How to improve legal team meetings (Part 1 of 2)
I don’t think there is a single lawyer on the planet who has not spent many hours sitting through time consuming, wasteful and boring meetings.
But these days legal clients are demanding greater efficiency, and firms are looking for ways to save time and money while continuing to deliver the same level of quality that their clients have come to expect. One way that many lawyers can quickly increase efficiency is to improve the way they conduct team meetings.
Before you can hold an effective meeting, you must define a clear and achievable objective.
In most cases, the faster you meet that objective and get back to your office, the better the meeting. Of course if part of the objective is to build relationships and understanding within a team, the need for speed goes down, and the need to give everyone a chance to contribute to the discussion goes up. This is especially true if the meeting includes clients.
Inefficient meetings are not just a law firm problem, they are a human problem. We live in a world filled with books, articles and web posts on how to run better meetings. But most people don’t have time to read them, because they have too many meetings.
The bullet points below summarize the points that are most likely to help improve legal meetings. You may want to keep them handy, because different points will apply to different meetings.
Before the meeting
- Clearly define the meeting objectives. Exactly what would have to happen for the meeting to be a success?
The objectives may or may not be explicitly stated in the agenda, but you need to know what they are before you make any other decisions.
- If you are aiming for a clearly defined work product, keep the meeting as small as possible.
- If you need to build team relationships or consensus, invite everyone who needs to feel involved.
- Assess how long it will take to realistically complete the most important items on the agenda with the people you have invited, and keep the meeting as short as possible.
- Distribute an agenda in advance. This can be a one sentence email or an impressively formatted document based on one of the many templates in Word help and elsewhere on the web.
- The agenda should include:
- The start and end time
- The location
- The topics or decisions to be made or discussed, in order of importance
During the meeting
- Be crystal clear about who is running the meeting.
That’s probably you. But maybe it should be someone else if they have skills that will enable them to better meet a particular objective.
If the meeting goal is simply to communicate decisions that have been made, anyone in authority can do it.
But if a meeting requires joint decision-making or consensus building, you will need a facilitator with good communication skills who can keep the discussion on track without bruising feelings. For meetings of this sort, it may be useful to start by reviewing the process and ground rules about how decisions will be made, and how you will deal with items that cannot be resolved in this meeting.
In any case, the meeting leader must be a good role model: on time, organized, fully engaged, and focused on the topic and on what people are saying.
Next week, we will conclude this post with a discussion of how to run the meeting, and how to follow up after it ends.