5 Tips for Designing a Successful Law Firm Retreat

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'Tis the season for law firm retreat planning.

These programs can be catalysts for growth and the best investment firm management makes all year, or they can be fraught with groupthink and wasteful expenses. To make the most of your firm’s retreat, consider these five tips for planning an effective event.

1. Emphasize, and coordinate, social interaction

Build plenty of social time into your agenda. One of the main reasons to have a retreat is to strengthen relationships amongst the lawyers in the firm. Serendipity happens when people are allowed the space to have natural conversation with others.

But don’t rely solely on fate! If there are connections that need to happen, have assigned seating at dinner or plan an interactive game with intentionally-selected teams. 

Serendipity happens when people are allowed the space to have natural conversation...

This is the setting for war stories. Set things in motion by asking interesting questions in a speed-networking format. What’s the best gift you’ve ever received? What is the habit you are proudest of breaking or one you want to break? Who was your favorite teacher and why? Attorneys may groan at the thought; they are naturally skeptical after all. But these kinds of ice breakers work to get people sharing and caring.

2. Invest in a strong keynote speaker

A speaker who has a way with words and can inspire an audience is a valuable addition to the agenda. When lawyers need to be convinced of the need for change, the importance of an issue, or the value of a new idea, often the best person to deliver that message is an outsider. 

A retreat keynote speaker has built-in authority, so use them to advance your agenda. 

Consider the firm’s short-term strategic priorities and what theme may best align with them. Take into account firm culture and fit when selecting the speaker, but don’t be afraid to push the envelope. A retreat keynote speaker has built-in authority, so use them to advance your agenda. 

A few popular industry topics on the consulting speaker circuit currently include disruption by alternative legal service providers, artificial intelligence, succession planning, diversity and inclusion, blockchain technology and smart contracts.

3. Choose the right facilitators

Do not assume your practice group leaders are the right facilitators for team discussions. Effective facilitators keep the discussion on track by limiting long-winded talkers or steering the conversation back to the topic at hand when it goes off the rails. They help the group understand their objectives, establish desired outcomes, and progress to decision points. Importantly, facilitators must remain neutral. They shouldn’t have pre-conceived notions, inject their own preferences, nor be influenced by domineering personalities.

4. Select a popular venue

People like a destination. It’s helpful to choose a place lawyers will look forward to going, especially when asking them to take additional time away from home.

5. Leave with action items, next steps 

Social interactions and inspiring keynotes are important but not effective for creating future plans nor detailed follow-up. The momentum created from the retreat needs a place to go once it has concluded. Be sure break out groups are staffed by someone charged with taking notes and turning the discussion into action.

The momentum created from the retreat needs a place to go once it has concluded...

Agree to next steps and assign the person(s) responsible for completing them within set deadlines. The tasks get done when public accountability is part of the process. 

By following these steps, you can ensure the firm receives a positive return on its investment and your colleagues leave energized and recommitted to each other and their joint future together. 

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[Society 54 Co-Founder Jill Huse is renowned as a trusted professional services advisor. A certified Worldwide Association of Business Coaches Coach, Jill is highly regarded for her progressive ingenuity, research-based strategy and, most importantly, her ability to deliver results for clients.]

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