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 (www.HelmsBriscoe.com). 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!
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 CBragoni@HelmsBriscoe.com
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 JRemsen@TheRemsenGroup.com.