In today’s episode I talk about law firm retreats. For me, this is a fun topic because I love talking about what we can do to up-level our law firms.
Even though I spend a lot of time talking about solving the problems of our law firms, I know that there are plenty of people who listen to this podcast that already have a fully systematized law firm.
These firms aren’t necessarily perfect or running at top speed, but they’re established enough for law firm owners to feel comfortable enough to begin planning how to take their firms to the next level.
I’ve been asked how to create a law firm retreat, who should be involved, and how to make it a great experience. So, that’s what I’ll cover today.
In this episode we discuss:
- How retreats can up-level your firm.
- Being very clear on the purpose of your retreat.
- Make your retreat an experience to re-energizing of themselves and their community.
- Choosing wisely a location for your team to have a nice experience.
- How important is it to keep people engaged, active, and participating during the retreat.
- The facilitator you are going to bring depends on what you choose to convey.
Allison Williams: [00:00:12] Hi, everybody, it’s Allison Williams here, your Law Firm Mentor. Law Firm Mentor is a business coaching service for solo and small law firm attorneys. We help you grow your revenues, crush chaos in business, and make more money.
Allison Williams: [00:00:25] Hi, everybody, it’s Allison Williams here, your Law Firm Mentor, and welcome to another episode of The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor Podcast, where this week we’re going to be talking about law firm retreats. So this is a fun topic for me. I love talking about what we can do to up-level our law firm because I know a lot of times we talk about solving the problems of our law firms, but there are a lot of our law firm owners that are out there listening to this podcast that already have a fully systematized law firm. It might not run at optimal speed, and it might not run in a level of perfection that you’re liking, right? It’s not necessarily that you have a perfect law firm, but you’re established enough and you’re at a place where you really want to have your business now, go to the next level, the next level of your culture, the next level of your process, the next level of your client services and so forth. So one of the things that I’ve been asked about recently is how to create a law firm retreat, who should be involved, what to do and how to make it a great experience. So that’s what we’re covering today.
Allison Williams: [00:01:28] All right. So the first thing that you have to decide when you are thinking about planning a retreat for your law firm is who’s going to be involved, right? Is it going to be a management team retreat i.e. yourself, your office administrator, your finance manager, your, your non-equity partners, your equity partners? Is it going to be everyone in the firm, right? It could be all of the attorneys, the paraprofessionals. You could have administrative staff, you could have financial staff, marketing staff, everyone. Or you could break it out by groups, right? You could have a retreat of sorts for legal professionals and then a retreat of sort for everyone else. And the, the the audience is really going to depend on who you decide to have, what is the, what is the purpose that you decide will be the focal point of your retreat? So a lot of times when firms have a firm-wide retreat, it really turns into being so amorphous, so big picture that it almost feels like a big cheerleading, pep rally, right? And when I’ve heard about these types of retreats, and by the way, I have participated in these types of retreats before. I’ve been in a firm that had well over one hundred employees and we had when the firm was a little bit smaller, let’s say maybe 60 ish employees. I was there and I remember we had a firm retreat and it really felt like we were just going around celebrating everybody. We were talking about missions and values from a, from a really high-level perspective, and those things do have a place, right? But normally, if you are a small law firm, you’re going to want to have a little more direction in your retreat.
Allison Williams: [00:03:18] So I want you to think about whether or not the purpose of your retreat is to actually hammer out some of the systems that will help you crush chaos, or if you are thinking about it from a perspective, from a perspective of the community, right? Who, who are we being as a group? How are we rowing together in synchronicity? How are we creating a consistency and a vibrancy in our office that will ultimately attend to a better client experience to make us a stronger law firm? So you have to be very clear on what your purpose is. And what I usually tell people is you don’t want to have a co-working retreat without also having some of the warm and fuzzies we’ll call it, with your, with your retreat experience. In other words, you want to have the people who are going to come to your retreat walk away, not just having worked for the day at someplace that happens to be other than the office, but you want to have them come and experience a re-energizing of themselves and their community at the retreat, right? You want to have people kind of walk away from the retreat with an attitude of, Oh my god, I’m so lucky that I work here.
Allison Williams: [00:04:34] So you’re always going to be looking for how to find that I’m so lucky that I work here feeling and you’re going to be creating that through the modules of activity that you have in your retreat experience, OK?
Allison Williams: [00:04:46] Now, the next question that typically comes up about retreats is should it be onsite or offsite? This is really your call, but I always think it’s nice to go physically away from the office. So first of all, I want you to think back to childhood, OK? I know usually what we’re talking about childhood, we’re talking about some traumatic shit that is not this episode, OK, we’re talking about the fun stuff of childhood and we’re talking about field trips. Ok, we all love the field trip. Yes, you had to go to school anyway. Whether you sat in your science class and dissected a frog or you got on the bus and went to your local aquarium, or you went to your local state park to do something with your science class, typically, most people would choose the latter. So I want you to give your employees, where feasible, that opportunity to go away and enjoy being together with the group. Now, most law firms are going to have a retreat that is one day it is not going to be multi-day and it’s not going to be that you’re going away. Like, I’ve heard about law firms that boast about taking their entire staff away to Mexico or to going to some exotic locale.
