Planning Your Next Firm Retreat

With Proper Planning and Execution, Your Firm Can Have Its Best One Ever!

By Christopher Bragoni and John Remsen, Jr.

As law firms become larger, multi-office and even multi-national, Firm Retreats have become more and more commonplace. In fact, The Remsen Report’s Reader Survey conducted in April 2007 reveals that almost half of the 180 firms that participated have a Firm Retreat once a year. Another 25% have one every other year.

Although it may sound like a relatively simple task, planning and executing a successful Firm Retreat is much more complicated than one might think -- certainly requiring more time and effort than planning the firm’s holiday party! When you consider the number of attendees, their high level of expectation and the total cost, planning a Firm Retreat is anything but simple! In addition, the meetings industry is extremely competitive so, unlike planning the family vacation, finding the right hotel and negotiating the best deal can be challenging and time consuming.

Although every Firm Retreat differs according to the firm’s unique culture and its specific issues, the primary purpose usually involves strategic planning, marketing and business development, discussions of specific business issues, and creating vision for the firm’s future direction. Equally important are team building, social camaraderie and just plain having fun!

All of these objectives can be met in a properly planned and well executed Firm Retreat held at the right time and at the right place. Once you’ve determined your objectives, your venue selection can be the single most important factor in a successful event. Avoid the common mistake of rushing to select a hotel and assuming that everything will fall into place from there…because it just won’t happen!!

When planning your next Firm Retreat, there are six important questions that need to be answered:

1. What is the purpose?

The firm is investing lots of time and money to gather its people, so it’s important to have very clear goals and objectives for what you want to accomplish during your time together. Next, you must develop an agenda to support those objectives. This is critical. Your goals and objectives will also play a big role in determining the type of hotel you’ll need.

2. Who is going to attend?

Partners only? Associates? Spouses? Senior staff? If the purpose is to gain buy-in to a new strategic direction for the firm, partners only might be appropriate. If, however, the primary purpose is more social and relationship building, the firm might include associates and spouses. More and more firms are inviting clients, recruits and alumni to their Firm Retreats, as well.

3. What is the best location?

Once you have determined your objectives and developed the agenda, you can then find and select an appropriate venue. For example, resorts lend themselves to relationship building and camaraderie, while business hotels might be the better choice for a partners only planning session. Some firms go to the same place year after year, while others move it around.

4. What are your meeting room needs?

The agenda will dictate your meeting room requirements, set up and times, A/V equipment, food and beverage functions and recreational activities. Attention to detail is extremely important.

5. What are the preferred dates?

It is advisable to confirm preferred dates with key attendees, and try to work with several sets of dates if you are locked into a particular venue. It’s best to begin the planning process at least six to nine months out.

6. What is the budget?

To keep a handle on costs, establish a realistic budget in advance. In addition to hotel accommodations, travel, food and beverage, recreation and the like, consider the collective value of the lawyers’ time. (Yikes!) If you plan to engage outside speakers or consultants to participate, consider their fees and expenses, as well.

Only after you have answered these questions are you ready to start looking for the right hotel. Depending on the destination you are considering, we recommend that you develop a Request for Proposal (RFP) and get formal proposals from five to seven hotels that meet your criteria.

After you review all the proposals, narrow your options down to two or three. Next, take the time to visit each venue to see the guest rooms and meeting space. Stay overnight. Eat in the restaurant, order room service and check out all the amenities your group is likely to use. Ask each hotel to place a tentative hold on the guest rooms and meeting space to protect the space until you’ve got a signed contract. And keep in mind that just about everything is negotiable, so be sure to negotiate, negotiate, negotiate!

If you have never planned a Firm Retreat or simply do not have the time, you should consider outsourcing the site search and selection to a company like HelmsBriscoe ( They are experts at meeting planning and can act as your meetings assistant. They can also save you both time and money, by finding the right venue and negotiating the best possible deal. Best of all, there are no formal contract commitments or direct costs as they are paid a placement fee by the hotel.

Planning your next Firm Retreat can be an overwhelming task, but it doesn’t have to be. If you keep your objectives in mind, develop a focused agenda, select the right hotel and utilize the many available resources, you can almost guarantee a successful event!

Happy planning!

About the Authors

Christopher Bragoni is Regional Director of HelmsBriscoe, the world’s largest and most respected meeting site search and selection firm. Christopher has over 24 years of global hospitality and meetings experience and specializes in law firm retreats. He can be reached at 323.654.0432 or
John Remsen, Jr. is President of TheRemsenGroup, a marketing consulting firm that works exclusively with law firms to help them attract and retain the clients they want. He has been a featured speaker and/or helped plan over 50 law firm retreats. He can be reached at  He can be reach at 404.885.9100 or


Does Your Law Firm Have an Annual Firm Retreat?

Our survey asked readers whether or not their law firms held an annual Firm Retreat and, if so, who attends. Almost half (48%) of the survey participants said they have an annual Firm Retreat and an additional 17% say they have one, but not every year. 29% reported that don’t have one at all. A record 180 readers participated. See the pie charts below for the complete breakdown.

Question 1:
Does Your Law Firm Have an Annual Firm Retreat?

Question 2:
If Yes, Who Attends?

