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MANAGING THE OFFICE

Three weekly meetings to keep everybody updated

In its annual management performance review, an Illinois firm asked everybody, “What is the main thing that bothers you that could be improved?

Up and down the line, the answer was communication.

The problem was not a new one. For almost 20 years, lack of communication had been a problem, says the administrator of the firm.

Everyone felt it, from staff to partners. People didn’t always know what was going on with client matters, they didn’t always hear about changes in office policies and procedures, and the associates felt they didn’t have a place to go with questions.

So in response, the administrator set up weekly meetings.

There are three meetings in all—two for the attorneys and one for the staff—and they are held on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday mornings.

Monday for the attorneys

The first meeting is for the attorneys, and it’s held at 11 a.m. Mondays.

The attorneys chose that day because there aren’t as many court calls at the start of the week. They chose 11 a.m. because that gives them time to answer calls from the weekend and prepare the points they want to discuss.

The meeting is a wrap-up of the previous week as well as a beginning for the current week, and it takes the form of a roundtable discussion.

The managing partner conducts it, and he begins by asking for updates on the progress being made on the files he has given to the attorneys. Then the attorneys tell what’s happening with those matters.

That allows the partners to stay current on what’s happening with every matter and to keep track of the activity in each one.

From there, the roundtable format comes in. The attorneys discuss whatever problems they are having with clients and client matters and ask one another for advice and opinions.

At one meeting, for example, an attorney reported that a client was insisting on testifying at trial. The attorney didn’t want the client to testify, but the client was adamant, so he asked the group for advice. Their recommendation was to allow the testimony.

The roundtable approach, the administrator says, allows the attorneys to consult with one another so they don’t have to make one-person judgments. The attorneys find those discussions valuable to the point that even the managing partner, who has been practicing for many years, asks for opinions from time to time.

For the associates, the roundtable discussions provide a benefit that sets the firm apart from the rest. In many firms, a common associate complaint is not having anybody to turn to with questions and problems. But with the regular meetings, the associates always have someone to help them decide how to approach a matter or how to research some issue. In fact, they have not just one mentor but the entire firm available every week.

The meetings also “make them think beforehand” and identify their concerns. They have to organize their work and pinpoint the areas where they have concerns or need advice.

An added advantage to that is time savings. The associates can get whatever answers they need without having to interrupt the partners during the workday. The administrator says that before the meeting schedule was established, everyone was so short of time that it was hard for the partners to give advice.”

Tuesday for the staff

The second meeting is for staff, and it’s held at 9 a.m. on Tuesdays. That day was chosen for two reasons: One is that most of the attorneys are in court at that time; the other is that if something comes up in the Monday meeting that needs to be passed on to staff, the item gets to them immediately.

Every non-attorney employee from the legal assistants to the receptionist attends, and as with all three meetings, attendance is required.

The administrator prepares the agenda, and it covers anything that affects the group. Topics include office policies, new procedures, workloads, and who’s going to be away the next week.

In addition, if the attorneys have discussed something in their meeting that affects staff, that is brought up as well.

For example, when the Monday meeting covered a new law that allows attorneys to issue subpoenas, the administrator took that information to staff and explained how it would affect their work procedures.

Staff can also ask questions, raise issues, and recommend actions. If an attorney drops a heavy load of work on a secretary late in the day, for example, not only can that secretary make the complaint, but the group can brainstorm on how to keep it from happening again.

Attorneys again Wednesday

The third meeting is held at 8 a.m. Wednesday, and it’s again for the attorneys.

The topic is not the legal work. Instead, the managing partner updates the attorneys on housekeeping items such as billing procedures and new office policies.

The attorneys also hear about items staff discussed in their meeting that affect them, and that’s the reason the Wednesday date was chosen, the administrator says. For example, the managing partner might mention that a staffer was given too much last-minute work and explain what to do about getting work done when the attorney’s secretary is on vacation.

The meeting is brief, usually just under an hour, and there is little discussion. The agenda is more “this is what’s going on and this is what needs to be done.”

The outcome is satisfaction

The benefit of the ongoing meetings, the administrator says, is that everybody knows what’s going on in every corner of the office.

Everybody gets a say before a new procedure or idea is put into place.

Everybody has all the information that pertains to the job.

And everybody seems happier, the administrator reports The management surveys now say people feel they have fair participation on what’s going on in the firm.


Related reading:

10 tested ways to make your staff meetings more interesting and productive


For personal success, get beyond the words and metacommunicate


16 quick ideas to make you a better manager


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