Will Firms Return to In-Person Retreats in 2021?

March 8, 2021

Firm and partner retreats have been used for years to create strategic plans, improve teamwork, and boost morale. When COVID entered the picture, plans were adjusted and many retreats ended up being held online. Virtual retreats have improved a great deal over the past year and can serve as worthy substitutes, but many law firm leaders and some (though not all) attorneys are nostalgic for events held pre-pandemic style.

Several law firm leaders gave American Lawyer their take on switching back to in-person retreats after a year of virtual events in 2020. The short answer is that they are all clearly in favor of returning to traditional gatherings. While virtual events have created novel ways to collaborate, and have mostly been well-liked by lawyers, several leaders still feel that something is missing — it’s hard to experience true connection when people aren’t in the same room. And they know that they, and their entire firms, are “Zoomed out.”

Does that mean most firms will return to traditional retreats? Maybe, but maybe not soon. Safety is still a top concern. A large number of participants may not be comfortable with in-person retreats until everyone has had the chance to get the vaccine. And while leaders are eager to “get back to normal,” they should not discount a few upsides to hosting and attending virtual events — beyond the obvious safety factor.

Cost savings. Virtual events are far more economical because they eliminate expenses related to meals, venue, and travel. More money in your pocket translates to a higher event ROI.

(Potentially) better attendance. Overscheduled attorneys who want to attend but would not be able to leave their practice for several days for an in-person event may be more likely to participate in a virtual event.

Eye on inclusion. Firm leaders know by now that the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women lawyers, many of whom have been forced to mold their work-life around managing remote schooling, lack of child care, and other family responsibilities. A return to in-person retreats before support systems like school have come back into the picture may de facto eliminate some lawyers from participation. It is critical for law firm leaders to think about how to make work distribution and access to relationships and opportunity equitable while we are still living through the fallout of the pandemic. These women are valuable members of your team. Virtual events may be the only kind they can attend for a while.

Before leaders leap to return to a typical retreat, they will want to give careful thought to what kinds of events protect employee safety, garner the most buy-in and guard equity and inclusion across the firm.