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Philip Humphreys

What should you expect from a merger?

What should you expect from a merger? Philip Humphreys, former managing partner of Clark Holt Commercial Solicitors and now head of the business team at Gardner Leader LLP shares his own experience.

Clark Holt was a niche corporate and commercial law firm for over 25 years – why did you give up your independence?

In simple terms, the timing was right. Approximately 80 per cent of our work was transactional at that time when Covid first struck, and those early months were certainly worrying times as corporate deals went on hold.

Thankfully, this turned around very quickly but it certainly made us consider all the possible alternatives for the benefit of everyone involved in the firm. For probably the first time, this included possibly “buddying up” with someone else.

It has become increasingly difficult to exist as a small independent firm with the management challenges of succession, recruitment, regulation, compliance and insurance, let alone doing your day job as a lawyer.

Why Gardner Leader?

We were approached by a number of firms leading up to and during lockdown. However, we had known a majority of the partners at Gardner Leader for over 12 years and had worked alongside a number of them numerous times where clients needed services Clark Holt didn’t provide (e.g. litigation).

They were the firm’s best friends and we shared many values and approaches. We had said to ourselves that, if we were ever to merge, then we should at least have a conversation with Gardner Leader.

After one particular enquiry from another law firm, I made a call to Derek Rodgers, Gardner Leader’s managing partner, and told him what had just happened. I was hugely impressed by the transparency and positivity he showed in all our discussions.

Did the transaction go smoothly?

Very much so. I have been advising clients how to sell their business for over 30 years and so that bit for me was relatively easy. It was a matter of pride that I got it right.

The worst and most time-consuming part was the compliance hoops we had to jump through. Having a very supportive and well-organised team made a big difference.

What did you learn from the process?

A number of things, including:

  • don’t expect everything to be perfect from day 1. It won’t and it wasn’t;
  • do your best to communicate well and listen to feedback;
  • encourage input and opinions from all sides;
  • spend as much time as possible on achieving a successful integration;
  • accept that the decisions you have made may not please everyone.

What did you get wrong?

Probably many things.

The timing of the merger – in the middle of a pandemic – made it difficult to do as much as we would have liked to get the message out about the many benefits of the merger and our continued presence as part of Gardner Leader in Swindon.

It hasn’t been so easy to go out and meet people in the last 12 months. Covid has been ever present and there has been an understandable reluctance on the part of many who have not wanted to socialise in person. We are looking to rectify this and reconnect.

Would you do it again?

One hundred per cent. Post-completion integration was far from easy, stressful and time-consuming. Previously, I have merely given corporate clients checklists on what they need to do – now I was the one having to do it.

My workload is now different (although has not eased) and I must learn to delegate more and take holiday.

However, without exception, my new Gardner Leader colleagues have been welcoming and just all round decent people. The fact that I am now doing corporate deals across the Gardner Leader offices with new colleagues (as well as old), is proof that it works.

The Gardner Leader partners have an informal way of determining if you fit in. Whether they would actually choose to go out and socialise with you, the first time this was used being on one of their annual partner overseas trips to Madrid. I have recently been told that I passed the “Madrid Test”. Phew!

Philip Humphreys is a transactional mergers and acquisitions lawyer, and a partner in the corporate team at Gardner Leader.

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