Debbie Foster, a managing partner at Affinity Consulting, joins Stephanie to share some big news.
They detail how to best prepare your team for a merger through honesty and open communication. And outline ways to make a merger easier, whether two businesses are combining or a single partner is coming on board.
Links from the episode:
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- . What does Affinity do?
- . Bringing two cultures together.
- . Merging technology and processes.
Welcome to The Lawyerist Podcast, a series of discussions with entrepreneurs and innovators about building a successful law practice in today’s challenging and constantly changing legal market. Lawyerist supports attorneys, building client-centered, and future-oriented small law firms through community, content, and coaching both online and through the Lawyerist Lab. And now from the team that brought you The Small Firm Roadmap and your podcast hosts
Stephanie Everett (00:35):
Hi, I’m Stephanie Everett.
Zack Glaser (00:36):
And I’m Zack Glaser. And this is episode 425 of the Lawyerist Podcast, part of the Legal Talk Network. Today, Stephanie is talking with Debbie Foster from Affinity Consulting about how to join two teams.
Stephanie Everett (00:49):
Today’s podcast is brought to you by Posh Virtual Receptionists, Clio, & Documate. We wouldn’t be able to do our show without their support, so stay tuned cuz we’re going to tell you more about them later on.
Zack Glaser (01:00):
So Stephanie is, there’s a reason that you guys are talking about how to join two teams today. And I think it’s best if you tell people why are you interviewing Affinity Consulting’s Debbie Foster.
Stephanie Everett (01:15):
Yeah. So let’s make it podcast official. Guys. We are so excited to announce that on January 1st, 2023, Affinity Consulting and Lawyerist Media merged to become one kick ass team. I mean really, there’s no other way to say it. <laugh>,
Zack Glaser (01:34):
Right? This is an exciting thing and I’m really, personally, I’m extremely happy about this and so many things like my head is swirling with stuff to do. But I guess to start off with, what’s Lawyerist going to be with this?
Stephanie Everett (01:54):
So for all of our friends out there listening, don’t worry your life and how you experience Lawyerist and how you interact with Lawyerist, is it going to change a whole lot? We’re not going away. Lawyerist will continue to exist. Our website, this show, we actually have a new edition of the book launching in just a few weeks. Our Lawyerist Lab coaching program is going to continue. If anything, everything’s just going to get that much better because the Affinity team, I mean you’re going to hear from Debbie in a minute and I think everybody immediately is going to understand why this is the perfect marriage. We keep using that marriage analogy, but it really worked. We’ve been dating for over a year now. We’ve known each other for 10 plus years. In fact, I was a Affinity client back when I had my law firm. Yeah, I was their client.
So I’ve known the them for a long time and Aaron Street has known them for a long time. And about a year ago over dinner, this idea sparked and it was something we needed to explore. And that’s when the dating begins <laugh>, right? And you say, huh, is this a thing? Should we be talking more? And we did. And then we did and we did. And the talks got more serious. And then over the summer things picked up until we gave it to the Lawyerist and the accountants and things slowed down. I’m not going to lie.
Zack Glaser (03:15):
They do. Yeah.
Stephanie Everett (03:16):
I really didn’t enjoy working with the lawyers through this. We’ll have new examples to tell everybody about why your clients get frustrated with you. But my point was that their team is just amazing. They have so many experts on the team, they bring different expertise than in a way they’re going to add new flavor and new ideas. And so we are so excited to introduce some of their coaches to our Lawyerist lab community. We already have some folks lined up that are going to come and just do some workshops that we have planned for q1. So nothing is really changing in the sense of yes, all the things we currently do are still going to happen. It’s just that we’re going to have a ton more resources and expertise and energy and ideas and all the things to bring to our communities. So we’re going to be announcing new initiatives and new ideas over the coming months as we kind of get settled to figure it out. So I’m just excited because we’re just going to have so many more ways to help people I think.
