Badly planned and run meetings can be a huge waste of lawyers' billable time and divert support staff from more productive activities. Read our step-by-step checklist on using meeting time efficiently – and tips on how to approach the typical meetings that lawyers have, writes project management consultant Antony Smith. (Updated 9 May 2023)
- Consider the type of meeting you want to hold – for example, a straightforward project update, or more complex brainstorming and problem-solving.
- Identify the meeting objectives – what outcomes do you want to achieve?
- Decide who needs to be present and why.
- Arrange a date, time and place. Make any administrative arrangements including organising the venue, refreshments and, if necessary, a secretary for the meeting.
- Set the agenda, with a clear objective for each item; note who will lead the discussion of each item.
- Prepare a timetable, allocating time for each item. Consider separate, shorter meetings if there is too much to cover in a reasonable time.
- Circulate the agenda and any supporting papers as early as possible.
- Prepare: if necessary, discuss sensitive issues or agree your approach with key participants before the meeting.
- Start the meeting on time, welcome participants and make introductions; explain the timetable and administrative arrangements (eg breaks).
- Introduce each agenda item in turn in a balanced, positive fashion.
- Control the discussion. Encourage quiet participants, and restrain attempts to dominate the discussion or to raise unrelated topics.
- Give your own views after other participants; summarise the discussion.
- If appropriate, agree decisions; clarify responsibilities and deadlines for any action points.
- Stick to the timetable. Be prepared to hold over topics for further discussion at a later date if necessary.
- Address any non-agenda items which have arisen. Discuss them at the end of the meeting if appropriate, or agree to postpone them.
- Reiterate the main points and thank participants to end the meeting.
- Circulate minutes of the discussions and action points agreed to all participants and others affected as soon as possible; monitor subsequent progress.
- After the meeting, monitor and progress the action points until these are completed.
Running a meeting well takes skill. Here's a wonderful description of how endless Zoom meetings are often hijacked and rendered a waste of time:
"There's the remorselessly off-topic grandstander. The dominating drone. The rude multi-tasker. The unintelligible rambler. The mute who says nothing, but emails later to say what was decided will never work... A bad meeting is like a virus. By failing to produce good decisions, it often requires another meeting to be held, then another and another..."
Pilita Clark, Financial Times
Who are you meeting with?
Nicola Jones of Athena Professional offers some tips on how you should vary your approach for three different types of meeting.
Team meetings – for example, to progress a matter or to plan the next steps in updating the firm's IT systems.
- Be clear about your role. As a partner, you want to set the direction but then step out of the way.
- Be open to letting others lead the discussion – particularly for project teams where support staff may have greater expertise and be more familiar with the latest state of play.
- Avoid the temptation to sit in on every meeting. Delegate properly. Minimise the number of issues and decisions on which you still expect to be consulted.
Firm meetings – for example, a partnership retreat or strategy meeting.
- Focus the meeting on a handful of key objectives, or one subject you want to deal with in depth. Trying to cover too much risks achieving very little.
- Think of the event not just as a meeting, but also an opportunity to network with other people in the firm.
- Consider running mini-workshops or exercises. Perhaps split people into pairs to work together, using simple tools such as different coloured post-it notes to help generate and record ideas during problem-solving meetings. These sessions need not take long and can make meetings much more interesting.
- Avoid the temptation to sit and talk exclusively with people you know. Identify in advance anyone you should target – for example, as a possible source of client referrals. Make an effort to meet new members of the firm.
- Behave professionally. Make sure you are well-prepared and punctual. Listen to other people's contributions with respect. Your aim is to let them know that you are someone good to work with.
Client meetings – with new or existing clients.
- Be prepared to invest in meetings. For example, you may want to offer a free initial consultation, or treat a valued client to lunch. If everything is billable, the client will value the relationship less.
- Demonstrate the standards of service and care they can expect. Be punctual and give clients your full attention. Make sure the meeting venue and catering are of the right quality.
- Let the client talk. Try to guide the client through your agenda, but by asking questions rather than talking.
"Your behavior sends a powerful message. Be punctual. Aim to minimise possible interruptions and switch off mobile phones unless absolutely essential."
Chris O'Day, The Cashroom