Law firms love meetings. And in most law firms, meetings are ineffective because of broken structures, focus and outcomes. Let’s point out of the obvious:
- Firms ask individuals who are the busiest, the most critical to the firm’s success and often the most productive to attend too many meetings.
- Firms conduct a significant number of meetings with vague or no set agendas.
- Firms conduct the same meetings for months or years without ever stepping back to assess if the purpose or structure of the meeting should change.
- Lawyers often set the same agenda repeatedly yet expect different results and ponder why their partners have meeting fatigue.
- Very few firms are willing to prioritize initiatives and often give equal weight to all meetings.
I see it as a slow death for some of these firms, and many desperately need to re-energize, refocus and realign the priorities of the firm with a particular focus on how they are asking their most productive people to spend their time.
Think of all of the meetings some of your busiest leaders attend: practice group meetings, client and industry teams meetings, lateral growth meetings, diversity committee meetings, pro bono meetings, strategic planning meetings, board meetings, leadership training meetings, associate growth and retention meetings, business development meetings, budget planning meetings. I am exhausted just typing them, and that’s just the start of the list I could compile. Imagine attending or leading many of them in addition to practicing law. This is not a model for success.
If this sounds all too familiar, consider leading change at your firm. A few small changes could make a big impact on the energy within the firm and the commitment from your most valued lawyers:
- Make a list of all of the “firm meetings” and have management rank them in priority against the strategic plan and the future success of the firm.
- Be willing to remove meetings that do not align with the firm’s strategic plan and growth. (I am assuming client growth, retention and acquisition is a key component to every strategic plan and is a key goal of every firm.)
- List all committee leaders and attendees for each meeting and determine where lawyers have too many commitments or leadership roles.
- Develop a plan for new leadership if key individuals are overtasked with too many meetings.
- Pilot a program that encourages everyone to develop agendas for every meeting for 90 days. Share sample agendas and best practices among leaders.
- Communicate to the firm what changes you expect to make and why.
- Set time contracts, measurable goals, defined success and key action items at every meeting.
- Have clear, engaged and effective leadership for every important initiative. If you don’t have the proper leadership and commitment, it may need to be removed as a priority.
- Stick to your time contracts. As leaders, arrive on time, start on time and end when you agreed to end.
- Hold people accountable to action and implementation from meetings.
- Summarize what was agreed to at every meeting and share the written notes and agreed next steps with all attendees.
- Celebrate success and be willing to adapt what you learn from the change.
Meetings are often a necessary and useful part of firm life, but they shouldn’t be taking over the schedules and lives of firm attorneys. Take the first steps towards resuscitating their value and reap the benefits of a more productive, more focused and happier firm.