Using A Firm Retreat To Plan For The Next Decade

 

Dr. John W. Olmstead, Jr., MBA Copyright 1995 by Olmstead & Associates. All Rights Reserved.

2014 is here. Is your firm ready for the opportunities and challenges? During this decade major demographic changes will occur as Americans evolve into a different people that are older and more ethnically and racially diverse. As the baby boom generation moves into senior years the following trends will impact the decade:

The majority of law firms engage in short term (operational) planning. Such a vehicle is fine for day-to-day operational problems but not appropriate for long term strategic issues. The Firm Retreat is becoming the most widely used forum being used by law firms to facilitate longer range strategic planning. A firm retreat is a weekend conference of the principals and staff which takes place away from the office usually at a hotel or resort in a rural setting. A retreat differs from the typical firm meeting in that it is a specific structured program with an agenda of topics and procedures agreed to in advance. A retreat is often facilitated by a professional consultant. The purpose of the retreat is to help facilitate change. For example:

A retreat agenda usually incorporates both business and social sessions.

A properly conducted retreat can be invaluable to the law firm. However, many firm retreats turn out being a “waste of time” and do not live up to their initial expectations because of the following:

Setting up a retreat involves all of the following steps:

Gather Ideas

The first step involves key members getting together to discuss their initial thoughts about the firm, its structure, and its organizational problems to brainstorm for possible topics. Partners and other members of the firm can also provide written suggestions for the agenda. Tentative retreat objectives can be formulated at this time.

Prepare Preliminary Program

A preliminary program is formulated. The retreat coordinator develops the preliminary program including tentative:

The coordinator works with the consultant, if used, on further defining goals and objectives of the retreat, how it is to be coordinated, and who will be responsible for various functions and activities. The consultant may interview key members to obtain a feel of personalities and needs of the firm. The consultant outlines his own proposed role in the retreat. Coordination checklists and timetables are developed.

A consultant is often used when the retreat will be the firm’s first retreat, when partners disagree as to the format and nature of the retreat, when dramatic personal differences exist among partners and progress at the retreat may be hampered, and when a specialist is needed to help the group evaluate objectively.

Approve and Finalize Program

The preliminary program is circulated for comments and suggestions. Changes are accommodated and the finishing touches are put on the program. The partners agree on all details of the agenda and program and the program is finalized.

Background Research

The brainstorming process will require background data. Internal data such as firm financial reports, client lists, lawyer productivity reports, etc. and external information such as demographic and census data, information on competitors, business trends, etc. should be compiled and organized into appropriate presentation formats such as transparencies, slides, flip charts, and handouts.

Retreat Facilitation

A moderator should be assigned to the retreat. The moderator can be a member of the firm if the firm has a member who can be objective and has the skills to properly facilitate a retreat or the moderator can be an objective outsider who has the requisite skills. The moderator serves as the “tour guide” and keeps the retreat on track, in focus, and provides resource information when required. The moderator should be given the authority to control the retreat and enforce the ground rules.

Implementation of Decisions

A retreat will not be successful unless an implementation plan is formulated during the actual retreat and made a part of the proceeding. Specific assignments and completion dates must be agreed upon during the retreat itself and schedules for reporting on progress must be determined.

At the conclusion of the retreat the outcome of the retreat and the implementation plan should be summarized.

Within two weeks after the conclusion of the retreat a retreat report should be written and distributed to all firm members in attendance. Completion dates should be placed on the firm’s docket control system. A retreat follow-up item should be on each and every firm meeting. A post retreat evaluation should be conducted six months after the conclusion of the retreat.

John W. Olmstead, Jr., MBA, Ph.d, CMC is a legal management consultant and president of Olmstead & Associates, a legal management consulting firm based in St. Louis, Missouri. The firm provides management advise and assistance as well as computer system implementation assistance and training to law firms and corporate and governmental law departments and is presently serving clients across the United States.

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