Top 100 Tips for Working the Room

By Jeffrey M. Horn

Level I — Beginner Learnings
Before the reception

1. Think about who will be attending. Who do you want to meet? Who can you introduce to whom?
2. Practice a self-introduction. Think about what you will say when asked, “What do you do?”
3. Bring a stack of business cards
4. Have some topics to talk about: read a newspaper, watch the news

At the reception

In General

5. Arrive early
6. Try wearing your name tag on the right
7. Don’t be pond scum
8. Avoid off-color humor
9. Avoid smoking
10. Avoid being loud
11. Avoid complaining
12. Don’t sit
13. Avoid excessive food
14. Avoid excessive drink


15. Meet more people rather than fewer
16. Focus on introductions and relationships, not selling


17. Look at and encourage the speaker
18. Resist interrupting
19. Spend 95 percent of time asking questions about other person
20. Try to spend 5 minutes not using the word “I”

Remembering Names

21. Repeat the name throughout conversation (judiciously)

Business Cards

22. Ask for business cards (rather than offering yours) and spend some time examining the card

Body Language

23. Smile
24. Make and maintain eye contact
25. Speak at a medium pace and clearly
26. Stand up straight

Graceful Exit

27. Keep one hand free to shake hands in next interaction
28. Don’t be afraid to say, “Excuse me—I see someone I need to say hello to”


29. Send thank-you notes

Level II — Intermediate Learnings
Before the reception

1. Create an action plan of how you are going to “work” the event
2. Set one goal for the event and write it down — make the goal attainable and realistic (e.g., meet two individuals and collect two business cards)
3. Get a copy of the attendee list

At the reception

In General

4. Position yourself near the door
5. Think of yourself more as a Host, as opposed to a Guest, and act accordingly
6. Avoid sizing up name tags
7. Avoid the “sympathy vote” by beginning conversations complaining (about weather, health, room temperature, etc.)
8. Carry a half glass of beverage and order only half a glass of beverage to greater facilitate separation
9. Avoid people you know unless they have the opportunity to give you a cross-introduction


10. Initiate handshakes, but respect people’s personal space — don’t crowd them
11. Repeat the name of the person when you meet them
12. Be sure you have a brief, effective introduction of yourself — it should be less than 15 seconds and identify your name, areas of interest, and what you do
13. Look for individuals in the room with “white knuckles.” Although they may be “wall flowers,” they might be valuable people to spend time with


14. Repeat what you hear during the course of a conversation — it reflects that you’re listening, and it clarifies points
15. Refer back to conversation later in the dialogue — “As you said earlier, …”
16. Discuss any subject other than doing business
17. When you enter a group; listen for 3 minutes and avoid “striking up the conversation”
18. Focus on be interested vs. interesting
19. Try to find two things in common with the other person

Remembering Names

20. Introduce yourself in a way that teaches people your name: “My name is Jim Hanley — it rhymes with manly…”

Business Cards

21. Make notes on the back of a person’s business card — “Let me write that down on the back of your card…”
22. Keep your business cards in an easy-to-reach pocket — pulling them out of your wallet can be clumsy

Body Language

23. Be relaxed
24. Watch when you nod
25. Pause and listen
26. Don’t look over the shoulder
27. Be sensitive to body language

Graceful Exit

28. You should anticipate that you will spend no more than four to seven minutes with any one individual. After that, you should be prepared to “move on.”
29. You feel more uncomfortable about leaving the interaction than the other person. It’s acceptable to say that you have to make a phone call, get a drink, go to the restroom or say hello to someone you have seen.


30. Follow-up as soon as possible (within 1 week)
31. In follow-up letters, see if you can remember something to ask them to send you. This puts a little bit of the ball in their court.

Level III — Advanced Learnings
Before the reception

1. Pick one name from the registration list to call. “I noticed you were also attending this conference and I was wondering if you were going to the reception as well. I was hoping to steal a few minutes and meet you to find out more about you and the ABC Company…”
2. Think of several questions in advance: “How would I know if I ran into your ideal client or prospect?”
3. If attending with co-workers, share thoughts, strategy, and mental checklist of action items before attending

At the reception

In General

4. Study clothing, shoes, etc. — you can tell many books by their cover.
5. Never sit at an empty table or next to an empty chair
6. Work one-on-one or with small groups
7. Never be critical of anyone at the reception to their face or behind their back
8. Be extra courteous to the staff — they can be a friend or an enemy


9. Volunteer your name
10. Split up with colleagues and circulate
11. When introducing someone to someone else, tell a bit about each person, something that might connect them
12. If you have met two people, introduce them to one another
13. Introductions are perfect times to “market” new colleague
14. Look for Meet


15. Ask for interpretations: “What do you mean by ‘often’?”
16. Control your body language — be aware of messages you are sending and those you should be receiving
17. Be hypersensitive
18. Ask questions requiring more than a one-word answer
19. Explore comments another makes—more questions are a way of demonstrating interest

Remembering Names

20. Ask the other person their name and then spend time on it, asking the person about self, unusual-sounding name, or other aspect of her introduction
21. Give a memorable description of self, and self-deprecating is okay: “I’m the only one here who can’t break 150 on the golf course.”

Business Cards

22. Use notes on business cards to forward articles of interest

Body Language

23. Keep a level head
24. Don’t fidget
25. Use entire physical being to express yourself
26. Don’t respond to distractions
27. Show people what you mean
28. Maintain an approachable expression

Graceful Exit

29. “Well, I don’t want to take up all your time. I’m sure you have other people you want to talk to and so do I. I’d like to continue our conversation, so why don’t we plan to get together? I’ll call you next week.”


30. Stay in touch: mailing list, invitation to participate