Meetings are a fact of life for all lawyers as they are a necessary part of dealing with clients and operating a law firm. Unfortunately, meetings are often an unproductive use of time, as too often nothing of substance happens or gets decided. People go to meetings solely because they feel obliged to go, not because they get anything from attending.
Before you call a meeting, ask yourself: Is there really merit in getting all these people together? If the meeting is only for informational purposes – as are many regularly scheduled management or departmental meetings – ask yourself if the meeting could be avoided (or at least shortened) by simply distributing appropriate information to the attendees.
Call a meeting only when a group of people must get together to discuss matters, brainstorm ideas or make decisions. Make the meeting as useful and productive as possible by doing the following:
- Establish a goal or outcome for the meeting.
- Circulate a detailed agenda. It should have a list of items and the time to be spent on each item. Include supporting materials and circulate all materials early enough so all meeting participants can review the information prior to coming to the meeting.
- Come prepared: This means reviewing the materials circulated with the agenda.
Arrive on time.
- Start the meeting on time.
- Turn your Blackberry and cell phone off – right off (this includes the vibrating ringer). Computers can multi-task – humans can’t.
- Let everyone have their own say (but not if they are simply repeating what others have already said).
- Listen to others to develop new perspectives – especially if they have different views.
- Remember, it is OK to disagree: Not everyone has to agree with everyone and everything.
- Follow the agenda times and keep the meeting focused on the issue at hand.
- Appoint a “secretary” to track decisions and actions items.
- Assign specific individuals to action items.
- Establish deadlines for action items.
- Bring your calendar so you can commit to the date for the next meeting.
- End the meeting on time.
- Circulate minutes afterwards so everyone has a list of action items and to whom they were assigned. Do this immediately afterwards (even if the minutes have to be formally approved at the next meeting – in this case circulate them as a draft).
- Make sure there is follow-up on action items.