Depending on what area of law that your attorney practices, you may need to meet with clients frequently. Knowing how to run effective client meeting is an important skill that every paralegal should develop. Your client’s time is valuable and so is yours so learning how to control a client meeting and making it as productive as possible is beneficial for everyone. Below are five tips that make a client meeting productive, efficient, and professional.
If Possible, Don’t Use Your Office for the Meeting
Your office is full of distractions from your email and your phone to files stacked on your desk. If you meet with the client in your office, you’ll be distracted by each email notification and call put through to your voice mail. Your top priority, for however long the meeting is scheduled to last, is your client and their case.
Book a conference room or meeting room for your appointments with clients. The only file you have is the client’s file and there are no distractions to take away from your meeting. You’re less likely to miss an important point or key piece of information if you’re not distracted during your meeting.
Prepare for Your Meeting
If the client is coming into the office to meet with you, there’s a specific purpose for the meeting that couldn’t be handled by telephone or email. Prepare for the meeting by having all of your documents drafted with copies for the client to review. If you’ve asked the client to provide information, make a list of what you asked for when you contacted the client so you can check off the information as the client provides it to you.
Failing to prepare for a meeting with the client, regardless of the subject matter, is a waste of your client’s time. You’ll appear unprofessional and give the appearance of not placing priority on the client’s case when you fumble for documents or stop repeatedly to gather your thoughts.
Prepare an Agenda for Your Meeting
Unless you’re having a quick meeting to review a specific document for signing, you should prepare an agenda for every meeting. An agenda doesn’t need to be detailed, typed, or lengthy to be useful. The detail of the agenda will depend on the reason for the client meeting, however, a handwritten “mini-agenda” detailing the key points and objectives of the meeting will keep you on track.
Clients like to stray from the point as they seek to tell you details and the story of their lives. An agenda helps prevent wasted time by focusing the meeting only on those key points that need to be addressed at this time. You don’t need to cut your client off but you do need to keep the meeting moving in the right direction.
Give the Client a Summary of the Meeting and an Action List
When you’re preparing for your meeting, prepare a short summary of the key points as well as an action list. Include any documents you’re requesting or action you’re asking the client to take in the action list. Keep a copy for the file and give the original to the client. Set a follow-up date for the client to return the documents and/or information to your office.
Within 24 hours of your meeting, write a short email or letter to the client summarizing the meeting, detailing what you need, and providing the deadline for the requested documents and/or information. Follow up with your client about a week later to confirm the client is working on the matters if the deadline is approaching and you haven’t heard from them. It’s vital that you follow up with clients to keep the case moving and meet deadlines.
Be Prepared to Answer Questions
Based on the items contained on you agenda, try to anticipate the questions the client may ask you during the meeting and prepare answers to those questions. Some of these questions may need to be directed to the attorney so it’s prudent to schedule a short meeting with the attorney prior to meeting with a client to discuss potential questions, issues, and responses. This saves time by eliminating the need to go to the attorney before answering questions and the client appreciates a quick, decisive response to their questions during your meeting.
You’re not going to anticipate all of the questions a client may ask. If needed, make notes of any questions you don’t have answers to at the moment, discuss them with the attorney, and promptly follow up with your client.
How Do You Conduct Client Meetings?
The above tips may or may not apply in every situation. There are of course more generic tips that can apply across the board (check out this Harvard Business Review article on designing an agenda as well as this Inc. article with 5 tips on running effective meetings). As I reiterate in most of my posts, every paralegal is different, every law firm is different, and every situation is unique. I have never liked “tip” and “how to” articles that don’t recognize the exceptions to the general rule.
I think we can all learn from each other. If you have tips for making client meetings better, please share them with our readers and with us in the comments below. I firmly believe we never stop improving or growing as a paralegal and one way we do that is by learning from other paralegals who have found a better way of doing something. My Excel charts to track client progress are borrowed from another paralegal – her idea has saved me endless hours over the last few years!
Tonya Pierce is a paralegal with over 24 years experience in several areas of the legal field (17 years as a bankruptcy paralegal and trustee paralegal).