Category Archives: Law Firm Retreat

Silence Means “No.”

Meeting after the Meeting

We’ve all been in the meeting where everyone seems to reach consensus on what to do next, only to find later that some didn’t agree at all.

Reading Patrick Lencioni’s “The Advantage” the the other day, I came across a simple tip:   Change the meaning of silence in your meeting to “no.”  Here’s how it works:

When closing an action item in the meeting, the leader should ask, “Does everyone agree?”  If there is silence from anyone, assume they don’t.  Only once everyone has verbally affirmed they’re on board should the leader move to the next action item.

I’ve been doing this for a  while in my own meetings and the ones I facilitate, and find it works wonders to get everyone on the same page.  I imagine it would work great in client meetings, too.

Image Credit: Tom Fishburne, Marketoonist.com

 

New Client Strategery

I’m often amazed at how little strategic thinking lawyers give to new client selection.  It is one of the reasons I created the Client Worthiness Index, and is also why I’m sharing my New Client Strategy Plan (.pdf).

Client Strategy Plan

 

The New Client Strategy Plan is a worksheet that I’ve been using in law firm retreats for a few months.  It is loosely based on the wonderful Business Model Generation Canvas, and is designed to get lawyers ask client-focused questions of themselves and their peers before signing (or even targeting) a new client.

It is divided into nine areas, each which asks a series of client-focused questions.  The areas (and supplemental questions) are:

Who will do their work?

  • What is the work and who will do it?
  • What support do they need to get it done?
  • Will they need additional lawyers or staff?

What else can we do for them?

  • What other opportunities are there for new work?
  • Are there additional legal services they may need?
  • Who else in the firm should meet with them?

 Where do they need us?

  • Are we in a location that serves them well?
  • Should we be located elsewhere?

What technology do they demand?

What must we get better at?

  • What legal and non-legal skills must we improve?
  • How will we learn those skills?
  • How might we measure our improvement?

How do they pay for it?

  • Do they want to be billed by the hour?
  • Can we price our services differently?
  • How would they design our pricing?

Who are their key decision makers?

  • Who must we convince to hire us? 
  • How will we find them? 
  • What do they want to know about us?

Why won’t they hire us?

  • What are the roadblocks to hiring us? 
  • Who will be our key competitors? 
  • What should we worry most about?

What must we change?

  • What things in our firm must we change?
  • Will our firm structure support their needs?
  •  Does our compensation plan reward the behaviors that serve them best?

If there are additional (or better) questions you think I should be asking, let me know.

And the next time you’re strategizing about serving a new client, print out a New Client Strategy Plan (.pdf) and fill it out.  Even better, complete one with your best, existing client in mind.  You might be shocked to find you don’t have all the answers you thought you did.

Introducing Kendeo

Over the last 12 months, I have been building a company called Kendeo.  Kendeo’s mission is to leverage great design and creative facilitation to help people think, meet and learn together better.

Kendeo Logo Web 2

Instead of me telling you, let me show you what we do:

Create Engaging Visual Learning Tools

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Design Better Communication Methods 

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 Build Collaborative Conferences

event_design

Facilitate More Engaging Meetings

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But why Kendeo?

As my friends and colleagues know, over the last three years, I’ve been doing lots more work outside of the legal industry.  While I’d originally used LexThink (my legal innovation consultancy) as the “bucket” for that work, I found it increasingly difficult  to explain away LexThink’s legal focus to my non-legal prospects.  I also was wary of diluting the LexThink “brand” by repositioning the company as a generic strategy firm “that also worked with lawyers.”  When Kendeo came along, I jumped at the opportunity to acquire a business with some cool clients and an even cooler story.

Since last May, I’ve been merging the design and learning work (Kendeo’s previous focus) with my passion for building better in-person experiences.  Thus far, it has been a very nice fit.  I have also been having a tremendous amount of fun bringing Kendeo’s capabilities to bear on LexThink’s work with lawyers and firms.

What’s next?

