I am a partner and a member of a three member management committee in a eighteen attorney firm in Chicago. During the past year we have discussed conducting an offsite long range planning retreat in the fall that would include the partners and other attorneys in the firm. We have never done this before so this would have been a new experience for us. However, with the COVID-19 crisis we have cancelled our site reservations and are wondering whether we can still conduct our retreat remotely? Any thoughts you have would be appreciated.
Sure you can. I suggest that you consider a virtual retreat using Zoom or some other communication platform. Organizations are holding virtual conferences, churches are conducting virtual services, and law firms are conducting virtual retreats and planning meetings. Last week I attended a two-day video conference and the process went extremely well. There were even small group breakout sessions that focused on specific topics. While a in-person format is preferable, you can get the job done with a virtual retreat. During the current crisis a retreat and long range planning is more important than ever. So, I suggest that you try a virtual retreat.
Here are some suggestions regarding planning your first retreat:
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. The purpose of the retreat is to help facilitate change. For example:
- Solving problems.
- Evaluating internal procedures.
- Designing long range plans.
- Formulating marketing plans.
- Determining where the firm is and where it is going.
- Practice Expansion and Diversification.
- Partner Compensation.
Setting up a retreat involves all of the following steps:
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. An appointed retreat coordinator or team develops the preliminary program including tentative:
- Ground Rules
The coordinator works 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. Coordination checklists and timetables are developed.
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.
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 PowerPoint presentations, whiteboards, flip charts, and handouts.
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, MBA, Ph.D, CMC
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