Zack Glaser (04:24):
Yeah. And any good marriage together, we’re bigger than individually. It’s two brands and one team just helping healthier firms helping people build healthier firms and define themselves and perfect their firms as well. I can’t express my excitement over the airwaves here, but I, I’m beaming at this. I’ve, I’ve already been able to dip into their expertise outside of what I know. And it’s been amazing to be able to go into what Affinity’s able to do and bring it into our group. And I know that we’re also excited about bringing our expertise and our abilities into the clientele and the people that they help. And I think it’s the synergies are really going to kind of make it to where we’re able to help more than what we do individually even.
Stephanie Everett (05:21):
I think so, and I was trying to come up with the best analogy for this and the audience can laugh at me, but I was like, this is bringing Tom Brady, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and I don’t know, let’s just say Hank Aaron cuz I’m from Atlanta and we have just formed the all star powerhouse team of the legal industry in terms of how to run a legal business, how to use the best technology. I mean this team is so freaking kick ass. I can’t even really hard to express how excited we are in this format, but I think everybody will just sit back and stand by cuz you’re going to see big things coming from this team in the future and we’re really excited about it.
Zack Glaser (06:07):
Well, without any further ado, let’s get into your conversation with Debbie so y’all can dig into how you did this and you know what it’s bringing. So here’s your conversation with Debbie.
Debbie Foster (06:21):
Hi, I’m Debbie Foster and I lead the team at Affinity Consulting Group.
Stephanie Everett (06:25):
Welcome to the show, Debbie. And we have some exciting news we’re making Podcast official today, which is that you and I are now teammates.
Debbie Foster (06:33):
We are. How exciting is that?
Stephanie Everett (06:36):
I am super excited. So why don’t you just tell all of our listeners like our big news and what we did this week.
Debbie Foster (06:43):
So our big news is that Affinity and Lawyerist are now one company. We have come together, brought together the amazing Lawyerist team with our amazing Affinity team and are so excited about what the future holds, the products and services that the Lawyerist team offers to its very valuable Labster Clients Partners is going to be so complimentary to the services that we offer at Affinity. And I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
Stephanie Everett (07:13):
I mean, for anyone wondering a lot of the day-to-day and how you listeners come and work with us and get your information and ideas from Lawyerist aren’t really going to change. If anything, they’re just going to get better, right? It’s not going to feel very different. For our team, it feels a little bit different because we’re now part of a larger team. And for us that just means we have more resources. I don’t know, I just feel like we are, we’re going to be able to do so much more than we sometimes could with a smaller team.
Debbie Foster (07:44):
And I think it’s going to really benefit the community, not just from a people perspective, but from a products and tools perspective. So we’re really excited to explore that with you guys.
Stephanie Everett (07:53):
And so maybe some people don’t know, I mean, what does Affinity Consulting do and maybe how does that look a little different from what they know Lawyerist does?
Debbie Foster (08:01):
Sure. So at Affinity, summing it up over simplification, of course we work with law firms and corporate legal departments on strategy and technology projects. So it could be strategic planning, it could be firm retreat, it could be a profitability analysis, a process analysis. But we also do a lot of work around technology. So are you leveraging the technology that you own? Do you need to select something new? What is that going to look like if you move from what you’re using now to what you will be using in the future? Will you do a lot of training and education? A lot of CLE. A lot of what we do really does center around how people get their work done. So that encompasses strategy and technology and culture and change management and process. But for us it’s really about how do we work with a client and help them identify their challenges very clearly so we can put together a plan to help solve them and reexamine or reimagine how they get their work done so they’re working as efficiently as they can work and delivering excellent services to their clients while maintaining and really paying attention to their wellbeing. That’s our mission and our goal is to really help our clients do more with less.
Stephanie Everett (09:24):
I mean, for anyone listening and who’s paid any attention to Lawyerist ever, this should just answer the question you probably had in your mind of why are these companies doing this? Why are they coming together? In our minds, this is a perfect marriage.
