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Merging during a pandemic: A COO’s take

How Faegre Drinker came together despite new challenges

July 26, 2021

Home Blog Merging during a pandemic: A COO’s take
merging during a pandemic

Law firm mergers are not easy. But try pulling one off amidst a global pandemic. That is what Jane Koehl, Chief Operating Officer of Faegre Drinker, managed to do in February 2020. Faegre Drinker was established as a new firm through a combination between Faegre Baker Daniels and Drinker Biddle & Reath.

Jane joined us on a recent episode of our podcast, Foresights & Friends, to discuss her experience in navigating the merger as well as the evolving law firm culture, diversity, innovation and growth. Listen to the full conversation here or continue below for a summary.

Uncharted territory

Just as Jane was preparing for the integration of the two legacy firms, the pandemic hit. COVID added several complexities to their plans that no one could have predicted. With so many unknowns, quick decisions needed to be made. How would the firm continue operations virtually? How can they lead their people? How were they going to serve their clients?

The pandemic forced Faegre Drinker to focus on what was important to them and their clients. It also served as an accelerator for change, adaptability, and technology within the firm. Processes that were planned for the first year of the integration were implemented sooner so people could work more productively. Technology investment was a priority to advance client relationships and increase work performance and efficiency.

Reflecting back, Jane says, “the pandemic really helped us move things forward a lot faster than we might have otherwise been able to execute on them.”

Combining cultures

Successful mergers typically begin with an assessment of cultural compatibility. When initial discussions between the two legacy firms started back in 2018, the core of every conversation centered on whether or not there would be a culture fit.

Jane recounts that both firms had “really sophisticated clients, sophisticated lawyers, and consultants.” She goes on to say, “90% of our core values were identical…It was really amazing to understand immediately that our cultures were going to be compatible.”

From a financial view, each firm was managed conservatively and took risks when needed. They had leaders who were committed to putting their clients first and restoring financial returns to their partners and employees.

With each firm embodying similar cultural perspectives and values, it gave them the confidence in continuing discussions and ultimately, bringing the two firms together as one.

Diversity and inclusion

Many firms have been trying to figure out how to make an impact around diversity and inclusion. On top of that, there are other social responsibility aspects that must also be considered.

Jane thinks Faegre Drinker has come a long way but there is still room to grow. There needs to be an understanding of what all of this means, what the impact is, why that is important, and what the path specifically looks like for their firm in this area.

While initial steps are being taken to do their part to make a difference, Jane emphasizes that this initiative is more than signing their name on a pledge. It will involve long-term and ongoing conversations within and outside the firm.

Innovation and partnerships

Partnering with clients, consultants, and other firms comes naturally to Faegre Drinker. It is important for them to build and foster these relationships in order to provide value to their clients and move forward as a firm.

This also comes into play when they think about what innovation means to them. Recently, a Chief Innovation Officer joined their firm and she has already made impressive progress to their innovation approach and extending it to their clients’ own innovation strategies.

When it comes to innovation, Jane believes in “harnessing different talent, not the traditional talent, and harnessing data to drive the solutions.” She shares an example of when legacy Drinker brought on the firm’s first Chief Data Science Officer to focus on their internal business and clients’ businesses. They also hired people into their Client Development and Marketing teams to enhance client relationships and find opportunities for partnerships.

These roles are not the standard positions firms would have seen decades ago. But Jane recommends that firms embrace what non-traditional law firm talent can offer to client relationships, which Faegre Drinker has found to be successful.

Return to work

In May of 2020, Jane knew she had to look forward and plan for what the return to work would look like. What type of workplace would be best to serve their clients? As the firm continued to fully operate online, they came to recognize that their staff can “work effectively and provide excellent client service from just about anywhere.”

So on July 1st, 2021, Faegre Drinker announced that the firm was moving to a fully hybrid workplace starting in September. They aim to balance the desire for workplace flexibility for those who wish to be together as well as those looking for individual development and collaboration.

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