Over the next nine months, both Kendeo and LexThink have a lot up their sleeves, including:

  • Launching a dedicated 8000 square foot conference, retreat and creative collaboration space in St. Louis.
  • Offering turn-key retreats and meetings for up to 100 attendees, which include facilitation, video, and creative workshops.
  • Delivering quarterly Solo Retreats — a big-firm retreat experience for 10-20 small-firm lawyers at a time.
  • Creating a visual “library” of legal-specific images and process maps to support better lawyer-client communication.
  • Hosting a LexThink Innovation Conference utilizing Kendeo’s “Perfect Conference” model.

Stay tuned.  I’ve never been more excited about the work I’m doing professionally, and hope you’ll stick around for the ride.  As always, thanks for your continued support of the blog and the work I do.  I really do appreciate it.

 

Working on something fun …

The last few months, I’ve been working on something pretty cool.  It is several weeks away from the full light of day, but here’s a preview:

 

More to come in October…

Your firm’s purpose. Just six words.

Inspired by Hemingway’s famous short, short story: “For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn,” Smith Magazine asks if you can tell your “life story” in just six words?

Once you’ve conquered your life’s story, how would you use six words to share your firm’s purpose?

Here’s mine:

Helping smart people think together better.

Give it a shot, and leave your six words in the comments below.

Begin Meetings with “How Might We …”

I attended a tremendous presentation by my friend James Macanufo last night about how to use Gamestorming techniques (from the great book he co-authored) to run better meetings.

One tip James shared was the importance of “opening” a meeting well to get attendees immediately engaged.  He suggested beginning with a technique used by IDEO called “How Might We….”

It is deceptively simple:

  1. Begin your meeting by identifying a general topic (for lawyers, it might be the name of a new client or matter).
  2. Next, ask everyone to write as many questions as they can — one per post-it note  —  that begin with the three words “How might we …”
  3. Post the questions on the wall and give everyone in the room a chance to read them all.
  4. Working together, divide them into logical groups of related questions (this is called affinity mapping).
  5. Summarize each group with a big over-arching “How might we …” question.
  6. Use the “big” questions to drive the agenda of the meeting as you work together to answer them.

The power of the “How might we…” question lies in its openness.  You aren’t asking “How will we …” or even “How should we ….”  Instead, you’re giving your meeting attendees the permission to think about all the possibilities, without constraints.  It is important to understand that this is merely an opening technique.  Once you get to the best answers, you still must focus on executing them.

I know I’ll be utilizing this technique in the next retreat I facilitate.  How might you use this in your next meeting?

Understand Your Clients by Becoming Them

If you’d like to improve your client service, start by understanding how your typical clients experience every interaction they have with you and your staff.

Here’s an easy exercise to get you started:

  1. On a whiteboard or large easel-sized post-it note, draw the image above, and divide it into quadrants.
  2. At the top of the drawing, list one part of your client experience.  A good one to start with is your waiting room.
  3. In each quadrant, take smaller post-it notes and ask everyone (your lawyers and staff) to answer each of the four questions as many times as they can.
  4. Be sure to answer each question from your clients’ perspective, beginning each post-it response with the word “I” (I wonder …, I see …, I hear …, etc.).
  5. Take each negative response (“I hear my lawyer complaining to someone about another client.”  “I wonder if she complains about me?”  “I will tell my friends not to trust her.”) and brainstorm at least 7 ways to address it.
  6. Spend at least one hour each week working to fix the negative things so your clients have less to complain about.
  7. Repeat monthly with a different part of your client experience like your website, your bills and even your retainer agreements.

Gamify Your Firm Goals

I just spent the weekend facilitating a law firm retreat with 100+ partners and associates.  One of the goals of the retreat was to generate new ideas on better ways to increase firm revenue (without raising rates).  We came up with dozens of good, actionable ideas that will percolate through the firm and turn into specific action plans for each practice group and individual lawyer.

One thing we didn’t do — but that I’ll be suggesting in short order — was to “gamify” the revenue generation goal.  This article on gamification in Computer World talks about how a company used game theory to encourage employees to work out more in the company gym:

For example, Charlie Kim, CEO of NextJump, wanted to encourage his employees to use the corporate gym because he felt it would better their health and lead to improved productivity and a happier workforce. NextJump began by offering a $20,000 reward to the five employees who used the gym the most in one year. The incentive program boosted gym use from about 3% of the workforce to 12%.

