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Make Meetings Count

By Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

“What’s going on in your day today, dear?”

“Oh, nothing. Just a bunch of meetings.”

Exactly. That’s how most of us feel about meetings. You get together and do nothing. I once knew a managing partner who routinely counted heads and multiplied hourly rates to determine how much it was costing to meet with his partners. Needless to say, he was more of a bean-counter and less of a leader, but still. It’s difficult to justify the amount of time spent on meetings given the quantity of work actually accomplished.

Face-to-face meetings don’t hold a monopoly on time wasting, either. Now that it’s so cheap and easy to conduct virtual meetings, they seem to be multiplying. And badly run virtual meetings can suck the productivity right out of your day just as effectively as live ones can (though you don’t have that handy mute button when you’re face-to-face).

So how to make the most of meetings and get real work done? Here are a few simple things you can do to make your meetings worthwhile.

  • Create and distribute an agenda ahead of time. No need to be awkwardly formal. But it is important to know what will be discussed, what you expect from the discussion and what will be needed ahead of time. Ask others if they would like to include agenda items of their own. If there is nothing important to put on the agenda, don’t meet!
  • Ask someone to take minutes. Don’t try to run the meeting and take minutes at the same time. Either assign the same person to take minutes at all meetings or ask someone as you get ready for the meeting. If they are novices at this task, ask them to prepare by viewing a video or reading a “how to.” The whole point of minutes is to record decisions, identify actions to be taken and who will take them, and then determine deadlines for those actions. All they’ll need is a pencil and paper, unless you want to try new software that aids in minute-taking. And, of course, make sure the minutes are distributed quickly after the end of the meeting.
  • Only do things in the meeting that must be done by the group.  Avoid wasting everyone’s time trying to draft language for a letter when you could do it alone in your office, for example. And avoid getting into the habit of asking for the approval of the group when it is a decision you could make alone.
  • End the meeting when you are done. Don’t feel you must fill the hour just because you said you would meet for an hour. Everyone will appreciate the gift of additional time for other things.
  • Agree to the date of the next meeting. Before you leave, make sure you agree as a group on when you will meet next, or whether another meeting is needed at all.

Finally, even if you aren’t running the meeting, you should come on time, be prepared with good ideas and contribute to the smooth completion of the agenda. You will be admired for it!

Merrilyn Tarlton has been helping lawyers and law firms think differently about the business of practicing law since 1984. She was a founder of the Legal Marketing Association, President of the College of Law Practice Management and an LMA Hall of Fame inductee. She blogs about innovation at Get Creative.

Categories: Daily Dispatch, Lawyer Productivity, Lawyer Time Management
Originally published January 13, 2011
Last updated December 1, 2018
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Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

Merrilyn is the author of “Getting Clients: For Lawyers Starting Out or Starting Over.” She has been helping lawyers and law firms think differently about the business of practicing law since 1984. She is a founding member of the Legal Marketing Association, an LMA Hall of Fame inductee, and a past President of the College of Law Practice Management. Merrilyn was a founding partner of Attorney at Work. Learn more about Merrilyn here and follow her @astintarlton.

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