RETREATS LET FIRMS FACE THEMSELVES
by Joel A. Rose
A retreat allows attorneys (either including or excluding associates) to meet for an extended period of time away from the office and the daily pressures of business to discuss issues concerning the firm and developments in areas of the law and trends in the firm's practice in light of these developments. Many firms consider specific problems, while other firms conduct retreats to identify goals and reach consensus on them.
Organizing and planning a retreat generally involves the following four distinct yet related activities:
1. Choosing Planners
Smaller firms frequently assign the planning function to one or more partners. Larger firms usually designate a committee of partners, to be assisted by the office administrator. Outside consultants may be helpful to firms that are considering topics such as organization, profit distribution, planning, business development and the like. The planners should be well-respected by all the partners, well-organized and willing to devote the necessary time and attention.
2. Determining the Agenda
Every retreat should have an agenda. Planners should survey partners (personally and/or by questionnaire) to obtain ideas for discussion. Planners should prepare an agenda that includes dates and times for the meetings, locations, recommended retreat leaders and attendees (partners only, associates also, or spouses and guests along with attorneys). Broader conceptual issues should be addressed before discussion of specific approaches for achieving results. Also, the retreat should begin generally and informatively, saving for later the hotly contested emotional issues.
3. Choosing Leaders
Discussion leaders should be selected for their leadership and communications skills, knowledge and insight into the firm, understanding, objectivity and ability to generate and control discussions on specific topics. Many firms engage a consultant to assist in planning and conducting these meetings. The consultant can serve as a retreat leader and share ideas and concepts that have been implemented successfully by other organizations. A consultant also can gather and analyze firm financial and economic data, and provide general background.
The leader's role is to introduce and generate discussion of the assigned topics and to stimulate and control the discussions, eliciting comments from attorneys reluctant to volunteer them. They should be receptive to questions, heed other views, and have experience in maneuvering discussions from one partner to another to avoid limiting the talk to an articulate few.
4. Implementing Results
Post-retreat activities determine the effectiveness of the retreat. The planners or designated partners should publish and distribute to the partners and summary of the retreat notes and establish a procedure to follow-up on the committees/individuals assigned specific responsibilities, determine the timetable for reporting on the status of action plans, recommend action plans, oversee the implementation of programs, and appraise the results and recommend corrective action, as required.