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Why Lawyers Hate Meetings

(How to Unlock This Powerful Weapon for Creating Focus, Alignment, and Accountability)

It’s no wonder lawyers hate meetings.

From the minute you step in to a meeting at your law firm, there is meaningless chit-chat and gossip, some members of your staff (maybe you) show up ten minutes late and by the time everyone’s there, you’ve wasted 15 minutes of your best work-time. Most meetings at law firms are disjointed and unorganized—the subjects are random and bounce around among your staff. And making things worse, the meeting lasts 1 ½ hours and just destroys the middle of your workday.

You’re right, this kind of meeting is a complete waste of time and is unproductive for you and your staff.  So, I’m willing to bet you just don’t have meetings at your office and you just assume your staff knows what they’re supposed to be doing.  Here’s the problem: no one ever taught us how to run a productive meeting. This is why meetings suck!

What if your next meeting had a specific agenda and a start and stop time?  No random chit-chat allowed—just laser-beam focused conversation on a specific agenda and once the meeting is supposed to end, you leave the room.  You keep a written log of exactly who is going to do what and when, the goal to be achieved and your log is reviewed at the next meeting.  Everyone is held accountable to a specific goal.  Wow, this is not your same ole’ lawyer meeting! You just accomplished a ton (and you know what your staff is going to do) in just a few minutes of your time.

The Power of Focus and Alignment

Without meetings with a clearly set agenda, your staff just runs around from one task to the next.  Yes, your staff is working hard and they appear very busy, but are they doing what you want them to do?  Who knows!  Your top paralegal might be working on the worthless slip and fall case while you’re losing sleep about all the things that need to be done in your huge, upcoming trial.  Yes, the monster case that will pay your bills for the next year.

But without regular meetings (yes, daily and weekly), you have no clue what your staff is doing.  Do you want to keep winging it and just hoping for the best?  What if, instead, you scheduled daily and weekly meetings to make sure your staff is working on the “A” cases that will pay your bills?  This is the power of daily and weekly meetings: you know what your staff is doing, you set goals for their work and everyone is held accountable.

Sharing the Collective Wisdom with Your Staff

Most law firms do a crappy job at sharing the collective wisdom of the lawyers and staff.  Just think, a law firm with 4-6 lawyers has a ton of wisdom and knowledge about the law—you are a virtual walking dictionary.  You and your partners know just about everything about law and if there is a stumbling point in a case, there’s a good chance you know how to fix it.  But all of this vast collection of knowledge is worthless unless it’s shared with your staff.

The benefit of regular meetings is that you share your knowledge among the lawyers and staff within your firm.  When there’s a chokepoint in an upcoming trial, you trouble shoot the issue at your regular meetings and you pick up tips for handling the problem in a way that you never thought of.  This is the power of regular meetings—you are tapping into the collective wisdom of your partners, associates, paralegals and yes, secretaries and receptionists.

The Secret Ingredient to a Successful Daily Meeting

Still don’t see the benefit of regular meetings?  I know, you’ve tried this before and it just didn’t work.  Before giving up, try just one thing: schedule a five minute meeting at a specific time, say 9:03 a.m., and limit the meeting to five minutes. Show up on time, start on time and use a stopwatch to end the meeting after five minutes.

At this daily meeting, you discuss your top 5 goals for the day and write them down on an index card (your “TOP 5 MEETING”).  You say, “Today, I’m going to accomplish X, Y and Z”, write them down and then have your paralegal and secretary do the same.  Now, you know exactly what your staff is doing with their time that day and you have specific tasks that you must accomplish.  No matter what, stop the meeting after five minutes, even if there’s more to discuss.

“The rhythmic pulsing of daily and weekly meetings constitutes the real heartbeat of a growing company.”

Verne Harnish, Mastering the Rockefeller Habits

But don’t stop there: throughout your workday remind yourself of your TOP 5 for the day by holding the index card of your TOP 5 goals in front of your face every 15 minutes.  It is crazy how this will keep you focused on your goals for the day.  This is a great way to avoid the distractions and little “emergencies” that always seem to get in your way to a productive day.  You have got to try this!

How to Get Stuff Done at Weekly Meetings

On Monday morning, meet with your staff for 45 minutes to set the goals for that week.  Just like your daily meetings, set a TOP 5 for your work and a TOP 1 OF 5.  These are the TOP 5 things you must get done this week and the TOP 1 OF 5 is the most important goal of your TOP 5.  You write down these goals on a large poster board for you and your staff and make sure their goals are aligned with your goals. Now, your staff is doing the work you want them to do that week.

Each task gets a number assigned to it: #1 is the TOP 1 OF 5 of your goals and you work from there to define your TOP 5 goals for the week.  Yes, there will always be more than just five things you need to do and that’s fine.  The extra stuff you should call your “SHOULD DO LIST”—things you should be doing, but they are not crucial and can wait if you don’t get them done this week.

Now You Can Tell Who’s Doing Their Job

On Friday afternoon, meet again with your staff for 20 minutes to see who’s accomplished their TOP 5 goals—you call this your ACCOUNTABILITY MEETING.  Keep a written log who accomplished their TOP 5.  You will be amazed at how productive your staff just became—they’re not just achieving their TOP 5, they’re doing their “Should Do” list too. Hell, your staff is out-working you!

“It’s just easier to get the job done than to have the face the team each day, each week, and make the same excuses for having failed to get it done.”

Verne Harnish, Mastering the Rockefeller Habits

And here’s the great thing: when your staff (and you) know they will be held accountable for their weekly goals at the end of the week, they will face the music if they’re not getting their work done. Did your paralegal serve the expert response and file the note of issue? If not, she has to face the music at your next meeting. This is the power of peer pressure—your staff knows what they have to do or they will face your wrath (or at least a gentle nudging) at the accountability meeting on Friday. Yes, regular meetings are a great way to make sure stuff gets done.

How Great Companies (Including Your Law Firm) are Built

I know, you’re ultra-busy with depositions, paperwork and trials—it’s just way too easy to avoid meetings due to your busy schedule.  And you’ve never had success running a productive meeting, so why try again?  I get it, but just think—perhaps the greatest business builder/executive of the 20th century, John D. Rockefeller, held meetings with his executive team every day for 20 years.  Rockefeller built the world’s largest and most profitable oil company based in large part upon daily meetings so he knew what his executive team was doing and making sure what they were doing was in alignment with his goals.

“You’re creating something magical called alignment.”

Verne Harnish, Mastering the Rockefeller Habits

If Rockefeller built the most profitable oil company of his era based on the rhythm of daily and weekly meetings with his key executives, do you think it might be worth another try for you?