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Meetings the Legal Project Management Way

People hate meetings.  So in the last few years, a lot has been written about how companies can have fewer meetings.  But the have-less-meetings movement is going the way of the do-my-job-from-home movement, it doesn't really work.  Sorry.
You need to have meetings in your law firm for the same reason you need to, perish the thought, actually be at work.  And that reason is because people need to...well...meet.  To lay aside other business, to come together at a specific time, face to face, and interact with one another for the purpose of dealing with a certain issue.  That's how things get done.

Client meetings, especially, are a lost art.  You might have written voluminous sets of winning papers for your client and conducted many brilliant oral arguments.  But maybe your client doesn’t really read the papers and never comes to court.  The main way that many clients experience their lawyers is in meetings with them.  Such meetings should leave the client feeling like he is getting what he’s paying for.
Moreover, don’t you ever get tired of just getting through the day?  Don’t just tolerate another meeting.  Embrace it, and get something out of it.  A meeting is an opportunity, not a chore.
Instead of having fewer meetings, let's have much better meetings.  There is a Legal Project Management way to have a meeting, which I describe below.
(1) Agenda.
Make an agenda and send it around ahead of time with a meeting confirmation.

"Karen, confirming that we are meeting on Monday, June 10 at my office at 305 Broadway, 7th floor, at 2:00 pm.  Here is my cell number in case something changes.  I took the liberty of creating an agenda for the meeting.  Let me know if you would like to add something."

Include in the agenda that you want to re-confirm the client’s goals.
(2) Be Prepared.
Be prepared.  Making the agenda helps me to prepare for the meeting.  I go to the electronic file and re-read recent things -- emails, court documents, and foundational things - like the lease or the contract.
Readiness is all.  Treat the meeting like you would a court appearance, or something you consider really important.
Have the things that you need – such as copies for everyone of a key document.
(3) Be on Time.
Be on time.  Being late says to the world, "The hell with you, my time is more valuable than yours, so I think I will waste yours and you can sit here and wait on me."  It’s terrible.
(4) Alert your Receptionist.
If someone is coming to your office to meet with you, tell the receptionist who you are expecting. That way he can say, “Hello Ms. Nyberg, Michelle has been expecting you."
(5) Tea.
Hospitality is important even in the smallest of meetings.  At the very least, always have bottled water there.
(6) Absolutely No Personal Tech in Meetings.
Don't take calls or look at your device or have beeps going off.
(7) Set the Tone.
Open the meeting boldly and set the tone.  With clients I always go with some version of, "OK we are here to work let’s dig in."
This is one way in which the “opportunity” mentioned above comes in.  This is your opportunity to be a leader.  And it’s your opportunity to get something done.  Seize it.
(8) Acknowledge the Elephant in the Room.
Acknowledge the elephant in the room.  There usually is one.  Usually it has to do with money.  But it could have to do with anything – a weakness in the case, a conflict between decision makers, etc.
Do NOT dance around the tough stuff.  You are a lawyer, a grown up.  Deal with whatever it is – head on.
(9) Stick to the Agenda.
Stick to the agenda.  You made it for a reason.  Try not to get too far off track.  And save the small talk for the end.
(10) Use Visuals.
Make handouts, a PowerPoint, or bring in a mark and wipe board with dry erase colors (don’t forget the eraser).  Looking at things together, or better yet creating things together (I love the mark-n-wipe), is a good way to work effectively.
(11) Take Notes.
Take notes even if it isn’t required.  It keeps you focused.  And it keeps you from forgetting things.
(12) Listen and Be Gracious.
There are libraries written on the art of actually listening to another human being.  For purposes of this short article, I would simply suggest practicing the following skill.  When someone says something complicated or important, say, “I am hearing that you are saying [repeat what they said back to them in your own words].  Is that correct?”  Be gracious.  Give the speaker your attention.  Even if you hate them and they bore you.  Treat others in the way that you would want to be treated.
(13) Action Plan Conclusion.
Make an action plan toward the end of the meeting.  What is the main take away, what did we accomplish?  Who is doing what and by when?
(14) Transcribe a Record of the Meeting Immediately After.
As soon as the meeting is over, go sit down and type up your notes into a meeting follow up email memo that gets saved to the file and preferably shared with the client if applicable.  Include in the memo who has been assigned to do what by when.  This is very important step and easy to leave off.
(15) Clean Up After.
After the meeting, straighten the chairs.  Carry out from the meeting room whatever garbage you created and whatever else you can carry.  Even if it is not your job to do so.

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