Then Kim made a game of it, and challenged teams of employees to hit the gym with the promise that they would split the same $20,000 pot. The social value in being on the best team raised the number of employees using the gym to 85%, Zichermann said. 

For a firm with multiple practice groups, perhaps the best method to drive behavior change is to stop rewarding individual lawyers for increasing their business, but rather to collectively reward the practice groups (or client teams) with a common incentive.  Driving group behavior through a team-based reward — whether it is based on revenue generated or client service scores — could build a more collegial workplace and deliver real benefits to firms and clients.

Ask Clients to “Remember the Future”

A favorite technique I used when mediating custody and divorce cases — and that I still use today in my consulting — is one where I ask my clients to “Remember the Future.”  Here’s a description of the exercise (as used in a product development context) from the Innovation Games website:

Hand each of your customers a few pieces of paper. Ask them to imagine that it’s some time in the future and that they’ve been using your product almost continuously between now and that future date (it could be a week, or a month, or a quarter – pick a time frame that is appropriate for your product). Now, ask them to go even further – an extra day, or week, or month. Ask your customer to write down, in as much detail as possible, exactly what your product will have done to make them happy (or successful or rich or safe or secure or smart –choose the set of adjectives that work best for your product).

In a professional services context, don’t ask your clients the outcome they desire.  Instead, ask them to imagine their life/business/family a year (or more) from now and then describe in detail what you’ve done to help them succeed.  It is a tremendously powerful exercise that prompts us to think differently about the future because it has already occurred:

This game is based on numerous studies in cognitive psychology that have examined how we think about the future. When we ask the question “What should our product do?” we are not given a frame of reference for comparison. When we ask the question “What will our product have done?”, we generate more fanciful, richly detailed, sensible, and longer descriptions, because it is easier to understand and describe a future event from the past tense over a possible future event, even if neither has occurred.

Give it a try next time you have an initial client meeting.  I remember that you found it very helpful.  ;-)

And check out the entire Innovation Games website.  There are lots of great exercises you can use to grow your business and serve your clients better.

New on the Law Firm Retreat Blog

Here is what’s new on my LexThink Law Firm Retreat Blog:

Check them out, and if I can assist your firm (large or small) with a retreat, practice group meeting or strategy session, let me know, I’m happy to help!

Wanting Creativity is Easier than Doing Creativity

From the Freakonomics Blog comes news of a Cornell study titled, “The Bias Against Creativity: Why People Desire But Reject Creative Ideas.”  Here’s an abstract of the study:

People often reject creative ideas even when espousing creativity as a desired goal. To explain this paradox, we propose that people can hold a bias against creativity that is not necessarily overt, and which is activated when people experience a motivation to reduce uncertainty. In two studies, we measure and manipulate uncertainty using different methods including: discrete uncertainty feelings, and an uncertainty reduction prime. The results of both studies demonstrated a negative bias toward creativity (relative to practicality) when participants experienced uncertainty. Furthermore, the bias against creativity interfered with participants’ ability to recognize a creative idea. These results reveal a concealed barrier that creative actors may face as they attempt to gain acceptance for their novel ideas.

The authors of the study propose that we should worry less about generating creative ideas and more about helping institutions to recognize and accept creativity.  For many working in law firms — especially the marketing and business development folks — this will ring true.

In my work, I’ve found it isn’t enough to give people “creative” ideas.  Too often, a great idea is met with a “We can’t do that here,” or “That will never work,” instead of a “Let’s try it!”  It is far better to help people be creative as they develop relevant, innovative ideas on their own, and then giving them a framework and timeline for implementing them.

What’s been your firm’s experience with creative ideas?   Do you see the same bias that the researchers discuss?

On the LexThink Law Firm Retreat Blog

I’ve been sharing some of my best ideas on how to design and facilitate law firm retreats and practice group meetings over on my new Law Firm Retreat Blog.

Here are some of my recent posts from the last two weeks:

What’s In Your Firm’s Garage?

