Meetings & Conventions

Pros Offer Tips for Planning a Great Meeting

Expert planners offer their tips on everything from creating a successful agenda to finding the right site

, Daily Report


Meetings and Conventions special issue Dec 16 2013
Meetings and Conventions special issue Dec 16 2013

When McKenna Long & Aldridge holds a firm meeting, there is always the metaphorical elephant in the room. The elephant's color is green.

"Every time you get a group of lawyers in a meeting, you know that every one of them is mentally calculating how much money they're losing," says Ashley Tenney, McKenna Long's business development manager. "And if you have an all-day meeting or even longer, that's a lot of billable time—hundreds if not thousands of dollars per lawyer."

When planning a firm meeting, time is money and money is the bottom line.

"Maximize the time together so they see it as a benefit," Tenney says. "Respect, don't waste, their time."

Whether it be an all-firm gathering, partners' retreat, associates' confab or practice group's meeting, few argue the benefit of such get-togethers. The trick is to organize them in such a way that the attendees not only see the benefits but also look forward to the next one.

Meeting Success 101: One size does not fit all

Consideration for special circumstances goes a long way with those who require accommodations. When planning a meeting, consider the following:
• Allow traveling participants time to overcome jet lag.
• Make accommodations for nursing mothers.
• Identify participants with serious allergies that might warrant seat placement changes (i.e., someone with severe peanut allergies).
• Identify and offer alternatives for those with food allergies, sensitivities, special diets or religious issues.
• Make arrangements for those who might want to pray during the day, such as prayer mats for Muslims.
• Provide translation services for non-English speaking participants or those requiring sign language.


Pulling off a meeting that will be hailed a success by all who attend can be a daunting task. With some insights from those who have worked in the events trenches, even a first-time planner can pull off a firm event like a pro.

There are multiple moving parts and efforts in making a special meeting successful, Tenney says. "The first thing to do is ask: Why are we having a meeting? Do we really need to meet? Go back to the basics. Just because one practice group has a monthly meeting doesn't mean that yours has to. Stop and evaluate the purpose."

Crafting the perfect agenda

• Set and share the agenda in advance.
• Include time for firm news such as new clients, personnel updates, etc., in addition to the substantive legal issues.
• Include training for leadership and managers.
• Secure management buy-in.
• For critical issues, consider smaller pre-meetings for stakeholders.
• For contentious issues, consider a moderator.
• Include time to develop action plans and post-meeting follow-up.


Why we're here

The agenda should reflect the meeting's purpose.

Adam Severson, chief marketing and business development officer at Baker Donelson's Memphis office, says the agenda must be organized in a way to "create opportunities for interaction [and to be about] substantial issues or problems that everyone can work together on."

Another important piece of advice is to make sure that the meeting's leaders agree about the agenda. "Have the agenda hashed out well in advance and stick to it," says Michele Golivesky, director of business development and marketing at Taylor English Duma. "If you are bringing up a new idea that may be controversial, establish where the leaders stand on the issue and decide who will champion it and push it through."

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