For as long I've been running meetings, I've tried to run them well. For the vast majority of my career I've failed. The change--the massive, life-altering, team invigorating change--was the agile project management meeting structure. This structure can and should be implemented at your law firm. Today. I mean it. Just do it, starting as soon as you've read this blog, because it will change everything.
When you go into a meeting, do you know what is going to be covered? Are there time limits on each person's contributions? Is there a time limit on the whole meeting? And if something takes longer, can people move topics to another time for more efficient use of everyone else's time? If the answer to any of these is no, for every one of your meetings, then attendees are probably not using their time effectively.
Step 1: Set regular meetings to always happen on the same day, at the same time, in the same way.
People need to know to protect the time slot assigned to the meeting. That time slot thereafter becomes sacrosanct. Everyone expected to be there has to be there. Everyone knows when to show up, and where (Zoom, a conference room, a phone number). Importantly, the regular meetings take place often. In fact, if you can, you should set team meetings to happen every day. (But don't stress, the length of the meeting is 15 minutes if it happens every day, so you're not looking at hours lost of productivity). Frequency and regularity are key.
Step 2: Set the scope and purpose of the meeting.
A meeting can be to update the team, to discuss strategy, to touch each of the cases or to address administrative issues. The key, though, is that a meeting cannot do all of these things. Be sure to compartmentalize the meetings and maintain clarity of scope. This clarity ensures that each meeting is assigned the correct amount of time, invites the right people, and is run correctly. For instance, a "Scrum" in agile project management is a 15-minute meeting where each individual reports what they've done the past day, what they'll do in the next day, make requests of other team members, or share things that are making them "stuck." In contrast, a "Swamp Out" is a long meeting where large caseloads are reviewed (but none of them in great depth). If great depth is needed for any particular case or cases, those get moved to another meeting where only the people affected will attend. The point of this is to understand why people are attending meetings, so as to keep them focused.
Step 3: Set time limits.
Meetings can drag on. This has a huge negative impact on team morale and is a waste of people's time. There are two factors in looking at meeting length. The first is how long each individual gets to speak, the second is how long the meeting as a whole is going to last.
A Scrum, for example, is 15 minutes long. At 15 minutes, the meeting is up--no ifs, ands, or buts. A Swamp Out can be 2 hours. At the 2 hour mark, the meeting is over, period. Strategy meetings can be longer or shorter depending on the complexity of the case, but they have to have an outer limit and that outer limit has to be enforced.
The second way to ensure meetings keep moving along is to limit how long each person takes the floor. This is particularly important with strong personalities (lawyers, right?). If someone takes over the conversation for longer than about 60 to 90 seconds, ask that the conversation be tabled and moved to another meeting. The point isn't to stifle any one person in particular, but creating a general rule that no particular discussion should last more than 1 minute creates a uniform standard.
Step 4: Record or Memorialize meetings.
This is a bit of a novel twist on "notetaking" but keeping a record of the meeting is, in fact, important. Someone on the team should be the scribe, writing down key points or memorializing tasks or next steps, as appropriate. If appropriate, the meetings can also be recorded (via video) so that they can be watched by any missing team members. Again, efficiency and utility are key. If a meeting has no deliverables (whether in the form of tasks, next steps, or individual reports) then what was the point?
Bonus Step: Record meeting satisfaction before you begin implementing legal project management techniques, and after.
That which cannot be measured cannot be improved. Before implementing the above techniques, send around an anonymous survey asking your team members how they feel about meetings.
Do you believe meetings at the firm are useful? Score 1 to 5.
Do you get useful information at meetings? Score 1 to 5.
Are meetings too long? Score 1 to 5.
Are meetings too short? Score 1 to 5.
Do you look forward to attending team meetings? Score 1 to 5.
And then ask those questions again after you've implemented these measured, 30 days out, 60 days out, and 90 days out. Maybe check back 12 months out. (And if you want to share that information with me, I would really appreciate it!)
Dr. Giugi Carminati, Esq., JSD, CIPP/E, CEDS, LPM, is Director of Innovation and Legal Practice Management at Order of Proof. She is a legal and e-discovery project manager, as well as an e-discovery specialist and privacy professional (EU). Giugi created Livable Law to deliver legal and e-discovery project management that prioritizes efficiency, efficacy, and personnel well-being by implementing agile project management techniques and intelligent use of legal tech.
Giugi uses her decade-plus of litigation experience, in federal and state courts, as well as a track record creating her own law firm (The Woman's Lawyer), to bring practical solutions to law firms.
She is licensed in Texas, Colorado, DC, California, and New York. Giugi currently works with a number of firms, both internally and externally, to provide project management and deliver coaching so that firms can implement their own Legal Project Management solutions, via Livable Law. She publishes LPM and e-discovery blog articles at Geek Like a Girl. She speaks four languages and is a PADI diving instructor. She splits her time between Hawai'i, Colorado, and Texas. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.