 

Looking for a place to foster creative side projects and innovation, Microsoft has launched a incubation space for their employees called the Garage.  According to this CNET article, the “Garage” is a workshop-type place that gives employees access to tools, a place to experiment and the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues who share similar interests and skills.  It also is a place where some fun creativity can happen:

 In addition to getting the new space, the Garage also hosts “science fairs,” where employees put together poster-board presentations to show off their creations. Judges, wearing white lab coats, select winners, who get to ignite a homemade volcano dubbed Mount St. Awesome as their reward.  Microsoft has also begun holding “Garage weeks,” where business units stop working on Microsoft products. Instead, employees focus on pet projects. Sometimes, their creations have nothing to do with Microsoft’s business whatsoever. One employee spent a week working on a self-leveling skateboard, something of a Segway for the skate crowd. Sometimes, they’re only peripherally related, such as an immunization tracker application for Windows Phones to help parents keep tabs on the different vaccines their children had received.

This is a fascinating idea that has a place in almost any industry — including law.  Imagine if a law firm set up a “Garage” for lawyers (along with invited clients) to think together on ways to bill differently, serve clients better and explore new practice areas.

If you had an opportunity to build your firm’s garage, what would go in it?  What kinds of things could you accomplish if you and your colleagues had the time and place (and permission) to innovate and think differently about your business.

On the LexThink Law Firm Retreat Blog

I’ve been sharing some of my best ideas on how to design and facilitate law firm retreats and practice group meetings over on my new Law Firm Retreat Blog.

Here are some of my recent posts:

Thinking Unthinkable Thoughts

Kevin Kelly thinks about thinking the unthinkable:

The futurist Herman Khan introduced the idea of “thinking the unthinkable” as a way to loosen up the imagination in trying to forecast the future. Most time we are unable to guess the future because we are inhibited by conventional wisdom – something that everyone knows is true. For instance everyone (including me) knew that an encyclopedia written by amateurs that could be changed by anyone at anytime was simply a silly, impossible idea. That prevented anyone from forecasting wikipedia. Herman Khan stressed that we should assume what we know is wrong and begin to imagine how the unthinkable might happen.

Looking back even ten years, who would have predicted the legal present we’re experiencing now?  Services like Facebook, LinkedIn, Avvo, LegalZoom weren’t around, and the biggest technology decisions most lawyers had to make was between Wordperfect and Word.

Looking forward to 2020, what is “unthinkable” for law practice?  What things are we absolutely certain won’t happen in the next nine years?  Here are a few of mine:

  • There will be no “medium-sized” law firms any longer.  All lawyers will either practice in firms of less than 10 attorneys or more than 1000.
  • The court system, as a venue for dispute resolution of any kind, will cease to exist.  Every dispute will either be settled in mediation or through submission to a computerized, artificial intelligence system, and parties will be bound by its decision.
  • Thompson/Reuters/West and Lexis/Nexis will merge.  Nobody will notice.
  • Law schools will merge with business schools to actually teach students both to “think like a lawyer” and to run a profitable business.
  • Facebook will introduce a feature that automatically recommends to divorcing couples how they should separate their friends and property.

Leave your unthinkable 2020 predictions in the comments, or tag them on twitter with #2020Unthinkables.  I’d love to hear what you think won’t happen in 2020, too.

The Haiku of What You Do

I’m a fan of Haiku, and have been doing an exercise based upon it for several years now at conferences and law firm retreats.  Instead of the 5-7-5 syllable format, I ask my audiences to answer three questions, using just five words for the first question, seven for the second and five again for the third.

Though I’ll use different questions depending upon the event, I recently spoke to the New York City Bar about in-person networking and gave these three questions as a way to quickly develop an “elevator speech” that responds to the “What do you do?” question we get all the time.

The three questions, which must be answered with the specified number of words, are:

  • Who do I help? (Answer in Five Words)
  • What do I do for them? (Answer in Seven Words)
  • Why do they need me? (Answer in Five Words)

An example response to these questions from a business lawyer could be:

I help small business owners

incorporate their businesses and protect their assets

so they can sleep better.

Another example for a personal injury lawyer may be:

I help injured accident victims

understand their rights and recover medical expenses

from people who are responsible.

Give it a try.  It isn’t an easy exercise, but it will help you answer that all-to-common networking question with something other than, “I’m a lawyer.”

 

Update: Thanks to Gina Roers for the new title for the post.