Debbie Foster (09:38):
I agree. And I think that the solo and small firm market, the products and service that benefits a solo and small firm, not just the coaching and the community, which I think is so critically important. People wanna walk through their journey with people who are feeling the same way that they feel and going through the same struggles that they’re going through. But I think also, especially when it comes to the technology implementations, having another resource where they can go and say, all right, I’m ready for the next thing. And the Lawyerist team can say, Hey, we have a great document management team that can help you with that. Like you said at the beginning, the resources that your team is going to have when they’re part of the Affinity team are just going to be more expansive. And I think we’re going to be able to do some cool things.
Stephanie Everett (10:28):
So one of the things I thought we could talk about today that really I think a lot of our Lawyerist struggle with at some point in their career is this idea of how do you bring two teams together? And in our case, we truly are bringing our whole company to your company, but sometimes it might even look like when you bring that new partner on, new co-owner into the business as we’re going to start talking about, and then maybe they have a small team. So sometimes it’s not two companies completely merging, but just even adding a small team onto an existing team. And I know you’ve dealt with that, not just as the leader at Affinity, but also in the work you do with firms. And so I thought we could explore that a little bit because it could be pretty challenging.
Debbie Foster (11:11):
We work with a lot of firms who are considering merging or bringing on another owner with a small team or even a larger team. I just finished a project where we helped three firms merge together. That was a lot of fun. And I actually had a call with them today talking about how things are going, but I always start these conversations talking about onboarding, tell me how you would onboard a new person right now. And oftentimes that’s the first kind of glaring, well I mean we bring them in, we show them their computer, we tell them what their password is.
And so I think the onboarding piece, it’s like a merger is onboarding plus, plus plus. And so if we don’t get onboarding, it’s really hard to even imagine cuz you can’t bring another team of people into an organization no matter what size it is and say there’s your computer, this is how you log on, here’s the technology we use. You just can’t do that. So it has to be a much more intentional and much more thoughtful process to integrate two teams together.
Stephanie Everett (12:15):
And I guess the first thing that comes to mind is this idea of culture because probably each teams, whether they think about it or realize it or not, they are bringing their own culture to this new relationship. And so how do you start to think about that?
Debbie Foster (12:29):
Well, we’ve done so many mergers in just with Affinity. We’ve brought a bunch of companies into our company over the years and Affinity actually started with smaller companies merging together. And I think even in our conversation, Stephanie’s, one of the things that we’ve learned is we shouldn’t be saying nothing’s going to change. So piece of advice number one when it comes to culture is just don’t say that because things are going to change and hopefully they’re for the better. But I feel like there’s always an opportunity for us to challenge each other when we’re thinking about something new to say, there are going to be things where you say, I actually liked how it was at the other place better. But the pros have to outweigh the cons. So we have to talk about what are the things that people are going to love? How do we bring two teams together and say, if you have 10 things and I have 10 things, we’re only going to pay attention to my 10. No, maybe we go five and five to make up 10.
But most importantly is talking about it. I think that asking people questions, what do you love the most about where you are right now? What makes you tick? What makes you get out of bed in the morning? And really understanding what motivates people and what they love about their current situation helps you identify where the gaps are. Or maybe even for the other side, someone thinking, oh, the thing you love the most is that everyone has lunch together on Wednesdays, we should all have lunch together on Wednesdays. That’s actually a great idea. And so being open-minded, whether you’re the Mergee or the Merger, you have things that you could learn as well. So don’t make it all about how one person does it or how someone else does. What does that merge together culture look like?
Stephanie Everett (14:10):
Yeah, I mean I love what you said to our team when you came and met everybody for the first time and you had met a lot of us over the course of different iterations, but when we were kind of together, it was like, I want these two things to come together and look different out of it because we are changing, but we’re changing for the better on both sides. And you said it much more eloquently than I just blabbered on.
