Many larger law firms have associates’ retreats — or used to before the COVID-19 pandemic made large gatherings impractical. At associates’ retreats, many or all of a law firm’s associates gather in one place and undergo trainings, socialize, and connect themselves to their law firm and the other people who worked at a shop. For whatever reason, most smaller law firms do not have associates’ retreats like in the world of Biglaw. However, associates’ retreats can be a great experience for associates and can have a number of positive impacts on a firm.
I went to associates’ retreats at both of the larger firms I worked at before starting my own practice. While an associate at a Biglaw shop, I went to two associates’ retreats organized by the firm. One was just for newly hired associates, and the firm flew all of their first-years to their headquarters in order to conduct a few days of training. This was a great time to learn about firm practices, procedures, and begin the onboarding process at that shop.
That firm also had an annual associates’ retreat for all of the associates at the shop. The firm flew in dozens, if not hundreds, of associates from all over the country and the world to attend. It was amazing to get to know attorneys who worked at different offices, and this helped build interoffice connections that were important to completing certain projects. Moreover, this event helped associates complete their CLE credits, which was always a help.
I later worked at a smaller firm that still had several hundred associates throughout the country. This firm had associates’ retreats every other year, and the retreat happened over the weekend, which was frustrating because this took personal time away from the associates, but it was still good to score a free trip. This retreat was a great way for associates to meet people who worked in different offices and to build social connections with people who worked in the same office.
Although associates’ retreats can impact the ability of associates to bill hours and can be costly, such events have a number of benefits. Perhaps most importantly, such retreats connect associates with people who work in different offices and connects people with the firm for which they work. The current workplace is very fluid, and people move to different jobs far more frequently than they did in prior generations. People may have less of an attachment to a given firm if their only experience with a firm is going to work every day. However, having fun social experience with people who work at a shop in different offices can go a long way toward building the fabric of a firm.
Moreover, social connections forged during such retreats can help associates complete projects with attorneys who work in different offices. It is common for different offices to share tasks on projects, either because a certain practice area is needed to complete the work or because a small office lacks the headcount to complete larger assignments. If people remember meeting an associate in another office at a retreat, it can be much easier for associates to share projects and complete work. There are a number of other benefits to associates’ retreats: blowing off steam, learning material at trainings, and other advantages.
None of the smaller firms at which I worked conducted associates’ retreats, and such events are not common outside of Biglaw. There are likely a few reasons for this. Perhaps most importantly, associates’ retreats can be costly, and smaller firms might not have the financial cushion available to organize them. Moreover, attending an associates’ retreat can keep associates away from billing, and smaller law firms might have smaller financial margins that require the associates to bill as much as possible. Moreover, some smaller firms do not have multiple offices, and there is no reason for associates to go on a retreat since everyone knows each other pretty well by virtue of the office size.
However, smaller firms should consider having associates’ retreats if they can afford to and if it makes practical sense. Firstly, all of the benefits of associates’ retreats at Biglaw firms can be realized by smaller firms since associates who attend a retreat may become more bonded to the shop and the people with whom they work. Moreover, associates’ retreats at smaller firms can potentially have a bigger impact than at larger shops since training and other events can be tailored to a smaller audience of associates. Furthermore, associates’ retreats at smaller firms, even if they are not on the same scale as retreats at larger shops can help associates unwind and break the monotony of practicing law that many of us encounter.
In the end, smaller law firms may not have the financial resources to organize associates’ retreats, and sometimes, it is just not practical to hold such events. However, more law firms should consider organizing associates’ retreats when the COVID-19 pandemic subsides in order to realize all of the benefits such events can have.
Jordan Rothman is a partner of The Rothman Law Firm, a full-service New York and New Jersey law firm. He is also the founder of Student Debt Diaries, a website discussing how he paid off his student loans. You can reach Jordan through email at [email protected].