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Best Practice Tips: Small Law Firm Retreat

Asked and Answered 

By John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

Q. Our law firm is a 16-attorney intellectual property firm in Tampa, Florida. We have 10 partners and six associates. I am a member of our three-member executive committee and I have been given charge of looking into the pros and cons of having a firm retreat with all of our partners and associates. We have not had a retreat before and we would like your thoughts concerning the benefits that a small firm can receive from a retreat.

A. Attorneys in group practice experience numerous issues as they grow and expand their practices. Management problems increase as firms becomes larger. Senior partners often do not want to be involved in increased firm management responsibilities. If this is one of your firm’s issues, a retreat will provide an opportunity to deal with it before it gets serious and out of hand. Use a retreat to review how administrative responsibilities are being handled throughout the firm’s entire operation. Place on the retreat agenda topics such as strategic planning, succession planning, growth planning, client development, etc. Consider whether your firm has the need to establish an office administrator position (if you do not have one) or whether the broadening of responsibilities of those on staff will provide the desired remedies. It is particularly important for small- to medium-sized firms to clearly recognize at the retreat that the problems of growth are in part administrative and appropriate steps to deal with these problems early will prevent serious disruptions and internal conflicts later.

Many attorneys are reactors — they are trained to solve client problems — not management problems. Most attorneys find firm management distasteful and feel that their time is best spend doing billable work for clients. However, a firm’s success is in part dependent upon how well it is managed. The retreat can be used to educate firm members about the importance of these issues, even if the firm is small. Retreats also benefit attorneys by helping them understand the management roles of other partners and other management positions in the firm as well as open up and improve communications.

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John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC, ( is a past chair and member of the ISBA Standing Committee on Law Office Management and Economics and author of The Lawyers Guide to Succession Planning published by the ABA. For more information on law office management please direct questions to the ISBA listserver, which John and other committee members review, or view archived copies of The Bottom Line Newsletters. Contact John at

Posted on July 12, 2017 by Sara Anderson
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Member Comments (1)

A retreat is a tool. Whether a tool is appropriate for a task depends on the objective. A 16-attorney firm likely has well more than 16 objective clear conscious objectives, as well as some less clear and perhaps unarticulated goals. Most multi-attorney firms also have non-attorney people. The firm might consider selecting a good organizational consultant to help the firm sort out what it thinks it needs, what it thinks its current and expected future problems are, and where it wishes to go. Recognizing that the firm, "it," might not always have a single perspective. That strikes me as the primary task—defer a retreat, or an 'advance,' until such issues are clearly addressed. Daniel Kegan, PhD, JD, Chicago