the ladder, it’s not hard to see why the idea of suddenly having to deal with a micromanager again would send shivers down their spine.
They are concerned that becoming the Miami branch, for example, of a big law firm means that they will have someone looking at their timesheet every day, telling them when to come into the office and what their hours are, which cases to work on, and which clients to call. They imagine they’ll always have someone on their back, nitpicking everything they do.
In short, they worry they’ll have someone doing the one thing they do NOT need: Telling them how to be a lawyer.
Sounds awful, right?
But here’s the reality: The world has shifted, and most mergers now represent growth opportunities, not a micromanagement crackdown.
For large firms acquiring small firms, micromanagement just doesn’t work.
Yes, joining a larger firm does mean you’ll have to adapt a little. There will probably be some new firm-wide systems and policies you’ll have to follow so that the firm can stay organized and look out for client interests. You can’t necessarily do whatever you want, all the time.
But remember, larger firms seek to acquire practices that bring something exceptional to the table. Whether it’s a niche specialization, a geographic market, or something else. Your practice fills a specific need that aligns with the larger firm’s strategic goals.
If they wanted to put a lot of time and effort into building a satellite office from the ground up, they could have started from scratch.. But they didn’t — because they want the benefits you offer without a lot of endless handholding.
They want their local branches to have the autonomy to decide how to run and handle things in their own offices. To the extent that you can make a strong business case for it, you can most likely even decide on what kind of hiring or expansion you do in your office.
Bottom line: You’re going to have a seat at the table regarding the strategy for your location.
Lawyers are highly qualified professionals who value independence. Large firms not only understand this but are counting on it. They want to tap into your expertise and established relationships, not tell you what kind of pens you need.
This brings us to macromanagement.
Macromanagers trust their teams to get it done without continuous supervision. They concentrate more on the big picture and the end results than the steps to achieve them.
Here’s the opportunity for you as a small or solo practitioner.
If you’re the local office of a larger firm, you are getting support and the resources you need to grow — and benefitting from economies of scale.
Think of it in terms of resources. It might not make much sense to hire an associate for your two-person firm, not to mention a second, third, or fourth associate.
But when you work at a firm with five hundred attorneys across multiple offices, they can easily lend you four extra associates if you have a case that suddenly heats up.
When that case quiets back down, those associates have plenty of other work to turn their attention to elsewhere in the organization.
You also can utilize marketing and business development personnel. You could even have a whole C-suite of professionals to help run your firm: A COO, CIO, CMO, and sometimes even a CEO, with several people reporting to each.
These kinds of assets would just never be feasible for a two-person firm. Yet, when you spread the cost and time over a lot of other people, suddenly, it makes a lot more economic sense. You have the opportunity to have more and higher-level support, more money to throw at a problem, and more expansive reach.
If you can have all that while being macro-, not micromanaged, it’s an excellent way to boost your firm’s growth and efficiency without sacrificing autonomy.
Big Law understands the value of a hands-off approach.
While traditionally, law firms might have leaned toward micromanagement, today’s evolving legal landscape is shifting toward a culture of autonomy and accountability.
Partners are trusted to manage their practices, make decisions, and drive the firm forward.
In turn, this enables partners to focus on tailoring their strategies to meet their clients’ specific needs rather than adhering to rigid protocols.
Autonomy can also mean healthier work-life balance — increasingly important and sought-after in the legal industry.
Lastly, anyone is liable to be more satisfied at work when they feel empowered. Attorneys are no exception, so macromanagement can foster higher retention rates in a competitive job market.
For these reasons, larger law firms are generally inclined to let the smaller firms they acquire handle their day-to-day operations.
That means most acquisitions can truly present win-win situations, not to mention ample opportunities for the smaller firm.
Does being acquired by a larger firm sound like the right strategy for you? Let’s schedule a call to discuss your objectives.