Legal Workflow investigate: Is it time for a meetings Tsar?

One of the things I don’t miss since leaving partnership is the endless round of meetings. Partners’ meetings, department meetings, team meetings, one to one meetings, the list goes on. Were they all necessary? Did they always achieve something? Was action arising from the meetings always agreed? Was that action always taken? Was it always followed up? In all cases, the answer is sometimes and sometimes not.

I once attended, as an outsider, a meeting of partners and senior personnel, which was to last a full day. I estimated that the cost of the meeting in terms of fee earning opportunity was roughly £20,000 so I was hoping for great focus and dynamism, culminating in a number of resolutions that would be rigorously acted upon and followed up. Sadly, I was disappointed on all fronts. Even sadder, in my 33 years since qualifying as a solicitor this was not an unusual occurrence.

I know of some firms where the meetings culture is so ingrained that it’s a wonder their lawyers ever find time to earn fees. Either that, or they struggle with ever longer hours to keep up with chargeable hours targets, leading in many cases to disillusionment, de-motivation or departure.

I still have meetings of course, but in most cases my clients pay for my time, and this does tend to focus the mind on whether the meeting is really necessary and, if so, there is great interest on ensuring that the matters discussed at the meeting are acted upon and followed up.

This has caused me to wonder whether there is a place in firms for a kind of ‘Meetings Tsar’. In many firms, authority is required from a partner or other senior person for expenditure on marketing, training courses, books, etc. This helps control the budget, so why not do the same for meetings?

In seeking authority, the applicant could be required to say what the meeting is for, whether it could be undertaken more efficiently by phone or video conference, who is to attend, what the role of each attendee would be, how much the meeting will cost in terms of fee earning opportunity, what is the agenda, what are the objectives, and who will be responsible for ensuring that agreed points are followed up. There could be a report back on follow up within an agreed time after the meeting, with a joint assessment by applicant and Tsar as the value of the meeting.

Am I seriously suggesting another layer of bureaucracy to a lot of red tape that might already be entwining the larger firms? Well, I admit that the solution might become another problem, but  if I have provoked some thought about tackling the drain on resources that meetings can be, then it will be worth the opprobrium.

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