I feel that now is the time to bring an important issue to your attention but, since it’s coming to the end of summer, I’m going to keep this short. How much did your law firm spend on its last firm retreat? What was your return on the investment? Did you expect there to be a return or did you even view the money spent as an investment?
The average 50 lawyer firm can spend anywhere from $50,000-$100,000 on a retreat, depending on location and activities. So once every year or two that’s the retreat budget for a weekend away. Now think about what’s the firms marketing or business development budget is for the same year? To put it in context, with a $100,000 budget I can rebrand that firm, build a new website, and help them implement a digital and social media strategy. These are all activities which we can measure, track and receive feedback on. We can measure the return on investment and rest assured, when done correctly, they are definitely investments not expenses.
So how can you ensure that your retreat is the strategic investment you want and not a boondoggle? Well, I’ve planned the agenda, designed content, and presented at or facilitated over a dozen firm retreats and one thing that makes the difference is taking a step back to figure out the goal of the retreat and where it fits in with your strategic plan. What are your short to medium-term strategic goals and how can your retreat, and its contents support them and propel them forward?
Now don’t get me wrong, if you’ve identified that firm culture and teamwork are areas that need significant improvement, then having a retreat agenda that is full of teaming events and socialization, and is light on conference room located workshops, could be the right choice.
However, if your focus is on firm growth and encouraging a business development culture, then an agenda that includes a mix of presentations from an external speaker and internal rainmakers, followed by facilitated practice breakouts might be a better way to go. I’m not suggesting that there shouldn’t be any social activities – there should – but a balance is the goal.
To optimize the momentum that can come with a well-planned retreat, I always try to ensure that the attendees leave with some concrete tools they can use when they return to the office. Such tools could be as simple as planning sheets and checklists, or a complex as the beginnings of structured client teams – as long as they are tailored to your firm in the service of the goals of your strategic plan.
So as your summer winds down, and your retreat planning (and budgeting) season begins, take a step back, and ensure that your retreat is an enjoyable strategic investment.