Allison Williams: [00:05:56] And if you can afford to do that and that’s what you want to do, then go for it. But for most of us, I don’t want you to be thinking that big right, especially as your firm grows and evolves, you want to be able to pivot as need to, as need be. And typically, you’re going to pivot upward, you’re not going to pivot downward. So I want you to be thinking about starting off a little bit smaller and maybe just choose a local dining hall or a local hotel where you can get a nice conference room and have somewhat of a posh, beautiful experience. Location wise for your team.
Allison Williams: [00:06:31] Now that, of course, next implicates the food. Are you going to serve your folks and if you’re going to have them working all day? I think it is a nice touch, if not a mandatory touch that you feed them. Ok, so you want to be thinking about that and most venues, of course, if you do it at a hotel, that’s pretty easy. But if you do it at a catering hall or a local town location, you’re going to probably be able to either bring things in or order food from the location. But it’s always nice to give them an experience again. What you’re trying to get to is the I’m lucky to work here feeling. So we get to the I’m lucky to work here feeling, by virtue of having that pause where we say, Oh, OK, here is where I can make a difference, not just give them something else to do, that happens to not be at physical office. But I can have a positive experience and I can create that positive experience through all the parts of this work experience.
Allison Williams: [00:07:32] Ok, now we’ve talked a little bit about making sure that you have some of that celebratory, we work together, we enjoy each other, we celebrate each other, we’re doing the work of the firm. But how do you structure that? So those celebrations in goodwill will make sense. They will make perfectly logical sense when you start with your vision and your mission for purposes of your program, right, your vision, and your mission. So I want you to think about what is the vision and what is the mission of my law firm. OK? Why are you doing the work that you’re doing? Connecting people to Why? Is very, very important. We recently just wrapped up a another edition of The Crushing Chaos Masterclass, which is a free program that we offer to the legal community, where we help you to learn how to create systems in your law firm so that your law firm can ultimately run without you. But in order to get to that place where your law firm runs without you, you have to instill in everyone why they are doing things in a particular way.
Allison Williams: [00:08:37] And so one of the things that helps to really orient people to the fact that they are doing certain work and they’re doing it in a certain way is that you tell them directly what the mission, the vision, and the values of your company are. So you definitely want to have a return to values or a reinforcement of values somewhere in your, in your agenda, preferably earlier on in the program.
Allison Williams: [00:08:37] Now, in terms of what other types of modules you’re going to have, I want to talk a little bit about structure before we actually go into some of the other substance because the structure is going to be really important to keep people engaged and to make sure that everyone is staying active and participating.
Allison Williams: [00:09:22] Now, one of the things that I love to do here at Law Firm Mentor is host our virtual retreats. We have four retreats every year that we offer to our community, and they are Marketing For The Masters, Systematize Your Law Business, Legal Sales for Attorneys and Non-Attorneys and Thrive Tribe Tactics, which is all about people in law firms. But one of the challenges that we encountered as of March of 2020 when we could no longer have live retreats at least immediately, we were legally barred from having live retreats. Now there’s some logistical challenges with us having live retreats is that we had to move ourselves on to having a virtual experience. And a lot of people, after they started using Zoom for the first time, a lot of lawyers were not using Zoom, except for the occasional meeting here or there, but they certainly didn’t live on Zoom. It became a real struggle to try to tell someone that you’re going to have a good experience when you sit on a virtual platform for hours, and hours, and hours on end. Most people one hour here or there, beyond that, they get tapped out. So we had to learn the nuances of how to create a virtual retreat experience. And it’s not just we’re going to do everything that we would normally do in person, except we’re going to do it on a computer, right? There’s a different cadence to having people engage in a virtual platform. And one of the things that is consistently said about our programs, every time we have a program, we audit the audience. We ask for that feedback and say, you know, what did you love? What did you hate? What what do we what are we doing well? What do we need to improve? And we asked for these via anonymous survey, and the survey data always confirms that people love our retreats and say, Yeah, I was concerned I wasn’t going to want to sit there for that long, but you kept my attention. I was learning the whole time I enjoyed myself. And so I know that this is something that we do well. And one of the things that we always focus on is making sure that we have bursts of information, followed by bursts of activity, followed by break. OK? Bursts of information, followed by a burst of activity, followed by break. So the information piece is where someone is just listening, right? They are taking it in, they’re taking notes, they’re being a part of the process by being a receiver and to some degree, that is bi-directional. So to some degree, even when you have someone giving out information, you want to have that person checking in with your audience. How are you guys receiving this? Does this make sense? Let me know if you have questions. Do you have a reflection on what’s being said? And sometimes if you don’t get people participating here, this is where you want to have your facilitator ask the questions, right? Ask questions directly. Point someone to a reflection that they’ve shared with you that really highlights what you’re saying. Or a question that you know that someone has asked so that you ask that first question to kind of spark the conversation that other people will be free to ask as well. So it’s really important that it is not simply a talking head, someone is talking at your employees and they’re taking notes and waiting for the next thing. OK? You want to have a conversation back and forth.
