The one thing every attorney needs to know about meetings

October 30, 2012

MeetingThere is nothing like being trapped in an unproductive meeting to remind you that “time is money,” “every hour counts,” and “time be of all things the most precious.”  Given that we are hostages of either the billable hour or an equally punitive master, it is time to adopt a zero tolerance policy for those meetings that drain our time, disrupt our focus, and deny us the opportunity to focus on the work that matters.  Happily, there are user-friendly ways to keep your meeting in check and further your individual goals as well as those of your corporation, government agency, or law firm.

The structure of a meeting is basic.  Without exception, every meeting has only two components that matter – the meeting leader and the meeting attendee.  If both do their job properly, you get a good meeting.  If either does not hold up its end of the bargain, the byproduct is a bad meeting.  The key is for all involved to understand clearly the roles and responsibilities of each actor.

The Meeting Leader.  The meeting leader is the person who calls the meeting.  If you call the meeting, you own the meeting.  The success of the meeting lives and dies with you.  If it is a crash and burn, you are the pilot.  First and foremost, the meeting leader must embrace these truths.  Once that hurdle has been cleared, the meeting leader can proceed with the logistics of meeting preparation.

Meeting preparation is like packing for a picnic.  While every leader’s basket contains different goodies, it is safe to say no one likes a picnic without food.  Meeting staples include:

  • meeting ground rules (I have eight including no smartphones and no grandstanding)
  • a well-formulated agenda
  • clearly defined objectives
  • a deeply contemplated invitation list (missing decision makers and superfluous people are unforgiveable blunders)
  •  set in stone start and end times
  • a post meeting action plan

If you as the meeting leader cannot attend to the items above, you should institute a self-imposed ban on holding the meeting.

The Meeting Attendee.  While the meeting leader admittedly is the star of the show, the meeting attendees are much more than bit players.  The attendees are by no means excused from heavy lifting.  No matter how much the meeting leader prepares, if the attendees do not do so, the show cannot go on.  Therefore, the meeting attendees should be provided before the meeting with the materials needed to be active participants and they should be given sufficient time to prepare.  Important information, pre-work, and draft agendas should be circulated and modified in advance of the meeting.  If you have an agenda item you would like to add at the meeting, it is too late.

Attendees should make a commitment to not engage in side conversations or express “It just occurred to me” comments.  Unprepared attendees should be asked to leave or excluded from the next meeting.

As long as we take our roles seriously and play our parts well, we are sure to conduct meetings that build momentum and move our endeavors forward productively.