According to a recent survey by Law360, nearly 70% of lawyers from large and mid-sized firms of all sizes reported that they felt stressed out either most of the time or all of the time. Lawyers from small firms were not far behind at 61%. Additionally, research from the Florida State University College of Law showed that interpersonal work relationships (or lack thereof) were a big contributor to stress levels in the legal work environment.
Although it might be easy to adopt a “love it or leave it” perspective about the realities of stress and hostility in a legal workplace, many partners are taking a new approach.
Law firm retreats are an important part of this approach. They allow mindful team building to increase skills, provide opportunities for learning, and foster psychological safety—the feeling that attorneys are welcomed and valued in a community where they are emotionally safe.
Let’s face it: lawyers aren’t always the easiest people to get along with. They are intelligent, outspoken, and driven towards discourse, and sometimes that means that conflict is as likely within a law firm as it is in the courtroom.
Although some partners look at this friction as just a day-to-day part of the job, others recognize that it contributes to decreased health in both team members and the business itself. Having a law firm retreat mitigates these areas of friction through a combination of team-building, shared experiences and learning, and professional growth.
Team-Building. Most law firms create their retreat around a variety of team-building exercises that are designed to increase trust, friendship, and communication. Rappelling down the side of a cliff can be scary, but it teaches attorneys to work together in a way that leaves a permanent impression.
Shared Experiences. Research from the University of South Wales’ School of Business showed that leaders who fostered shared experience saw an 18% increase in productivity in their staffs. Experiences like whitewater rafting, hiking, or ziplining release endorphins that build relationships and foster communication.
Professional Growth. A law firm retreat can be about building relationships, but it often requires a financial or experiential lure to ensure that attorneys fully participate. Adding continuing education credits not only gives some a reason for coming, but improves the focus of your law firm retreat.
Even when you’ve decided that this is the right step for your law firm, there are seemingly hundreds of small details to organize and decide. Here are some of the important questions you should have answers to before packing that suitcase.
1. Who should attend?
Although some law firms will only invite partners to the firm, others will want to ensure that everyone—from partners down to the office staff—participates in the team-building opportunity. The limitations of this are really your personal goals: Who needs to learn how to collaborate? How much is this collaboration worth to the firm? Once you know that, you’ll know how many should attend the retreat.
2. When to go?
It seems like the best time for a law firm retreat would be in the summer, when the weather is good. Still, many firms don’t want to fight with the demands already being placed on attorneys’ time. The most popular time for a retreat is usually in the first quarter of the year, after the holidays are over and new business development goals for the firm are set.
3. When to go?
Legal retreats are unique to each company’s culture and style. While one firm might choose to have their retreat at a local campground, another might choose to explore the exotic jungles of Costa Rica (which is a tax write-off and financially very economical). Whatever you choose, make sure it is a memorable experience that has been planned with your goals in mind.
It doesn’t help anyone to brush interoffice conflict and stress under the carpet. Instead of being reactive to negative personal relationships, hosting a law firm retreat is a proactive solution that builds your firm’s community and skills in a memorable, fun way.