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Law Firm Retreat

Five Ways to Retreat This Fall — Even Solos!

By Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

From my office window, I can see my neighbor, Mickey Wilson, an international “slackline” champion, practicing spectacular flips and turns from his stance on a two-inch wide strip of webbing loosely suspended across six feet of air — pushing himself to master new tricks and invent others. By far, my favorite moment is when he pauses, bouncing lightly on both feet, eyes fixed straight ahead … then explodes straight up, arcing into an amazing gymnastic feat. It’s during the pause when he “gets his mind right” to try something difficult.

I see a law firm retreat as that pause to “get your mind right,” too.

Getting Your Mind Right

There is a lot written on how to plan and conduct a successful law firm retreat. Most focus on Biglaw law firms and the dizzying details of organizing and gathering everyone together. But you don’t have to be in a big firm to take advantage of a retreat. Today we look at five ways an individual lawyer can take that pause before leaping — regardless of your law firm size or setting.

1. Take a day away from the usual. If you are like most lawyers, managing your practice is something that happens in between the billable work … on the train at the beginning of your day … at the end of the day before you turn your computer to “sleep.” Sure, that will do for the day-to-day running of things, but at least once every 12 months a person needs more time and space to get a handle on the big picture. So mark out a day on your calendar, gather all the information about your practice you can find, and head off to somewhere else to sit and focus on management for today’s eight hours. It could be a quiet carrel in your law school library, an office on loan by a client or colleague, or the lobby of a big downtown hotel. (DO NOT tell anyone how to find you!) With a different view and no interruptions, you are free to review the status of your business, explore solutions to problems, make lists and set your sites on a productive year ahead.

2. Gather the team. Unless you truly practice all alone, there are other people involved in delivering legal services to your clients. They may be lawyers. Or they could be staff members and contractors. Regardless, there is value in gathering with those who work together throughout the week. Again, it’s best to go somewhere other than your usual space to take a fresh look at things. And try as best you can to break the normal power structure and decision-making processes. If you can’t afford an outsider to facilitate discussion, ask each team member to lead a part of the conversation. If you don’t know what needs to be on the agenda, ask each person to suggest one item. (Chances are, many will be the same.)

3. Meet with your board of directors. You don’t have a board of directors? Well, now is a good time to get one. I’m not talking about people with a formal or legal involvement in your business. Rather, why not identify four or five businesspeople and professionals whom you admire and respect — people whose advice you value — and ask them to participate in a meeting to coach and advise you on your business? An accountant, real estate broker, branding expert … whatever. You’ll know what’s appropriate. Treat them with utmost courtesy — send information ahead, provide top-drawer meals and treats — and by all means offer to compensate them. (Although they may find the meeting as beneficial as you do since they will get to spend time with other professionals in town.) They may even ask you to do the same for their business in return.

4. Let “Big Data” guide you. There’s so much talk about big data, you’d think it was the latest cure for baldness. But it is pretty cool to look at yourself and your business in terms of the patterns and insights that come from gathering, organizing and cross-referencing large quantities of information. Rank every client new to your practice this year by total billings minus collections and you’ll learn something about where not to look for more clients. Look at your non-billable hours by month. Figure out the average number of hours you spend per particular type of case and it’s only a couple of steps from there to develop a flat-fee system for those cases in the future. Look at your clients by Zip code and cross-reference that data with where you are spending advertising dollars. There’s a lot you can do — and learn. And taking a day away, just you and your computer, can set your feet firmly under you for the next year’s race.

5. Treat yourself. It’s also possible that the best thing you could do to rewind your inner spring has nothing to do with doing more work. By planning a day (or a week!) doing something for yourself, you could find the renewal necessary to jumpstart a new year. Visit a spa or retreat. Improve your golf swing or your swimming dynamics with a coaching immersion. Take on an Ultramarathon. Or relax on a train or a boat. Even a little spiritual retreat is worth consideration.

What you’re looking for is a break from the norm that gets your mind right for the gymnastics of the year to come.

Illustration ©

Categories: Daily Dispatch, Law Firm Strategy, Managing a Law Firm
Originally published September 9, 2016
Last updated April 13, 2019
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Merrilyn Astin Tarlton Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

Merrilyn is the author of “Getting Clients: For Lawyers Starting Out or Starting Over.” She has been helping lawyers and law firms think differently about the business of practicing law since 1984. She is a founding member of the Legal Marketing Association, an LMA Hall of Fame inductee, and a past President of the College of Law Practice Management. Merrilyn was a founding partner of Attorney at Work. 

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