Debbie Foster (14:33):
Well, and sometimes when I talk to a firm about merging, I say to them in the oversimplification, is one plus one going to equal three? Is this firm and this firm coming together going to give you something more than just adding one plus one and getting two? And that’s what I think for our merger is something that I’m most excited about is I feel like one plus one is going to equal like 19. And I think you’re really winning when you see that we’re better together, we’re stronger together, we can do more together, we can offer more products and services together. And I think that’s how lawyers should think about merging with another firm when they’re looking at that kind of an opportunity.
Stephanie Everett (15:14):
Yeah, I mean I don’t think that they always do. I mean it seems like in my experience, a lot of times they just look at, well, they have a book of business or this will bring more billable hours to the equation and they just think about it in that way. And I wonder if there’s a different framework you would share.
Debbie Foster (15:31):
Yeah, it it’s so shortsighted to only think about that, right? While that might be how the math ultimately works out from a revenue perspective and hopefully a profitability perspective, because we all know that adding revenue to the top doesn’t do anybody any favors if it doesn’t add profit to the bottom. So I think that’s something that people should be really thinking about. But when you think about the coming together of two firms, there are multiple aspects. Does it make sense from a business perspective, the products and services one firm is offering compared to the other? How are we going to tackle the culture piece? What about the technology? And maybe even asking yourself what could go wrong? What would be a part of this that if these three things don’t happen that could be really bad for us and could be bad for business. The impression that you get to make with your clients when you’re merging with another firm or you’re starting to talk about a new owner, you only get one shot at really making a big splash there. And I think we all know when you work with employees or team members that are happy, you can tell, the clients can tell, clients can tell when people like their job and they like their environment, they like where they’re working. So I think we really do have to ask those hard questions. And it can’t just be like a how hard can this be?Which I say that a lot so I need to look in the mirror on that one. But how hard can it be? You’re just going to bring over your book of business and your paralegal and your two legal assistants, you’re going to bring them over and hey, I have a similar kind of setup and we’re just going to all work together. You should talk about all of the things.
Stephanie Everett (17:13):
Yeah, I know you have ideas about some of those specific things. So let’s take a quick break. We’ll hear from our sponsors when we come back. We’re going to dig into some of those really technical logistical pieces.
Zack Glaser (17:27):
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Stephanie Everett (20:00):
So we’re back and I’m talking with Debbie about how do you bring two teams together because it sounds really easy, like you said, it sounds like, oh yeah, just come on over, join the team. But then when you start thinking about the hard things, they feel easy, but they can be hard. And we were talking about this, what computers does everyone use? I mean in full disclosure, we’re a Mac team and you guys aren’t. And that’s a little bit of a change for our team. Like wait a minute, do we have to give up our Macs right away? Or you’re on the Office 365 environment. We’ve been on Google Suite, so that’s going to change for us. There’s some pieces of our tech that won’t change, but these are the kind of things that then you really have to start figuring out.
Debbie Foster (20:40):
Yeah, that’s really important. But in addition to that, if you are not on kind of a level playing field when it comes to technology, if you are a firm that has automated all of your things and you have workflows and checklists and you’re, you’ve really got it together and you’re bringing a firm over with you that only uses Microsoft Outlook to keep track of everything that they’re doing, that’s a big shift. And while you as the user of all those amazing tools might think this is going to be great for them, this is going to be so much better. It’s still a big change management thing. What is our training plan? How are we going to get their data from wherever it lives right now into our system? Just because this is how we think an estate planning process should run. Doesn’t necessarily mean that they think it is or our estate planning process does not work for their family law clients.