Ten (New) Truths of CLE

To many lawyers, their state-mandated continuing legal education (CLE) is a necessary chore to be completed, rather than an anticipated opportunity to hone their skills in an exciting and stimulating environment.  Part of the reason lawyers don’t love CLE more is that the traditional panel-centric format has — to put it nicely — grown stale.  Even if listening to three speakers reading their slides worked once, it doesn’t work now.  The audience has changed — and the industry must change with it.

In this article, I offer ten observations, tips and even some advice to those in the CLE business.  Though these aren’t my talking points, they mirror much of what I’m going to be speaking about at the Association for Continuing Legal Education (ACLEA) in my talk “The Innovative CLE: Ten Bold Proposals for Change” later this month in New York City.

1.  If you ask your attendees what they’re buying from you and they answer “CLE credit,” you’ve got a terrible problem.  Stop selling credit, and instead sell understanding, collaboration and community.  Give lawyers what they need to keep their clients happy — not just what they need to keep their license.

2.  Your audience has far less attention to pay than they once did.  Recognize that your events must change because your attendees already have.  And never confuse your audience’s attendance for their attention:  while you only have to earn their attendance once, you’ve got to earn their attention all event long.

3.  Your audience’s ability to pay attention at your event is inversely proportional to their ability to pay attention to the outside world.  There’s a very fine line between supporting their technology and giving them yet another way to check their fantasy football standings.

4.  Lawyers love online CLE — not because it improves upon the in-person experience, but because it duplicates it.  If lawyers are going to passively consume information from a speaker or panelist, they might as well do it from their desk as they get some “real” work done.  If you want lawyers to attend your programs, offer them something they can’t get online, like the ability to work with (and learn from) the other attendees in the room.

5.  Convincing lawyers to attend your programs begins with answering their one simple question: “How will this make me better at what I do?”  Focus less on the specific things they’ll learn, and more upon how their practice will improve the moment they leave your event.

6.  People complain loudest about the price of things they don’t want to buy.  If your customers say your prices are too high, focus first on giving them more value — and if you must cut the price, don’t be afraid to give them less.  Also, never forget that the price of your event matters less to attendees than their cost to attend it. 

7.  Your attendees will get far more “networking” done when they are thinking together than when they are drinking together.

8.  Imagine a second-grade class room where the teacher never makes time to answer the students’ questions.  Asking 300 people, with two minutes left before the next session starts, “Are there any questions?” is a lot like that.

9.  You aren’t serving lawyers well if you refuse to teach them to attract great clients and run their businesses better.  It is a hell of a lot easier to be a competent, ethical attorney when you’re not worried about keeping your lights on and your family fed.

10.  Just because your audiences aren’t asking for a better experience doesn’t mean they don’t deserve one.  Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”  Think about ways to build a better CLE.  Experiment, and try new and novel things.  Your audience is far more likely to forgive your ambitiousness as they are to tolerate your ambivalence.

Who Can Change Your Firm?

I ran across this idea from an interview with a “Disney Expert” Bill Capodagli in this 37 Signals post on supportive conflict.  It seems Disney gave everyone in the organization an opportunity to “pitch” a movie to the heads of the company:

Take the regular meeting they hold called The Gong Show, which is based on the old TV amateur-hour show. It’s a concept where, two or three times a year, any Disney employee can present an idea for a full-length feature animation before Michael Eisner, CEO and chairman of the board, and Roy Disney, vice chairman of the board, and other executives. Hercules, the animated film, for example, came about from an animator’s idea that was presented at a Gong Show. The company benefits because they get thousands of good ideas from their employees, some of which are developed into feature films. And the employees benefit because they know they have the freedom to submit ideas that will be listened to. Even if their idea is “gonged,” they celebrate it and learn from it.

Does your firm give every employee — from junior partner to part-time file clerk — the chance to share their ideas for ways to make the firm better?  It should!

Build Your Culture Like Zappos Does

File this one under the "Hmmmmm, that's kinda cool!" category.  In this Inc. Magazine article, Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh talks about why he (reluctantly) sold his company to Amazon. 

What stood out to me, was his take on keeping his company's famous culture alive, even as they grow:

I've noticed that at company happy hours, you don't see as many employees from different departments hanging out with one another.

