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1 Nov 2019

Planning an Outing for Your Law Firm? Stop—Until You’ve Asked Yourself These Four Questions

Law firms of all sizes are thinking about opportunities for their attorneys and staff members to productively spend time with each other outside the office. As  interns, clerks or associates start their tenures at law firms, firm leaders might even feel obligated to engage with their newcomers in a less formal setting.

Law firm outings can help build camaraderie and personal connections that not only foster a sense of community, but also make firms better, more productive places to work … if done in the right way. Outings that are thrown together at the last minute usually come across that way to attendees—the general vibe is “we don’t care enough to put much thought into this.” Well-planned outings, on the other hand, make for well-received ones.

To help ensure your law firm’s outing is well received, successful and achieves its goals, here are four questions to ask yourself during the planning process.

WHAT’S THE POINT?

Though the first question is deceptively simple, the answer will lay the groundwork for the entire planning process.

Is your firm simply looking for an excuse to get out of the office and spend some lightly structured time together? If that’s the case, a happy hour, bowling or some kind of charitable endeavor would all be logical choices.

Is your firm looking for an opportunity to engage in a friendly team-based competition to build camaraderie among people who rarely interact with each other outside the office? Escape rooms, scavenger hunts, trivia or a cooking or baking competition could be perfect.

Is your firm looking for an opportunity for attorneys and staff to learn a new skill or adopt a new mindset? If so, a guest speaker or two would be an apt choice.

Or, is your firm looking to accomplish another goal altogether?

Before your firm’s planning for an outing can truly ramp up, you must first have an idea of what you and the firm want to accomplish.

HOW MANY CHEFS WILL BE ALLOWED IN THE KITCHEN?

With the second question, we move from the why to the who. Will there be one person who is tasked with making all the planning decisions and executing them? Will that responsibility be shared? If so, how?

There are obvious pros and cons with each potential path. What a firm gains with a single planner by avoiding the need for numerous group decisions, it might lose in the ability to consider various opinions on different aspects of the outing. (This can be mitigated a bit by the planner soliciting feedback from other attorneys and staff members.)

Of course, the size of a law firm may not allow for more than one person to be involved in the planning.

CAN WE BE INCLUSIVE WITHOUT BEING PATRONIZING?

Once you have an idea of the why and the who, the focus shifts to the what. At this point in the process, the outing planners must take a look at who is likely to attend and ensure that the outing revolves around activities in which those in attendance will be able to participate. At the same time, the firm must be careful not to patronize or call undue attention to anyone that may require special accommodations.

It is one thing to ensure that there are vegetarian or gluten-free dining options at the outing. But a firm probably does not have to go to a vegan-only restaurant simply to accommodate its vegan attorneys or staff members. Likewise, some attendees who have limited mobility may still want very much to participate in an event that requires some physical activity

The easiest way to be inclusive without being patronizing? Discuss the plans for the outing with the people likely to need accommodations. Ask them what they think and whether they will be able to participate in the manner they would like. Their answers might surprise you.

HOW WAS THE LAST ONE?

We previously covered the topic of client feedback, so it should come as no surprise that we believe soliciting feedback from attendees is an important component of planning future successful outings. While the memories of the event are still fresh in attendees’ minds, you should ask them what they liked about the event, what they didn’t like, what they would have done differently had they planned it, and so on. While some feedback may not be particularly helpful (e.g., “The food was too spicy”), other insights will be (e.g., “I only talked to people I work closely with”). Requesting and documenting feedback from an outing can help you build a more productive event the next time around.

QUESTIONS WORTH ASKING

Law firm outings do not just happen. Each is the result of many hours of planning. By asking these four questions when planning your firm’s next outing, you will increase your odds of putting on an event that is both enjoyable and fruitful.