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Company retreats can add value to law firm

By Tony Poland, AdvocateDaily.com Associate Editor

Workplace retreats can be a valuable tool when building an efficient, profitable law firm, says Toronto legal management consultant Mark Dormer, president of Cosgrove Associates Inc.

While there are people who would prefer to keep their nose to the grindstone, Dormer tells AdvocateDaily.com it’s important to occasionally push everyday work aside and take a broader look at the direction the firm and its employees are headed.

“Lawyers are very good at their profession and highly focused on client work, but sometimes it’s necessary for them to lift their heads, look at their business and do some planning for the future,” he says.

Cosgrove looks to increase the profitability of law firms by providing financial management and administrative services, Dormer says, adding the company consults with lawyers to provide “systems that enhance cash flow without increasing hours worked.”

One of the services offered is organizing company retreats, which he says helps lawyers from firms of any size to “get out of the routine of the office, and step away from daily distractions, especially emails.”

Dormer says even if firms may not fully embrace the idea of a retreat, they recognize the value.

“They may not have the will, but they understand the need for it. If a retreat is well run then they don’t look at it as a waste of time, but rather as something that breathes new life into the business side of their practice,” he says.

While the event can be held in-house with company staff, Dormer says retreats are generally more effective if they are moved offsite with a third party taking charge.

“Sometimes it’s best to have a facilitator because you work pretty closely with the other lawyers in the firm and it may be challenging to pay attention to what the senior partners are saying if they’re running the show,” he says. “As well, there’s always the suspicion that if somebody internal is in charge, they are doing it in their own best interests.”

Moving to an offsite location such as a resort, for example, not only gives participants the chance to disengage from everyday tasks, it has the added benefit of combining work with a “mini-vacation,” Dormer explains. “There are benefits to getting away from the routine of your office.”

Dormer says it’s vital to have an agenda that is not “too onerous” but addresses any concerns or needs the firm may have while also looking to future growth.

He says Cosgrove will consult with a law firm to find out “how they see themselves professionally and even personally in the next five to 10 years” and identify any hot-button topics the group wants to tackle.

Dormer says he generally finds firms will want to target business development, how to attract clientele, succession plans and changes in technology, but agendas are tailored to specific needs.

He says it’s not unusual for law offices to spend “very little time on management” proposals on an ongoing basis.

“It’s important to map out the future of the firm,” Dormer says. “By having a strategy, you’re more likely to accomplish your goals and make it a better firm in the long run.”

While a well-run retreat with a strong agenda is essential, following up on the ideas that result is vital, he says.

“What I find most perplexing is sometimes a firm has had these retreats before, but unless there’s some kind of followup, then they’re destined to fail,” Dormer says.

“What happens is they do these sessions, come up with great ideas, put them up on a shelf in their office, get their noses back into the day-to-day work and a year later they dust off that plan.”

He says depending on the outcome of the session and the timing of the changes being implemented, Cosgrove will follow up with the firm to help guide the process.

“Making the plan happen is important,” Dormer says.

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