To address that, we've begun tracking employee relationships. When employees log in to their computers, we ask them to look at a picture of a random employee and then ask them how well they know that person — the options include "say hi in the halls," "hang out outside of work," and "we're going to be longtime friends." We're starting to keep track of the number and strength of cross-departmental relationships — and we're planning a class on the topic. My hope is that we can have more employees who plan to be close friends.

Imagine a law firm doing that!

What Does a Legal “Unconference” Look Like?

I had the privilege of facilitating the ABA’s National Roundtable on Lawyer Specialty Certification in Denver last month.  We brought together around 50 lawyers, threw out the agenda, and let the attendees control their day.  Here’s what happened.

Ten Rules of Law Firm Retreats

Whether your next law firm retreat takes place at a tropical location or in the firm’s conference room, there are several things to keep in mind to make it productive, useful and fun.  Here are my Ten “Rules” for law firm retreats.  Feel free to add your own in the comments.  Enjoy!

1.  When planning a retreat, the most important voice at the table should belong to your best clients.  Ask them what you need to improve upon in the coming year, and invite them if you dare.

2.  At a good retreat, firm management spends as much time listening to the lawyers as they do talking to them.  At a great retreat, that ratio is closer to 3:1.

3.  It is far more important for attorneys to think together at your next firm retreat than it is for them to golf together.

4.  If you don’t make time for lawyers to improve your firm during the retreat, they’re less likely to take time to improve your firm when the retreat is done.

5.  In big firms, the first thing you should teach lawyers is one another’s names.  Familiarity builds collegiality.  Lawyers won’t care what their colleagues do until they know who they are.

6.  “Networking” cocktail parties don’t encourage firm-wide collaboration as much as they encourage firm-wide inebriation.

7.  If the firm retreat is the only time lawyers talk about marketing, it will be the only time they think about marketing.  Same goes for client service.

8.  Your staff knows more about how to serve your clients well than your associates do.  Bring them along, value their opinions and act on their suggestions.  You’ll find that the cost of their attendance is far lower than the cost of their absence.

9.  The three questions every lawyer should be able to answer after a retreat are: “What can I do better?” “Who should I know better?” and “Why should I be better?”

10.  The two costliest items at any firm retreat are the time and attention of the attendees.  Use them wisely.

If you'd like some help implementing some of these suggestions, check out LexThink and drop me a line.  If you'd like to see more Ten Rules posts, here they are.

Tired of Talking About the Weather?

Here’s a great collection of conversation starters from CanTeach.  Organized helpfully in categories of “What is…” “What if…” “What do you think…” etc., I’d take a quick look at these next time you’ve got a get together and want to come up with something for everyone to talk about besides the weather or their occupation.

Who needs those Guinness Book folks?

Ever wanted to set a world record and not have to worry about those sticklers from the Guinness Book of World Records?  Check out The Universal Record Database.  An open, participatory site for posting your own world "record" and daring anyone out there to top it.

Some of the featured records include: Most People Complimented in One Minute, Most Panama Kicks in One Minute, and Fastest Time to Open a Can of Campbell's Alphabet Soup and Spell "Pantyhose".

The site is equal parts brilliance and sheer stupidity — and it is utterly addictive. 

Now for the "legal" bit:  How about brainstorming a world record for your firm to set?  You can post it for the world to see.  Imagine how much fun you'd have, and think about the all the fun press you'd get.  I'm already thinking about what we can attempt at LexThink Innovate.  Any ideas?

UPDATE:  As I write this, there are no "records" posted involving "law" "lawyer" or "legal".

The Perfect Law Firm Retreat: Let Your Clients Set the Agenda

So you’re working on the agenda for your firm’s next retreat?  You’ve got the standard bases covered:

Message from the Chairperson?  Check.
Firm financials?  Check.
Important legal decisions?  Check.
Practice-group breakouts?  Check.
Rainmaking training?
Golf?  Check.

Client concerns?  Huh?

You’ve asked your clients what they’d like you to talk about, haven’t you?  You should.  And I’m not just talking about mastering their new billing requirements.  I’m suggesting you should poll your most important clients and ask them what they’d like you to cover at your next retreat. 

You might be surprised at what they’d like you to learn — and they’ll be surprised you cared enough to do so.

The Perfect Law Firm Retreat: Leave the Lawyers at Home

If you are serious about making your firm better, next time you are thinking about a law firm retreat, stop.  Cancel (or postpone) your lawyer’s retreat and spend your money on a staff retreat instead. 

