Two. That’s the number of essential conditions that any law firm merger participant should never eschew. No doubt there are other vital elements to achieving merger success, but two are so vital that their absence can doom the law firm merger of your dreams. These decisive factors, the ones merger parties must insist upon for the future, are quality leadership and culture.

When embarking on a merger strategy, identifying merger objectives is an important step. Staying true to those objectives through the merger process positions your firm for success. Merger candidates should also employ a compatibility matrix examining in detail the fit on matters of finances, compensation, culture, clients and operations. And developing a focused integration plan with identifiable follow-up activities and accountability contribute greatly to merger success.

But all those steps will mean little if the post-merger firm does not have strong leadership to lead it forward and the commitment to blend disparate cultures into one.

Leadership. Without strong leadership at the combined firm, fraying at the edges can expand to broken seams. A compelling vision will not be developed, critically correct decisions will not be made when needed most, and your peoples’ confidence in the future will be lost. The leadership vacuum will suck away the prospects for success. If the presence of a strong leader for the future is not obvious, it is wise to pause until confidence about this critical element exists.

Culture. Equally non-negotiable is the understanding of the elements and means to achieve a unified culture. In law firm merger, it is inevitable that differing cultures get brought together. While many firms have similar cultures, no two law firms have the same cultures. Being complacent that similarities alone will suffice undermines a firm’s future. Rather, a sound plan and resolve to blend two cultures into one is essential. If the merged firm cannot fuse into an institution that pursues common goals using uniformly accepted strategies, methods and conduct, its future becomes suspect.

Merger season is upon us. The details matter. But any law firm considering merger should never lose sight of the big picture. Quality leadership and culture are the big picture. If merger is in your law firm’s future, will these two must-haves be non-negotiable?