How to Manage Meeting Madness

June 17, 2024

There may not be a universal threshold for how many meetings is too many, but meeting overload is real. And meeting fatigue makes it tough — if not impossible — to get work done. It’s a drag on your mental health and on law firm productivity.

Excessive and ineffective meetings are another side effect of the pandemic. Technology made it possible to keep communicating with colleagues and clients when offices went remote. But the surge of virtual meetings quickly became overwhelming.

Thankfully, firms can take steps to manage meeting madness. It’s not about eliminating meetings. (But wouldn’t that be amazing?) It’s about taking a more meaningful approach to when and how you gather for real-time collaboration.

Ask four questions.

Well-organized meetings enable better decision-making and draw out new ideas. A recent Inc. Magazine piece explains how it can start by asking four questions:

  1. What is the purpose — to inform or compel?
  2. What is the issue in seven words or fewer?
  3. Who has already weighed in and what did they say?
  4. What could surprise me in this meeting?

The time to ask these questions is before scheduling a meeting — whether it’s a client meeting or an internal affair — and the answers to the questions should help you decide what to do next.

Your answer to Question 1 will determine if you even need to host a meeting. If the purpose is to inform, for example, skip the meeting; send an email instead.

Question 2 is a quick way to assess if a potential meeting’s key players agree about why to meet. If not, align expectations before holding a meeting. This ensures that everyone’s working toward the same goal during the meeting.

Similarly, Question 3 is geared toward figuring out who has already shared information or expressed an opinion. This helps provide context for why a meeting is necessary, and it avoids wasting time during a meeting on revisiting conversations that have already taken place. When you a receive a meeting invitation, Question 4 can help you evaluate whether you need to attend. It’s another way of asking, What will I learn at this meeting? If the agenda focuses on topics you’re already aware of, it may be best to decline the invitation.

As always, taking cues from the firm’s clients is key. A client complaint that it’s too difficult to get a meeting may indicate it’s time to re-examine how you are delivering service and whether your team is properly staffed to deliver.

And given lawyers’ complaints about spending too much time on administrative tasks, reigning in meetings can be an effective retention tool. If fewer meetings make lawyers happier and more productive, it’s worth it!