It’s not as simple as we’re just going to create new logins to our system and have them log in and they’re going to be able to be as efficient as we are. So I think thinking about not just what product do you use, I’ve had firms who say, and this is actually going to be really simple because we both use X, Y, Z product. And I’m like, right, but there are different ways to use that product. So just because you both even use the same product, which is the best case scenario, it doesn’t mean that it’s going to translate. How do you bill, what does that look like from a billing arrangements perspective? What do your bill templates look like? There’s so much minutia detail. Are you going to have two or three copy machines once you merge because you have a copy machine lease and they have a copy machine lease and you don’t actually need two copiers. So many little things like that that I think just get missed sometimes when the people like me, the visionaries who see an opportunity and they’re like, yeah, this is going to be great. Come on over. Just press pause and ask lots of questions.
Stephanie Everett (22:34):
Yeah, I mean if you think about a law firm, I mean documents are so essential to the work that a law firm does every day. And so when you said that, I was like, oh yeah, we gotta figure out how to get their files into our system and maybe this is a time that we wanna get rid of some files. And that’s a whole nother project in discussion. And I mean I love that that’s the work your team is used to really getting in and doing. You guys actually get in there, roll up your sleeves and say, no, we’re going to actually map this out and help you solve these problems.
Debbie Foster (23:05):
Well for sure. And we’ve been using the moving analogy. The other firm is going to pack up their boxes and they’re going to bring all of their boxes to our firm and then they’re going to unpack those boxes and we’re going to like, oh, how do we deal with this? How do we deal with that? Well, there might be an opportunity to visit the other firm and see what is going to go into those boxes and talk about do we need to bring everything over? Anyone who’s moved before knows that there’s like a purging that happens before you move, right? Definitely. This is finally the opportunity to get rid of that ugly green blanket that has come with me. I’m going to give that to Goodwill or whatever. There may be an opportunity at the beginning of this to really think about what are we bringing with us? Why are we bringing it? Does this really matter? Where’s it going to live? When we bring our boxes over, where are we unpacking all of that stuff? How do we make sure we can find what we’re looking for?
Stephanie Everett (23:57):
Yeah, I think the other thing that’s kind of coming up for me is just how much change really does happen. I think you and I started talking, gosh, it’s been like a year. It’s been a lot. We had a long courtship to make sure that this was going to be the right fit for both of us. And in my mind it always just felt so easy. But now that we’re here and in the logistics and trying to move all the things like it is a lot of change. And maybe that’s one of the kind of themes here to keep in mind is it is a lot of change to manage and it can feel pretty disruptive for the team and we have to keep that front and center.
Debbie Foster (24:33):
And I think that this is one of the things that as I think about where I’ve seen people struggle, just because you don’t think it’s a big deal doesn’t mean that your team isn’t going to think it’s a big deal. So I’ve had lawyers say to me, I don’t know what they’re so irritated about. Well, I could tell you all the things there something that looks and seems simple to you, may not look and seem simple to someone else. And we have to give everyone their own space to kind of think about what does this mean for me? How does this impact me? Some people like me, I’d change every day. I don’t care. Let’s change something else. Let’s change something else. I love change. Other people are slow your roll a little bit. Do we actually need to change everything all the time? So those conversations, talking and listening to your team about the things that they’re concerned about.
When we all got together, we did that exercise about what are we worried about? We actually asked our teams, what are you worried about? And they filled them out on little post-Its and they put ’em up on the board and we got to go over to that list. So no one had to say it out loud, which is important I think. But we should ask that. What are you worried about? What could go wrong? And let’s start being proactive about that and thinking about that. So we don’t have big mountain problems afterwards when we’re trying to get adjusted.
Stephanie Everett (25:56):
Yeah, well, having lived through this year with you and now the next part of our journey, I just have to say like I am so super excited. I haven’t been this excited professionally in a really long time because I just do see all the potential that our people are going to create for this amazing community of lawyers that we work with. And every time I’m with someone from your team, I just get more excited about what we’re doing. So thank you
Debbie Foster (26:24):
Back at you. I, I’m excited not only about what this means for our teams, but I’m excited for what it means for both of our communities and for our communities to get integrated together. Cuz I think that is, there’s going to be real magic when that happens and there’s, there’s a lot of exciting things to come.