Here are seven reasons you should consider a staff retreat this year:

1.  Your staff know how your firm works better than you do.  You know how your firm is supposed to work.  They know how it actually works.  They observe,  notice and understand the little things that you may overlook.  Unlocking their creativity will give you dozens (if not hundreds) of practical ideas to make your firm work better.

2.  Your staff doesn’t know what your lawyers know, but they know what your lawyers should know.  If you wanted to improve the efficiency of your firms lawyers by training them to do one thing better, what would it be? You might think a seminar on “rainmaking” will improve your firm’s bottom line.  The staff might suggest “copier training” instead — and they’d probably be right.

3.  Your staff knows how to save you money.  Every single person on your staff has at least three ways to save you $100 each month.  Whether you want to reduce your overhead or prioritize your technology spending, your staff will give you better ideas than your attorneys will.

4.  Your clients don’t act like clients around your staff.  When “on the clock,” your clients act like clients.  When talking to your receptionist, secretary or paralegal, your clients act like people.  Your staff know better than you what your clients hate about your firm.  Ask them nicely and they’ll tell you.

5.  Your staff are your best source for competitive intelligence.  Want to know what your competitors are up to?  Ask your staff.  They talk with their peers at other firms, and they know what’s happening in your slice of the legal market.  They also know (probably before you) when and why your clients won’t pay their bills.

6.  Your staff can help you say no.  Your staff know which clients don’t deserve your firm’s work, and which ones you should fire.  They also know the least talented and productive members of your firm, but we’ll leave that topic for another day.

7.  Your staff is cheap.  Well, not really “cheap,” but compared to the hourly billing rates for a day of the firm’s attorneys’ time, a day-long staff retreat is a bargain. The staff probably doesn’t expect four days in Maui, either.

The most important reason to do a staff retreat, however, is that your staff will feel great knowing you value their ideas.  The single most effective way to engage your employees and make them feel good about working for you is to listen to them — and asking them to help your firm solve its most pressing challenges is a tremendous way to do it.

One important key:  whether you hire LexThink or someone else, you absolutely should not facilitate this one by yourself.  Keep lawyers out of the room if you want your staff to speak freely.  You’ll be rewarded with their candor.

And when they get back to the office, make sure they each have their own set of business cards.  If you value them, there’s no better way to show it, than by allowing them to be ambassadors for your firm.

The Perfect Law Firm Retreat: Introduction

Over at LexThink, I offer creative law firm retreat design and facilitation.  It is something I really love to do, and it is tremendously rewarding to work with a firm’s lawyers as they collaborate and develop amazing ideas — along with a plan to implement those ideas — that will make their business better.
 
However, not every firm can afford to hire someone to design and facilitate their retreat or practice group meeting.  Starting this week, I’m going to be posting some of my thoughts on building the "Perfect Law Firm Retreat."  I’ll include ideas, sample agendas and descriptions of exercises I’ve used to get people working (and thinking) together. 

I’ll also include fun/crazy ideas for holding an "on-site" retreat (or even eliminating retreats all together) that will he help firms get most of the benefits of holding an off-site retreat without the costs.

I’d love your input, via comment, email or twitter (@mhomann).  Thanks!

Join us in the Hallway.

Buzz understands what we are trying to accomplish at BlawgThink:

In all tech events, it seems like the best part are the hallway conversations. Hallways include lunch, breakfast, dinner, drinks. I keep meeting extraordinary people, who have ideas, companies, products that are often in the stage of evolution.

We recognize, like Buzz, that the best part of most conferences is never the conference.  We’re working hard to change that.  Like our first LexThink event this past April, we are trying to make those “hallway conversations” a significant part of BlawgThink.  For example, we’ve built in 15 minutes between every session so attendees can have some time to talk with the presenters or with one another.  We’ll also be collecting ideas from each session and use them as great starting points for the second day of collaborative brainstorming.  Finally, we are going to make plenty of room available for people to engage in conversations with one another if they’d rather talk instead of attending sessions at all.

For some of our thinking about conferences, head on over to our brainstorming site and add your thoughts.  Just remember to “save” when you are done.