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Victoria Mole
21 August, 2008  
The brave retreat

The Firm’s property group retreats to the Daintree, to drink, bond and do things with a whiteboard. Ideas flow about how to improve the Firm’s retention rate. Vicki Mole attends to the bar fridge in her room

imageIt is retreat season at the Firm. One by one, practice groups from around the land migrate to the warm destination of choice – the baby bird articled clerks right up to predatory vultures of the partnership.

For those not familiar with this annual phenomenon, it works as follows:

The flocks descend from the Firm’s Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and Brisbane’s offices. The Firm-funded alcohol starts flowing, people talk about money and “strategy” for a bit and then the team-building activities commence.

Some feathered friends won’t make it this far and will recoil to the darkness of their bedrooms with a bucket and a large glass of water and pray the nausea clears come time to fly home.

I’ve just rotated to the property group, which is infamous for its raucous retreats.

The chosen destination was an eco-lodge in the Daintree – quite the appropriate setting for brainstorming how to stimulate more unsightly erections from large property developer clients around the country.

We arrived late on Thursday night, racked up a small African nation’s GDP at the hotel bar, then headed into the Friday discussions after minimal sleep.

The morning presentations were about how much money we made last year, how much money we would like make this year and from whom we would like to make it.

Articled clerks sat mum throughout while the big birds twittered and puffed their feathers about their individual worm hauls for the year.

The muffins were yum.

Then came the interesting part (much more remarkable than the subsequent ropes course – there are reasons why people do not seek out such activities post-high school).

The managing partner stood up at a whiteboard, noted his mild discomfort with the fact that only 12 percent of its graduate recruits remain at the Firm for longer than five years and asked what the partnership could do about it.

After some lame jokes about biscuits, the ideas flowed:

  • No point offering flexible work practices to mothers (or wannabe Zadie Smiths/ Bachelors of Whatnot, as hinted in graduate literature) if the firm’s history of promotion make it clear that it is a choice between that or career advancement.
  • Blackberries are not carrots – they help the Firm as much as they help the recipient and, while invaluable for those who want to work from home (see above), are not worth waiting five years for if you don’t.
  • The necessity of ties and pantihose.
  • How nice it would be if partners occasionally returned your morning pleasantries … gave you the work promised in interviews … smiled.

    Not radical thoughts, and kind of insulting to the partners’ intelligence that they needed to be verbalised, but their apparent amazement and gratitude at the suggestions was stupefying.

    Stalin was chatting to an American ambassador one day when he noted, “In the Soviet Army, it takes more courage to retreat than advance”.

    Here’s hoping the legal profession can do both.

    Onwards and upwards,



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