Meetings are an unavoidable, recurring feature of professional life. And, for many professionals, these gatherings are the most frustrating aspect of their work.
Fortunately, a well organised, carefully structured meeting can provide a useful avenue to open thoughtful discussion on a topic. This discussion can enable progress towards an elegant solution for a problem that lawyers routinely encounter.
However, quite frankly, meetings can also be a complete waste of everyone’s time. In fact, so many of us have experienced pointless workplace get-togethers that the expression ‘meetnapping’ – where you are kidnapped from useful work into an unnecessary, unproductive meeting – has entered business jargon.
Impact of a bad meeting
So, getting the meeting right is important. After all, consider the cost of a meeting going wrong for a law firm.
An ineffective meeting can lead to poor-quality work that fails to meet the client’s needs. This failure can potentially mean losing future client work. Furthermore, meetings, where individuals feel that they are not being adequately listened to, can have a major adverse impact on team dynamics and professional relationships.
In addition, the commercial aspect of a misguided meeting is worth pondering. For example, an hour-long, internal meeting involving an entire department literally means thousands of pounds’ worth of billable time being lost.
Therefore, if a quick email or a phone call between the key stakeholders can do the job better then possibly these options should be employed instead.
Why are meetings relevant to an applicant?
I think that there are a few reasons why applicants should consider meetings.
If you are leading a society, doing pro bono or organising a group project, it is important to contemplate how you are engaging with your teammates. Are you bringing the most out of everyone or are discussions dominated by a few loud voices? Likewise, are all participants working on tasks as you all initially agreed?
Indeed, at university, with grades on the line during team assignments, effective meetings are essential. This is especially the case as it can often be extremely difficult to even arrange a convenient time for people to meet.
Elsewhere, meetings can be important for candidates to think about as it is not unusual to have a group meeting style task on an assessment day. Consequently, being able to run a meeting, or participate well by asking thoughtful questions, may strengthen the perception of you as a team player and hopefully a future colleague.
Therefore, below are some tips on how to make your meetings more effective.
Take minutes or notes
The minute taker during a meeting is perhaps the least desired role in the entire workplace. However, this role can be a valuable way to impress as a junior lawyer and to gain additional responsibility by doing the task well.
A good minute taker will identify who said what and clarify what action points were agreed at the conclusion of the meeting.
This note-taking task can be extremely valuable. For instance, minutes may be referred to in the event of any disagreements with the client regarding the agreed scope of work. Elsewhere, the meeting notes can be an important way to identify any action points going forward.
Note-taking is a relatively simple task that can actually demonstrate a willingness to participate. Further, the need to listen intently to what is being said often means that you can engage with the meeting’s developments more than usual. This should allow you to learn more from the discussion, compared to a passive individual absorbing content by osmosis at the back.
A polite note of caution though – trust me, there are certain times that nobody wants to hear the ‘clickety-clack’ of a keyboard. So, if everybody else has a pen and paper, it may be wise to choose to type up your notes later.
Create an agenda
During university, agendas can often seem the most over the top element of weekly meetings. This is particularly the case if you do not really have a clear idea of what to discuss yet.
However, agendas are standard practice within the legal sector – and for good reason.
Forming an agenda ahead of a meeting that you are leading means that you have actually thought about what needs to be discussed. Disseminating the agenda across to the team also allows each person to gather their thoughts and to obtain useful materials. This leads to a more informed, better team discussion. Further, an agenda can allow you to keep the discussion on track by allowing irrelevant topics to be politely postponed.
Additionally, an agenda ensures that you can keep to the meeting’s allocated time. If you know that you only have an hour with everyone, you can try to cover specific elements by certain periods. That way, you can be confident that you will cover everything and ideally not miss crucial discussion points where individuals have to rush off.
Whilst I loved the PowerPoint animations as a child, they are perhaps not the most appropriate form of transition between slides in workplace meetings.
Nonetheless, a visual aid can enhance your meeting’s message and help to keep a room alert. Moreover, images can prompt questions and inspire contributions from others who may understand the data in greater depth. This discussion can mean that the team now considers an element of the problem that was not previously foreseen.
Another quick warning learned from my previous PowerPoint misdemeanours – it is good practice to keep the content on your slides clear and direct. A PowerPoint slide is not the forum to showcase your essay writing skills.
Opening questions and comments to the floor
Group discussion can be a red flag for many individuals. However, my personal view is that open discussion keeps the audience engaged and encourages better collaboration. The alternative is that people feel that they are being talked at. And, well, my experience tells me these meeting monologues rarely achieve their desired goal.
One way that I have seen this ‘opening up the meeting for comments’ done well is to actively involve quiet individuals or those dialling in via Skype.
For instance, "Person A, I don’t want to put you on the spot, but I wanted to give you the opportunity to air your thoughts on this as I know your team handles this problem a lot." This inclusive tactic is welcome for those who may not feel like interrupting senior colleagues as it makes them feel like their views matter. Further, involving everyone can ensure critical technicalities are not missed.
Technical issues and logistics
Please, if you are running a meeting, do spend the time to get there slightly early and ensure basic logistics elements are correct.
I can say this having once booked a meeting room that for the previous two hours before had been used for lunchtime Yoga without my knowledge. Let’s just say that the assault on the senses, the missing table, the free plastic bricks that they received and the chairs spread across the room was not a good impression on the client.
Therefore, consider the basics. Are there enough chairs for all in attendance? Has everyone been sent a meeting invite? Are colleagues aware of the room change if they are running late?
Elsewhere, remember to factor in technical issues. Do you have the correct adaptor for Macs, rather than PCs? Is there a screen in the room if somebody is presenting?
Additionally, if this is a client meeting, think about the impression you are making of the firm. The client's experience should be effortless and positive. Hence, is reception aware of your guests? Have the necessary lunch and drinks provisions been provided if this is an all-day conference?
Furthermore, make sure you are aware of the international nature of many law firms. For international colleagues, has the meeting been arranged at a time that is convenient for all individuals across multiple time zones?
Running an effective meeting is a skill that you will develop over time. Additionally, it is a skill that is important to ensure that you obtain and transfer the information that is essential to making the project successful. Likewise, leading a meeting well is a good way to demonstrate your leadership skills. Finally, these small gestures of offering to take notes and asking thoughtful questions may seem insignificant, but they are the subtle habits that do help to impress as a junior lawyer.