For over a decade, Marla Zide owned her own practice, the Law Office of Marla Zide, an Anne Arundel firm specializing in family, criminal, and bankruptcy law. While Zide found owning her own firm to be rewarding, she noted it presents certain challenges, like how to handle growth and navigate the future. Recently, members of Zide’s team began to discuss the longevity of the firm and their roles going forward. Zide, who was not sure she wanted to remain at the helm forever, wanted to keep her attorneys and staff motivated to work together. To Zide, this meant that it was important for her to emphasize what was good for the firm as a whole over what was best for her as the sole named partner, which ultimately led to her decision to merge with another firm.
Zide and her team members decided to look at solo practitioners who were doing well and had successful practices of their own, but that would greatly benefit from having a team behind them to support their very strong litigation skills. Zide reports, “we were fortunate to find that person in Kelly Spigel,” of the Law Office of Kelly Spigel, a family law firm in Anne Arundel County. Zide and Spigel began having conversations. They discussed what combining practices would look like, and how best to structure the new firm, and ultimately merged to form ZSTS Law Group. We recently spoke with Zide to gain insight into what merging of two firms entails.
Zide noted she had to address multiple issues that are common when merging firms. First, they needed to identify any actual or potential conflicts of interest. They had to determine the logistics of the merger as well. Fortunately, Zide’s firm was in an office that allowed them to expand. Spigel’s firm happened to be in the same building, and they were able to negotiate with the landlord to terminate Spigel’s lease in conjunction with enlarging Zide’s space.
They also discussed the rebranding and marketing of the new team, which required a new logo design, letterhead, and website. In order to maximize their exposure and maintain their internet presence they currently maintain three websites: one for ZSTS Law Group and one for both of their prior firms that redirects people to the new site. Zide noted that attorneys merging firms may also have to determine how to manage their tax identification numbers, bank accounts, and liabilities.
In addition to the business aspects of merging firms, Zide and Spigel also had to determine how to blend firm cultures and make sure that all of the team members adopted the same values. It was important to make sure that team members felt valued. In an age where lawyers often jump from one firm to another, Zide felt it was crucial to create a team environment that inspired loyalty in the attorneys and staff members, so that they would be motivated to remain with the firm long term. To that end, Zide and Spigel both got buy-ins from their team members prior to the merger.
Although Zide felt confident that a merger was the best decision for her firm, it nonetheless required an emotional adjustment. She had to accept the fact that she lost a certain level of autonomy, and retrain her brain to think of the new firm and logo, rather than the old. She also admitted that she was naive about the growing pains associated with blending teams and making sure that everyone feels comfortable in their role. In retrospect, instead of being solely focused on making the changes happen, she wishes she had addressed the team members’ concerns regarding the merger earlier.
Zide suggests that attorneys considering a merger develop a very clear picture of their individual goals before making any moves. They should think about whether they want to sell their practice and join a bigger firm or grow their team by joining with another small firm, and assess where they want to be in five and ten years and the expectations of their current team members. They also have to determine what they will tell their clients, and when. Finally, Zide cautions people to avoid completing a merger in the summer, noting that many people take vacations during that time and it can be difficult to get the full team in the office.
Going forward, Zide notes that she and Spigel will maintain the high standards they established in their firms, stating that ZSTS is “very client-focused and work product-focused. We want to not only get the best results for our clients but we want to do it in the most efficient cost-effective professional ethical way possible. That is a core value of our team.” She also thinks their firm is unique in that they handle not only family law issues, but also can help their clients with criminal and bankruptcy matters as well.