Small firms wondering whether to sell or struggle have a third option

There is so much consolidation in Chicago and other legal markets across the country that some small and mid-size firms that haven’t yet been gobbled up may believe it’s only a matter of time before they merge or get acquired. In many cases this path makes the most business sense for lawyers and their clients.

Other firms, however, resist this pressure, and remain determined to continue on independently. These underdogs face two major challenges: First, it is just plain hard to be a small firm competing in a market that is home to larger and larger firms. And second, while a smaller firm’s success may have been fueled by its founder’s energy and vision for decades, eventually that attorney will face retirement or mortality, and the next generation will come to the fore. Will those younger attorneys be prepared to nurture the firm’s independence into the future?

Fortunately, independent firms don’t have to choose between selling out and doubling down on the brand just as it is. There is a third option: investing in the firm to give it an identity that can outlast the founders.

Marketing and communications support can help the next generation of a firm’s lawyers determine who they are now and who they want to become. Perhaps the founding partner built his or her reputation in a niche area that made the firm’s name. Is that practice still the firm’s largest revenue generator? Will that change after the founder is gone? Is it time to rethink marketing and branding to tell a new story about where the firm is headed?

Firm leaders don’t need to know the answers to these questions before they engage communications professionals. It will take some honest assessment and communication, but next-generation lawyers at small firms can make a plan for the future that gives them a feeling of ownership while still honoring the legacy of the attorneys who started the firm. A proactive approach is crucial to controlling the time line of changes and safeguarding the firm’s independence.



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