YOUR LEGAL WRITES: Oh, the places you could go

Typically, law firm retreats are reserved for attorneys and a few higher ranking members of management. But in some larger firms in even larger markets, non-legal administrators are sent away to plan for the year ahead.

Directors of administration, chief financial officers, human resource managers, marketing coordinators and information technology leaders are encouraged to leave the comforts of the home office in search of something more. While the traditional hotel or resort with various breakout rooms and conference amenities seem to work best for keynote speakers and PowerPoint presentations, groups of smaller sizes can venture out to find strategic clarity and creative genius in fun and unique places.

"You have brains in your head.
"You have feet in your shoes.
"You can steer yourself any direction you choose!" -- Dr. Seuss


Ted Lawson, president and CEO of National Travel, explains to corporate clients that the first item on any agenda is defining a comprehensive objective for the retreat. Is the event supposed to be life changing in some way, or is the meeting designed to help cultivate new ideas? Are managers supposed to solve problems over the course of one or two days, or is the function strictly educational in nature?

No matter what the ultimate goal ends up being, the most necessary step is locating a setting with accommodations that include wireless, Internet access. Once this aspect of research is complete, the rest of the itinerary is dependent upon time and money.

"Companies such as law firms have many options, from one spectrum to the other," Lawson said. "On one end, there are international destinations, and on the other, there is the bed and breakfast route.

"Some converted B&Bs offer six to eight sleeping rooms and they are perfect for small groups that want to get away to do some work. You can accomplish a lot in this type of setting."

If a B&B seems too romantic for a workplace event, then a rustic, return-to-the-basics theme might appeal to corporate groups.

"Hawks Nest [State Park] is a very good area for taking a group on a camping trip for teambuilding, especially if whitewater rafting is built into the social program," Lawson said. "You can continue to work on a particular project while taking time out for recreation over the course of a weekend itinerary."

"I'm sorry to say so, but sadly, it's true
"That bang-ups and hang-ups
"can happen to you." -- Dr. Seuss


Exotic locations such as Atlantis in the Bahamas have been the site for more self improvement and professional growth conferences, but the expense of the retreats can become even more costly if inclimate weather ruins travel plans. Hurricanes, tornadoes, snowstorms and other "act of God" scenarios are not covered or reimbursable, Lawson said. But he noted that the assistance of a professional travel agency can ease the burden of rescheduling or redirecting flights, arranging alternative transportation, or securing new accommodations.

In addition, travel agents will review facility contracts for clients, particularly those that are in conjunction with major sporting events, to insure that business travelers are protected in as many ways as possible. Agents advise retreat coordinators to pad schedules with additional travel time in the event of major changes in arrival and departure plans.

"And will you succeed?
"Yes, you will indeed!
"(98 and ¾ percent guaranteed)!" -- Dr. Seuss


Lawson believes that problem solving retreats don't necessarily have to take place in a hotel setting in part because resorts offer too many distractions that pull participants from their intended meetings and purposes for being out of the office. A relaxed setting is most fitting for an agenda of the problem solving nature, though, since most answers and ideas are generated in settings that are supportive of inspired thinking and discussion.

In fact, a less structured, informal program may be the most successful part of any business trip.

"I have a tendency to underplan, which may sound contradictory, but people seem to overplan meetings and outings," Lawson said. "They try to do and accomplish too much. Just assembling everyone together in one place is enough of a team builder. Then, if you add a memento of some sort, a gift or a small remembrance of the event, you will have created a lasting impression that was non-competitive and highly effective."

"You're off to great places!
"Today is your day!
"Your mountain is waiting!
"So…get on your way!" -- Dr. Seuss


Lawson described many corporate success stories, one of which was a business retreat held in Switzerland. Team members rented performance sports cars and drove through the Alps on discovery missions, armed with road maps and the thrill of tackling unfamiliar territory.

A college president hosted the university's trustees on an African safari, while another leader in higher education treated board members to a series of continued education courses at his alma mater – Oxford University.

A criminal justice firm sent the company's finest minds to study various court and political systems in Sweden and Russia.

"All of these things can be arranged," Lawson said. "Anything is possible if you plan ahead."

Brown is the managing member of The Write Word LLC, a writing and editing agency in Charleston.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Lines taken from "Oh, the Places You'll Go" by Dr. Seuss

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