“Let me assert my belief that the only thing that we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror that paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Inaugural address, March 4, 1933

Do law firm retreats still provide value?

Do law firm retreats still provide value?

On Thursday and Friday this week, the State Bar Board of Governors and senior staff are in Prescott, engaged in their annual retreat. There, they will examine a range of topics, reassess their mission for the coming year and, we must suppose, wrestle with Great Big Ideas.

That leaves all of us chickens to not retreat (and to, I guess, advance) here in Phoenix.

On this Change of Venue Friday, that fact leads me to wonder about the continued vitality (or its opposite) of the law firm retreat. Is that former staple of the white-shoe firm still a valued part of a vaunted profession? Or has it diminished in frequency or perceived value?

Years ago, I had the (gulp) privilege to work at three large national firms, two in Chicago (before I was a lawyer) and one in Orange County, Calif. (after I graduated). Each firm prided itself on the team-building and idea-generating that came from a retreat (primarily of the partners).

Years later, when we assess the state of law firms generally and review the number of them that simply are no more, you have to wonder: What were they all discussing at those retreats? Clearly, high-level kibitzing proved to be no inoculation against a legal-market downturn. Many firms came into a recession ill prepared, and paid the price—retreat or no retreat.

So as I advance rather than retreat here at work (thanks to Mark Beese for that contrasting thought!), I ask you, whether or not you participate in retreats:

  • What is the highest value in a retreat?
  • What questions and topics should be taken up at a law firm annually (whether at a retreat or not)?
  • What are the biggest obstacles for progress at a law firm, and how could they be confronted in a retreat atmosphere?

Have a great weekend.