A law firm retreat is a valuable management and marketing tool even for the solo practitioner. I would say especially for the solo practitioner. The larger the firm the more imperative it becomes for at least an annual meeting to provide direction to the process of running your business. Spike Lee made a movie called "Get On The Bus" and that is what a retreat is about. Getting folks on the bus and moving in the same direction so the firm is moving with more velocity toward desired goals. It sends a message to the whole firm that you are leaders and mangers who plan and work the plan.
What are some of the reasons for having a law firm retreat? Well, that is an "it depends" type of question. You can use these meetings for proactive purposes or for reactive purposes. By proactive I mean you meet to determine what your management and/or marketing priorities are for the next year and who is accountable for each priority as well as by when each priority will be in place. The proactive retreat is usually held in the last three months of your current fiscal year. By reactive I mean a law firm retreat that is held usually as a reaction to some form of crisis like the need to deal with revenue short falls, partner conflicts or profit distribution issues. Naturally, the reactive type of retreat happens when they need to happen with probably less pre-planning. Training retreats can be either proactive or reactive. You can even mix in some training time with any type of retreat.
It is critical that you plan for the law firm retreat well in advance of the date you are holding it. As long as three or four months before the retreat is a good benchmark with a larger firm needing all that time and a smaller firm needing less time to plan and prepare for the retreat. In a larger firm you might have a committee of several partners and the top administrator of the firm that does the planning. In a small firm it might be one or two partners. The larger the firm the more important it is that you have a consultant involved who will help you to determine your needs; gather pre-retreat information; provide expert facilitation at the retreat (so a partner does not have to serve in that role and can be a participant); provide needed objectivity; ask questions that may be challenging for a participant to ask (like the potential "elephant in the room" that nobody wants to talk about); make recommendations; and bring knowledge of what is working in other firms to the law firm retreat. A smaller firm or solo firm might just use a consultant pre-retreat and not as a live facilitator since the major expense of a consultant is having them live at the retreat.
Naturally a retreat needs an agenda and that is part of the pre-planning process. The first question to ask yourself is what is the desired outcome from having the law firm retreat? Other questions to ask include:
1. What process will you use to reach the desired outcome with this retreat?
2. Who will be the note taker in the retreat so key information will be captured and results recorded?
3. Who will be the person in the retreat to assure that each task decided will be specific and measurable as well as someone accountable for that task with a "by when" date that this task will be completed?
4. If you don't have an outside facilitator who will fill that role?
5. Would it be useful to do a personality inventory process with the team before the retreat to increase emotional intelligence? Would this enhance your outcomes?
6. What information needs to be collected before the retreat so you can make intelligent decisions based on data (last year financials and YTD financials, marketing information, team survey, etc.)?
7. Once the law firm retreat is completed what and who will communicate the results to those members of the team that did not attend? Also, if you have team members who do not attend, how will they have input into the retreat process with their information, concerns, requests and recommendations (usually a survey vehicle works for this purpose)?
8. If you had a law firm retreat last year what were the top 5 or 10 strategic objectives? If this is your first retreat what would be a long laundry list of 5 or 10 potential strategic objectives for the firm that could be considered at the retreat (Note: this list would not be the only options discussed, just a beginning list usually developed from the pre-retreat survey)?
9. Where will you hold the retreat? Almost always it is best to be away from your offices even if it is a location in your city. Too many temptations to just step out for awhile to do email or return phone calls. No cell phones allowed being on by the way at the law firm retreat.
You might ask what would be a good "generic" although basic agenda for a law firm retreat look like. Here is one:
1. Welcome & Purpose of the Meeting
2. Review Mission Statement (make changes if appropriate)
3. Review Results of Last Year (what worked and what did not work)
4. SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities, Threats to the firm)
5. Generate 5 to 10 Strategic Goals (for the coming year) and major action plans that are needed to make the strategic goals real
These agenda items above need to be on a timeline. One caution here is don't allocate too much time to the review of the mission statement as that can get away from you if you are not careful. Also, the timeline for each agenda item can be adjusted as the law firm retreat unfolds so it is not totally rigid but more a guideline to keep you on track. Do know if you are doing your retreat correctly it is likely people will get too tired or in some cases, on edge with an 8 hour day of it. Consider a 6 or 7 hour day agenda and if you need more time, fine you can go longer if people are still energetic enough or have a two day or day and a half retreat. Finally, do consider having a working lunch catered in as opposed to eating out.
With the above information you are well on your way to having a law firm retreat that will make a difference for you. That said if you have a good plan from the retreat you still need to implement that plan over the next year. Having a plan that sits on the shelf is not going to enable you to reach your goals and that is one thing a coach can help you with as well as your pre-retreat planning or even facilitation of your law firm retreat.