Beat the Retreat

I’m just so over retreats….

They can be helpful in occasionally recalibrating direction or pinpointing higher level practice issues…. but more often than not they aren’t.

Boards of large rules-based firms do better at these things because they can and do enforce decisions…. viz, this is what’s going to happen.

Smaller partnerships are a lot harder. Typically rules aren’t as well respected; high billing terrorists reserve the right to be late and disruptive (because they can); dominant partners reserve the right to prevail (because they always have); and the big lateral left field idea is a thing of beauty. (And of course, some doze through the lot).

The threshold question prior to a retreat ought to be: of the various objectives, promises and commitments agreed at the last one, which have actually been delivered, and what substantive behaviours and / or processes in the firm have changed?

For most firms, the content is forgotten (or at least sidelined) before the end of the following week. So why prove your insanity by doing the same thing again and expecting a different result?

To improve anything, you need (1) problem recognition (2) judgement about real causes and manageable components (3) motivation to do something about it and (4) the character and discipline to actually do something about it.

Retreats typically play to items 1-3, but in law firms the absolute kicker is item 4 – character and discipline.

The cold reality is that it’s easy for people to talk a big, visionary game at a typical retreat – because it’s all opinions and no accountability.

So if you’re committed to a retreat – OK – have it – but at least have the sense to cut down the blue skies by 50% and allocate the saved time to how you’re all prepared to commit to delivery and personal accountability. Trust me – not many do.


Published: Queensland Law Society – Proctor, October 2014 (p. 57)



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