By Mark Powers & Shawn McNalis

We ask you to take the time to hold a retreat because the legal landscape in which you live is not static. Referral sources dry up, die or move away; you are joined by a new partner; legislation changes the services you provide; you take on a newsworthy case or you decide to launch a new practice area. These are just a few of the many changes that can occur over the course of a year in your career. Fortunately, changes like these are fodder for the creative marketer. Depending on what’s happened in your year, you may need to adjust your marketing goals to compensate for a lack of referrals, to feature a change in the services you offer or to publicize a new partner. Often what appears to be stressful or dramatic change can be spun in a positive way.

A marketing retreat is an important time to coordinate responsibility for various clients, client types, or segments. If you are conducting seminars and workshops, or working strategically with another organization, it is a good time to establish dates for upcoming events such as co-sponsored seminars or signature events. It is also a chance to:

  • review last year’s or year-to-date marketing results
  • focus on marketing successes and acknowledge team members
  • educate other partners or team members on marketing strategies
  • establish next year’s marketing targets: important for capacity planning and budgeting [it’s hard to get where you are going if you don’t know where you want to go]
  • make corrections from last year and establish accountability systems
  • assess the effectiveness of using the Yellow Pages or other advertising vehicles
  • assess your Rainmaker profile and see what assets or habits need to be developed or strengthened.

Who Should Attend?

Senior partners should be the first on the roster to attend any meetings about marketing. If there are associates who are being trained to market themselves, they should also attend. If the firm has a marketing director or assistant, they should not only attend, but set up the meeting for the participants. A gathering like this is even useful for some staff members who are often in a position to cultivate much more business than they realize. Whatever group is selected to attend, the retreat facilitator and firm management should place on the agenda exercises and discussions which allow for the team to contribute their ideas on client development. Even if there is an already established direction which has been previously discussed by the partners prior to the retreat, the more the idea can seem to come from the team – the greater the buy-in and consensus.

Prior to the Retreat

Regardless of the size of your firm, an annual retreat in which marketing objectives are discussed and established helps keep the focus on the most important strategies for growing the firm. The marketing retreat is a time to assess your client mix, your firm’s image, new opportunities for business, and determine who will carry out each of the responsibilities.

Making the Retreat Happen

The best way is to make sure that the retreat actually happens is to budget the time. Take time to look at potential date(s) for a marketing retreat, then commit to a date and hire a facilitator (it’s hard to get a facilitator at the last minute). It is best to do next year’s retreat the year prior, in September, October, or November, although holding a retreat in early January with new goals, optimism, and renewed enthusiasm is also fine. The marketing discussion may be staged as part of a larger firm retreat with a minimum of four hours dedicated to discussing the subject.

Retreat Facilitators

Most attorneys do not entirely understand what it takes to develop new clients. Even if there is a good rainmaker in the firm who wants to lead the retreat, that attorney is often doing what he does unconsciously, and has a hard time breaking down the process and making it understandable or in some cases, appealing, for other personalities. If you are personally reluctant to create the retreat, or you want someone to give you an authentic look at your strengths and weaknesses, or if you need some assistance in brainstorming and targeting, then it is a good idea to have an outside professional moderate your marketing meeting.

A professional facilitator – someone skilled in both leading group discussions and setting marketing strategies and who can be objective and keep things moving in a productive and constructive manner – are often professors in business schools or consultants to law firms. It is imperative that your facilitator be able to:

  • Educate and bring context and credibility to the idea of marketing
  • Share ideas that other firms have undertaken so the firm is not re-inventing the wheel
  • Spark discussion on new ideas
  • Give realistic feedback on the frequency of marketing activities

Prior to the Retreat

  • Assignments in advance of a retreat are an excellent way to motivate your group into action. Creating a substantial assignment with an event-driven deadline such as a retreat helps to motivate and engage attorneys who may otherwise be distracted. Partners and associates are much more likely to participate in a pre-work assignment if they face the idea of having to admit to the rest of the group at the retreat and admit that they failed to carry out their assignment.
  • The Top 20 Exercise: Have the firm’s bookkeeper print out a list of each of the firm’s biggest clients, divided by attorney. Prior to the retreat, give each attorney an assignment to identify the influencer responsible for each big case and to create their Top 20 list.
  • The Laser Talk: Each attorney in the firm can be asked to prepare his or her own Laser Talk in advance. She should state what service is delivered, the benefits of that service to the client, how the service is delivered and what makes them unique. Once a rough draft of this talk is constructed, it can be used as a marketing tool, but is also useful as a mini-marketing plan for the individual to refine at the retreat.
  • Create a list of the most successful marketing activities from the prior year. What worked and what didn’t?
  • Brainstorm a list of people or referral sources that each attorney wants to target. In addition outline opportunities for cross-selling between partners, where applicable.
  • Prepare a report on website or advertising successes and work still needing to be done.
  • Compile a Client Service Innovation report in which any improvements to client care are listed along with feedback from clients or team members about their effectiveness.

The measurements listed below are some of the indicators you can track to monitor your progress:

  • Track the number of inquiries generated by different sources, including print ads
  • Track the amount of clients that inquire based on your website
  • Track the percentage of phone inquiries that convert to in-office consultations
  • Track the percentage of consultations that convert to become clients

Taking consistent action on the goals you’ve identified will dramatically alter your client development results, but beware: you must regularly review your goals to remember to act on them. The more accessible they are, the better – especially if the perfectionist in you resists making commitments for fear they aren’t achievable. Set yourself up for success by keeping these goals with your weekly planning materials so that you view them often. And remember: even if you don’t meet those commitments perfectly, in trying to achieve them you’ll do much more than you would have otherwise. Set your goals high, because in the words of Ralph Marston, “Your goals minus your doubts equal your reality.”

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