Tips for a Productive (and Painless) Meeting With Your Lawyer

» Posted in News & Resources

It’s late Friday afternoon and after a long busy week you’re wrapping up business and looking forward to the weekend. But wait, here’s the calendar for next week and right there it says you have a meeting with your company’s lawyer next Monday to tackle that such-and-such issue. Hmm, did the prospect of an upcoming meeting with your lawyer just evaporate that warm Friday afternoon feeling? Was that big sigh because you’re worried that the one-hour meeting will stretch into two, you’ll walk away more confused than when you walked in and ultimately the meeting will just not be a productive use of your valuable time?

As part of our Friday afternoon blog campaign to Love Your Lawyer (well, just like your lawyer), we have some tips for clients to help that meeting with the company’s lawyer be a much more efficient and productive one. We’ll start with the assumption that your company’s lawyer is knowledgeable, experienced, understands the basics of your business, arrives promptly to all meetings and is a good listener. Your lawyer also shares your goal of reaching a reasonable resolution of your issue in a speedy and economical manner. OK, fair enough – now here’s what you as the client can do to prepare for that meeting to help reach that mutual goal. After all, no one has time any time to waste.

• Articulate the specific problem or issue: This may sound so simple but write it out. Sometimes it is a simple issue that can be reduced to a couple sentences. But other times, this exercise may reveal the issue has more complications or nuances than you first thought and this upcoming meeting is the time to address those. No matter what, just the process of writing out what you see as the issue(s) is helpful in structuring and focusing the meeting.

• Gather the facts and documents: Again, sounds so simple but just failing to get some or most of the facts (you can’t really shoot for all) will render the subsequent meeting inefficient. Once you have articulated the issue, make sure you have the necessary information to tackle that issue. If you don’t personally have the information, check in with the other people who do. Preparing a chronology of events is extremely valuable for everyone.  Gathering up any relevant documents before the meeting is especially helpful.  Sending them to your lawyer prior to the meeting is even better.

• Determine who needs to attend the meeting: If you don’t have the key facts and information about this issue at the tip of your fingers, who does? Have them attend the meeting. If the issue involves financial information, pull in your CFO or key accounting person; if it’s an employee issue, make sure your HR person or the supervisor is there to provide specifics. Based on our totally unscientific survey (called 28 years of experience), the most common reason for an unproductive meeting is failure to have the right/necessary people in attendance.

• Articulate what you see as desirable outcomes to the issue: Legal problems and issues rarely have just a single possible outcome. Usually, there are many options depending on many factors. Think about how you would like to see the issue resolved or the goal achieved. Be reasonable here – there are no magic wands to make problems disappear. But it’s a valuable exercise to help focus the meeting on those options that are most desirable. Also, think about if there is already a consensus in the company on this preferred outcome or if you need to get someone else to buy in.

• Make sure you understand the legal analysis and options: At the meeting, clients and lawyers are usually on the same page when discussing the facts. When it gets to the legal analysis and assessment of various options, things can get complicated or technical quickly. Make sure you understand completely what your lawyer is saying. Ask pointed questions until you are comfortable with the analysis, the options and the risks/benefits of each.

• Agree on the takeaways and next step: At the end of the meeting spend just a few minutes recapping the discussion and making sure everyone is on the same page. If there are more tasks to be done, make a list, specify who will do what and preferably determine when it should be done. Everyone should come out of the meeting with a clear understanding of what they need to do and what the next step will be.

We don’t live in a perfect world and realistically it’s just not possible to do all of the above for each meeting. But to the extent you can do any of the above, then you’ve taken key steps to ensure that meeting does stay closer to an hour and is a productive use of your valuable time. And it wasn’t nearly as painful as you thought!