Allison Williams: [00:12:38] Then the next part is the burst of activity, right? So typically you don’t just want to have people passively receiving any information, you want to have them using the information. One of the things I talk about in the master class is the idea of having our virtual from our visual, our auditory, and our kinesthetic learning. I call that the trifecta of learning, right? Because that is what is going to most likely most significantly, most probably congeal information for your team when they are hearing the information, when they are seeing the information and when they are working with the information. So depending on the size of your firm, you might want to have everybody in the firm in one little semicircle to work with the information together. Or once you get up to at least five people or more, you might want to split your, your group into different teams and have them work together in little small group settings where they can actually talk, and process, and throw ideas. The beautiful thing about that is when you start getting people to work together on something that is not direct work, quote-unquote. In the business, you start to see where synergy will lead to a better result. OK? It’s almost like magic, where you put two people that are usually sharing the same container there in the same business, they’re in the same environment, and they have to now direct their attention, their energy, their focus on something else. Oftentimes, you’ll be surprised that that quiet person who never contributes all of a sudden has a lot to say. Or the person who usually has a lot to say has a little less to say about this topic versus something else. You will find that people start to engage differently. It starts to draw people out a little bit more.
Allison Williams: [00:14:23] Now, the other thing I wanted to talk to you about is the idea of facilitation, facilitation of your event. Wait, wait, one thing I did not say one thing I said earlier but did not really focus on is the idea about taking breaks. Ok, so super important that you learn when you need to build in a break. And I would usually say no more than 90 minutes of any one segment should occur without there being a at least stand-up and stretch break and then moving on to the next segment. But after you have two 90 minute segments together or a 90 followed by 60, you definitely want to take a break so that people can get up, stand, walk around, stretch their limbs, get some water and come back renewed and refreshed. If you don’t do that, you’re going to lose your audience.
Allison Williams: [00:15:10] Ok, so now I was moving next to the topic of facilitation. Who should be the leader of the firm retreat? It’s fine if it is the managing partner, but one of the things that actually tends to create more cohesion is when the leader of the law firm is in the participant seat, OK? As opposed to the leader is leading everyone the leader gets to sit back and be led. So that might mean that you bring in a coach to facilitate your events or you bring in a speaker to facilitate your event. It could be somebody to facilitate the entire event, or you could have one or two people in the law firm do some of the facilitation, followed by the speaker. So I’ll give an example of one of the things that we did in my law firm quite some time ago. We have actually had her on the podcast, Kathy D’Agostino. Shout out to Kathy. Kathy is a certified facilitator for the Core Values Index, and one of the core values indexes is just so, you know, it’s a, it’s an assessment tool, right? The assessment tool that I’m a big proponent of that I talk about all the time here is the Real Talent Hiring Assessment, but I have used other assessments in my law firm for different reasons. I’ve used the DISC, I’ve used the Kolbe and I’ve used the CBI. And the CBI is, is an interesting tool for us to help understand each other and how each of us has different strengths and different preferences for how to communicate and how to get information out and how to use information.
Allison Williams: [00:16:47] So it’s really helpful to actually have members of your team take this test and then to have a facilitator talk through what the test results mean. So we, we did this a few years back now at the law firm, and I loved having somebody to come in. She worked with at that time my leadership team, so we had some of our longer employee, more higher status attorneys. We had an office administrator and my and my then marketing director, and we were all there together talking about our individual results, talking about how to respond to each other. And this was really about how to be a better citizen to your co, to your coworker, and how to be more effective at getting what you want from your coworker, right? Because I think a lot of times when we think, Hey, what I respond to well is X, so that then becomes the preferred way for us to communicate. But if you’re doing what you prefer and not what is the preference of the person to whom you’re communicating, you’re missing an opportunity there. So this was a really wonderful exercise and it’s beautiful because when you are in a state of leadership, what tends to happen is people know you not only as the leader, but also as the B-word. You’re the boss, right? So there are things that they may be inclined to say or not say to you based on that status, even if you are a wonderful boss.