Stephanie Everett (26:42):
And so actually we get to announce one of them right now, which is that you have a new exciting announcement, which is the launch of your podcast.
Debbie Foster (26:52):
Another thing I’m really excited about, and some people have said to me, a podcast on top of all the things you’re doing, this has been on my list for a long time. I’ve really wanted to do it. And I knew that I wanted it to be focused on fierce female leaders. So I’m really passionate about that and I’m passionate about getting more of them, helping to make more of them mentoring. And so our new podcast, which is launching this month, is called Powerful Leaders. No apologies. And it’s all about women who have maybe overcome the odds or maybe tackled some obstacles that were in their way of them really doing and being what they wanted to be in the legal profession. So it could be Lawyerist people who are running companies that deliver services to law firms. We have some amazing guests coming up and we’re really going to be talking about empowering women to grab that seat at the table and have their voice heard. Because I mean, it’s not just about women leaders are amazing leaders. It’s about having different voices at the table so we all can embrace that concept, not just about of diversity, but of inclusion and belonging and making people feel like what they have to say and what they have to contribute really matters.
Stephanie Everett (28:13):
I love it. And I’m so excited I can’t wait to hear it. And I love the concept that we can stop saying I’m sorry like that. I loved that we’re like, we’re not going to apologize for who we are and what we do and the fact that we wanna kick ass and have a lot of fun doing it.
Debbie Foster (28:27):
Yeah, absolutely. I’ve been reading a lot of articles about apologies and for the purpose of the podcast and why women apologize. And one of them that I read this morning actually said that as women, our threshold for what is offensive is so much lower, and that’s one of the reasons why we apologize. And I read that and I was like, oh my gosh, I think that is absolutely true. So it’s going to be really cool and we’re going to have some really exciting content to share.
Stephanie Everett (28:56):
Well, we’ll make sure we’re going to put the link in our show notes, so if you’re listening right now, make sure you head there right now, subscribe to Debbie’s new show and check it out. And I’m just excited for all the great things that I know we’re just getting started building.
Debbie Foster (29:11):
I am too. Can’t wait.
Speaker 1 (29:14):
The Lawyerist podcast is edited by Brittany Felix, are you ready to implement the ideas we discussed here into your practice? Wondering what to do next? Here are your first two steps. First, if you haven’t read the Small Firm Roadmap yet, grab the first chapter for free at Lawyerist dot com slash book, looking for help beyond the book. Let’s chat about whether our coaching communities are right for you. Head to Lawyerist dot com slash community slash to schedule a 10 minute call with our team to learn more. The views expressed by the participants are their own and are not endorsed by Legal Talk Network. Nothing said in this podcast is legal advice for you.
The Lawyerist Podcast is edited by Britany Felix. Are you ready to implement the ideas we discuss here into your practice? Wondering what to do next? Here are your first two steps. First. If you haven’t read The Small Firm Roadmap yet, grab the first chapter for free at Lawyerist.com/book. Looking for help beyond the book? Let’s chat about whether our coaching communities, are right for you. Head to Lawyerist.com/community/lab to schedule a 10-minute call with our team to learn more. The views expressed by the participants are their own and are not endorsed by Legal Talk Network. Nothing said in this podcast is legal advice for you.
Debbie Foster is a nationally recognized thought leader on people, strategy, efficiency, and innovation in professional legal organizations. Her 20+ years of experience, combined with a mix of strategic management and strong leadership skills, has enabled Debbie to develop a unique ability to work with law firms and legal departments to help them build a future-proof organization and to navigate the ever-changing legal services delivery landscape. Debbie consults with firms across the country helping them solve their most challenging issues. Debbie is very active in the Association of Legal Administrators, the Law Practice Division of the American Bar Association, and was the Chair of ABA TECHSHOW 2010 and 2018.
Last updated January 4th, 2023