We regularly facilitate partner retreats/conferences for law firms. These are usually a full day strategic session to include workshops and breakout sessions, all ultimately with the intention of bringing partnerships closer together to achieve their strategic aims.
Topics covered can vary including goal setting, strategic reviews, ultimate objectives, exit planning, growth, lock up reduction, profit maximisation etc.
In this particular case, we were instructed by a successful mid-size law firm that wanted to evaluate their strategic objectives, check whether all partners were on board with the strategy and start to build a plan of how to achieve the agreed strategic objectives.
We held an initial briefing call with the managing partner to understand exactly what the firm wanted to achieve from the day; then requested certain information; reviewed that information; prepared an agenda for the day; prepared a briefing note for the partners in order to hit the ground running on the day; agreed the approach with the managing partner; and circulated the agenda and briefing note to the partners.
On the day, we did not do too much of the talking – our role was to facilitate not lecture. Although we provided an opinion where relevant, it was not our role to say what should be done. Our role was to set the structure and framework to allow the partners to reach the right conclusions for them. We therefore asked questions, probed, brought people into the conversation and challenged.
We often use breakout sessions for such occasions, particularly where there are a large number of partners. In this case as there were 10 partners, we decided to seat everybody around a horse shoe table so that they felt like one team and that the opinion of all counted. This worked very well and we did not need to use breakout groups for people to feel comfortable in putting their views forward in such a safe environment.
As part of the preparation, we had asked the partners to review a SWOT analysis that the firm had already prepared. That analysis had a long list of factors under each heading, and so we used part of the morning to generate focus and to prioritise by agreeing the top three factors for each heading. We then discussed what we might need to do to capitalise on the top three strengths and opportunities, and what we might need to do to protect from the top three weaknesses and threats.
Those steps revealed what a suitable high level objective could be for the firm, which was discussed and agreed upon. This was a little different to what might have been expected before the start of the day, but was bespoke to the position of the firm and felt a natural conclusion based on the conversations. This helped enormously with then obtaining buy in from all of the partners.
Detailed financial objectives were then covered at this point, from a position of knowledge (rather than blandly setting them at the start of the day and wondering how they might be achieved). Tactical plans were then covered on how to achieve those objectives which the management team were able to take away to start to document a proper business plan to be used as an ongoing live management tool.
Feedback from the partners was that the day was an excellent use of time; that a lot of ground was covered, and that although it was not an easy day out of the office it had produced a strategy that was hugely relevant to the firm and achievable yet challenging.
The day also brought the partners closer together and obtained buy in for the plan, particularly because it was not being forced on them by us or the management board - it was very much the partners’ collective plan.
I would like to acknowledge the huge contribution that Andy Poole made to the success of our business planning weekend in March 2019. Andy’s pre-meeting preparation, insight, experience and clarity of thought enabled us to achieve in just one working day what it would otherwise have taken us many working days to accomplish, over a much more protracted timescale. As a result of Andy’s overall contribution and willingness to challenge, we identified and unanimously agreed the strategic aims which will form the essential foundation of our business plan for the next five years. Andy made an invaluable contribution to our business planning process that was not only highly productive and outcomes focussed but one that was inclusive and enjoyed by all who took part. I would recommend Andy to other law firms without hesitation or reservation.