At curwens we have a few bods (Lisa, Anne and Kaajal) who are champions of marketing. As we move into the second lockdown in the UK, those bods have asked a number of our lawyers to write about our experiences of doing our work in lockdown; the impact and changes; and anything else of interest to note.
I have three themes to lockdown in my field of merger and acquisition work and the impact to me personally and professionally.
The predictable unpredictability
First off, in my experience, M&A work is generally a cut and thrust endeavour in a perpetual yoyo state. There is some art and science to getting on in the field and being successful, but frankly at the best of times it can feel like being the “sheep in fog”. You might have more luck reading tea leaves than trying to predict more than a few months ahead.
Lockdown and adapting to the pandemic has not really changed too much on this front, except, perhaps, underline how up and down and off and on things can be. Why not taking anything for granted and not ever being complacent are the name of the game.
In a typical month, different days can bring different experiences.
Some days, the urgency and demands of client situations can make it virtually impossible to connect and focus on anything else important. It can be incredibly frustrating when it feels like you genuinely are too busy to respond to a new enquiry. Then, when things quieten down, as they surely do, the enquiries have gone and/or clients are not happy. I have a personal rule, no matter how intense a period may be, to always get back to someone within 24 hours, even if just to say I may need a little more time.
Other days it can be like watching paint dry. Or worse, you are feeling physically fresh and energised, but mentally it is just one of those days where you can’t exert that energy or muster motivation to get anything productive done work wise. Pushing water downhill becomes a challenge.
Other days, you feel on the top of the world and, to quote one of my partners Mr Bradley Bernett [sic] you are a monster who just wants to be feed.
What Bono said quite aptly applies to the corporate lawyer: “some days are better than others”!
Old fashioned organisation
So how do I organise myself around my predictable unpredictability? My recipe is to try and wake up each day with a routine and a plan. I know routines and plans ought to derive from a considered bigger picture based on goals and vision, but lockdown can have the effect of kicking that approach into the long grass. So rather than be blindsided by the impact of lockdown, instead I try everyday (although not always particularly well) to plan around my current roles and responsibilities in life for the here and now. So, it may sound silly, but “call mum” hits my day planner, as much as “draft update to contract on project X” goes in too.
Given my day invariably gets regularly highjacked from emails, calls and so on, and this high jacking arises whether working at home or from the office, having a basic day plan acts as a magnet pulling me back into my intended day rather than my distracted day.
I try and prioritise based on a number of considerations including: the importance of the work, the urgency of the work, the estimated duration of the work, the value of the work, the energy and effort required to deal with the work i.e. is something easy or difficult for me to get done, the consequences of not getting the work done and so on. Typically, the end result is I end up categorising my stuff into two lists: the A items (do now stuff) and the B items (do later stuff). In my day planner, I then tend to chunk most of the day to A items, but always leave a smaller chunk for the B items as otherwise they would never get done.
I think perhaps the single most important lockdown habit for me here is to endeavour to do whatever it takes, tooth and nail, to stay on track with the basic day plan. When a deal becomes intense, having that simple and humble day plan to turn to, can be the difference, at the end of the month, in being able to show to my peers I have still been able to make proper progress on important things.
Acquisition execution is about getting the deal done. The buyer buys and the seller sells.
In my experience, one thing lockdown has done, is inject into acquisitions an implied high level of deal intensity. That is to say that there is a greater resolve and commitment between parties, from the outset, to get the deal done. Perhaps this is more the pandemic generally rather than lockdown specific, but clients have been much more assertive about this. For example, the transaction must complete on X date. The notion of operating at a glacial pace or suffering from deal fatigue are concepts that are just not on the table.
Recently a child in my son’s class tested positive for coronavirus, and so the whole year group was sent home to self-isolate. As my wife is a teacher in the same school, even though a different year group, as a pre-cautionary measure I was asked not to come into the office for 14 days.
Chopping and changing work environment can be difficult when working on acquisitions. It is not so much access to papers and files as most of this is accessible anywhere anytime, but it is the unappreciated benefit of a different space to work and concentrate. An office is a physical distancing between home and work. A home is a place to relax, and at the best of times not the easiest to lock yourself away to concentrate on technical, goal and action orientated work.
Of course, I am incredibly grateful I am not directly impacted in a significant detrimental manner from the second lockdown, but that does not mean things are easy.
Lockdown or no lockdown, the outcome from M&A work is such that you have to keep executing. You have to consistently fit in chunks of hours of productive high-quality time to make progress, no matter what. A delay or difficulty can be the difference between deals staying on track or derailing. No one wants to be the one, where the fingers are pointed at, for disturbing the flow.
So these are my three themes to lockdown as a lawyer in the merger and acquisition field: predictable unpredictability, old fashioned organisation and acquisition execution. There is perhaps nothing common unifying these three points together but they represent a distillation of a few things that lockdown brings to my area and life.
One question I often ask, derived from a question Brian Tracy asks, is knowing what I now know, would I get into this from the beginning? I often joke with colleagues that corporate law is often like being chewed up by the combine harvester. It can be pretty brutal. But knowing what I now know, would I change anything? In a word, no. Quite simply, I enjoy my work too much to change that. Having my client’s back in or out of lockdown is what counts.
Finally, I think we can all benefit from some respite from the life challenges of lockdown and the pandemic. I am grateful to be able to undertake my work, and I wish you and your family safe and well.