In the legal industry, every minute is valuable - for the firm and its clients. A well-planned, efficient meeting fosters collaboration, enhances professionalism, and builds trust between clients and businesses. Conversely, a poorly planned meeting leads to confusion and frustration and creates friction between parties.
It’s meticulous preparation that separates great legal meetings from should-have-been-an-email meetings. When legal assistants carefully curate an agenda, organize documents, and clearly communicate, meetings run smoothly. This aids in positive client relationships.
Let’s cover the three most important meeting prep strategies for legal assistants to focus on to create effective meetings: Creating an agenda, document organization, and effective communication.
An agenda is like a map. It tells participants what topics will be discussed, the order of the discussion, assigned facilitators for each topic, and estimates the amount of time to be spent on each item.
Here are the seven steps to writing a great meeting agenda:
Identify the objective of the meeting. Make sure the goal of the meeting is realistic for the length of the meeting.
Tip: If the objective is complex, consider creating additional follow-up meetings to address each step.
List all topics for the meeting discussion.
Tip: Your agenda will likely include items such as legal research updates, case updates, status reports, compliance and regulatory updates, and conflict resolution strategies.
Assign a facilitator to each topic. This person will lead on that topic.
Tip: Make sure all the people who are needed to achieve the meeting goal are included.
Allocate time for each agenda item.
Tip: Some topics will need to be talked through and thus require more time for discussions and feedback, while others may just be reiterating an important due date, which can be done quickly.
Link to, attach, or print out any supporting materials that need to be reviewed or submitted before the meeting.
Share a draft of the agenda with attendees and ask for input. Is there anything else that should be added? Are there additional questions or documents that would be helpful to include?
Make any necessary changes based on feedback and finalize the agenda, then send it out ahead of the meeting.
Nothing interrupts the flow of a meeting faster than having to pause and search for documents. Legal assistants can avoid this issue by creating a central digital hub for meeting materials that all participants can quickly and easily access. Consider using DropBox, Google Docs, or your business software of choice.
You’ll need to consider the meeting format to decide how to best organize documents. So, let’s look at how to centralize documents based on meeting format.
If the meeting is being held via video conference or phone conference, all materials will need to be digitally distributed.
Email the meeting invitation to all participants.
Write the agenda directly in the digital meeting invitation, making it easy for each attendee to reference.
Create a shared folder with all necessary documents to be reviewed before the meeting, include this link in the meeting invitation, and add notes or takeaways post-meeting.
Tip: If some documents have sensitive information in them be sure to only share them with pertinent people. Or limit the document’s access in the shared folder to just the appropriate parties.
Write executive summaries and include them for any lengthy documents.
Prepare a presenter’s package for team members who will be presenting.
Tip: Do a practice run-through to test any technology, and get confirmation on if you will be sharing your screen and pulling up documents, or if the presenter will be running their own slides.
Clearly label document versions to avoid confusion and communicate changes in advance.
Prepare additional materials that address anticipated questions.
If you’re meeting in person, you’ll still want to follow the guidelines for virtual meeting prep. The only difference is that you’ll need to print out the agenda and supporting documents and hand them to each in-person attendee when they arrive.
If any notes are hand-written during the meeting, be sure to collect them at the end and document them digitally in the shared folder.
These days, it’s common for large meetings to include in-person and virtual participants. So, you’ll want to follow the guidelines for virtual meeting prep as well as print out agendas and documents for those attending in person.
Again, if any notes are written by the in-person participants, record them digitally in the centralized hub.
Perhaps the most important aspect of meeting preparation is clear communication. Clients and colleagues in the legal industry appreciate when you are transparent about meeting objectives, the agenda, and follow-up after the meeting.
Clearly state the meeting goal
Prep the agenda early
Ask for input and feedback
Share all resources and documents before the meeting, considering the meeting format
Take notes during the meeting
Record notes digitally in the central hub and share them with attendees
Follow up post-meeting with takeaways, action items, an additional meeting, or confirm the final decision
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