Allison Williams: [00:18:14] Right? We have talked a lot about employee relations on this podcast, and I’ve had several people say to me, Well, sometimes I could be the sweetest person in the world, but I just have a very sensitive employee who’s afraid of pissing off the boss, who’s afraid of speaking their mind, who would never say X, Y and Z. How do I overcome that? And this is one way to help you overcome that. This is one way if you get that right person who facilitates the, the administration of a test or the sharing of, of assessment results and talking about that to get people laughing and get people doing activities like we did several activities around core values with that particular experience. And I remember Kathy was really a very different communicator than I am, right? I am a big D personality in the DISC. So you tend to get a different level of energy from the way that I present than the way that she presents. You got a different style of conveying information, different energy from communication, but both very effective. So it was great that we had some portion of the day where I was working with my team and some portion of the day where I was sitting back with my team and I was answering questions right alongside with them, and I was listening to the jokes and I was taking the notes and I was answering questions and I was a participant in the little group activities.
Allison Williams: [00:19:40] So when you start to have those types of experiences, one, you bond yourself with your team, right? So your team doesn’t see you just as the leader who is ultimately the boss. But they also see you as a member of the team. And that is really, really important when you’re going to be dealing with difficult, challenging issues that come up in the business of law. And at some point, as you are growing your people up into being your partners, being leaders within your business, being independent thinkers in your business, you’re going to want them to have a relationship where they can come to you as a mentor and as a guide, rather than just as a boss. OK? So it’s really good to have facilitators if you can do that. Lots of different ways. You can bring facilitators in, lots of different topics you can address. What type of facilitator you’re going to bring in is really going to depend on what you choose to convey. So I want to give you this as a little framework. Some things to consider. Obviously, there’s a lot more that goes into this, but we have talked today about some of the foundational pieces that you need to consider to put on your own law firm retreat.
Allison Williams: [00:20:48] Now, this is something that you personally need help with if you want to create your next best law firm retreat and you haven’t done that for yourself yet, or you want to improve upon it for the future. I want to invite you to reach out to us here at Law Firm Mentor. You can visit us at www.LawFirmMentor.net and schedule a growth strategy call where we can actually talk about how you can take a firm to the next level through strategic advice and guidance, such as creating law firm retreats.
Allison Williams: [00:21:20] All right, everyone, I’m Allison Williams. Thank you for tuning in to this week’s Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor Podcast, and I’ll see you on our next episode.
Allison Williams: [00:21:42] Thank you for tuning in to The Crushing Chaos with Law Firm Mentor Podcast. To learn more about today’s guests and take advantage of the resources mentioned. Check out our show notes. And if you own a solo or small law firm and are looking for guidance, advice or simply support on your journey to create a law firm that runs without you, join us in the Law Firm Mentor Movement Free Facebook group. There you can access our free trainings on improving collections in law firms, meeting billable hours, enjoying the movement of thousands of law firm owners across the country who want to crush chaos in their law firm and make more money. I’m Allison Williams, your Law Firm Mentor. Have a great day!
Allison C. Williams, Esq., is Founder and Owner of the Williams Law Group, LLC, with offices in Short Hills and Freehold, New Jersey. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, is Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Law Attorney and is the first attorney in New Jersey to become Board-Certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy in the field of Family Law.
Ms. Williams is an accomplished businesswoman. In 2017, the Williams Law Group won the LawFirm500 award, ranking 14th of the fastest growing law firms in the nation, as Ms. Williams grew the firm 581% in three years. Ms. Williams won the Silver Stevie Award for Female Entrepreneur of the Year in 2017. In 2018, Ms. Williams was voted as NJBIZ’s Top 50 Women in Business and was designated one of the Top 25 Leading Women Entrepreneurs and Business Owners. In 2019, Ms. Williams won the Seminole 100 Award for founding one of the fastest growing companies among graduates of Florida State University.
In 2018, Ms. Williams created Law Firm Mentor, a business coaching service for lawyers. She helps solo and small law firm attorneys grow their business revenues, crush chaos in business and make more money. Through multi-day intensive business retreats, group and one-to-one coaching, and strategic planning sessions, Ms. Williams advises lawyers on all aspects of creating, sustaining and scaling a law firm business – and specifically, she teaches them the core foundational principles of marketing, sales, personnel management, communications and money management in law firms.
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00: 09: 44 (38 Seconds)
But one of the challenges that we encountered as of March of 2020 when we could no longer have live retreats at least immediately, we were legally barred from having live retreats. Now there’s some logistical challenges with us having live retreats is that we had to move ourselves on to having a virtual experience. And a lot of people, after they started using Zoom for the first time, a lot of lawyers were not using Zoom, except for the occasional meeting here or there, but they certainly didn’t live on Zoom. It became a real struggle to try to tell someone that you’re going to have a good experience when you sit on a virtual platform for hours, and hours, and hours on end.