by Megan LaDriere
Whether you are a first-year attorney or you have been practicing for years, we all benefit from being reminded of the most fundamental aspect of being an attorney—serving our clients. How can we make our client’s lives easier, how can we save them time, and how can we add value to them? Often both law firm attorneys and in-house counsel clients alike dread the recurring “update” call discussing the matter. In litigation, this may involve a regular check-in call to keep the client informed, and to discuss important case strategies based on the client’s preferences and knowledge. Although seemingly simple, these regularly-scheduled calls are a perfect opportunity to make your client’s job easier on a regular basis, with a bonus opportunity for you to shine as outside counsel. An opportunity to add value is available to you no matter what your involvement in the matter—all it takes is a little extra time to mindfully create good call habits. Below are nine key tips to help you and your team shine while adding value to your client calls no matter what your role.
Pre-Call: Remember to ACT (Agenda, Confer, Tone)
1. Agenda. There is nothing worse than an attorney showing up with no plan and relying only on his or her memory to provide updates. Coming in with an agenda indicates to the client that you have taken the time to organize your thoughts—in other words, you have dedicated your time to saving your client’s time! So, the key to having an organized and efficient call a short, bullet-point designed to provide an overview of the important topics you need to cover in the limited time you have with the client.
Any agenda that is too detailed is better served as a follow-up reference email or a summary of the call. High-level bullet points let everyone know what is going to be discussed on the call without getting bogged down in the details. To go the extra mile, send the agenda before the call so the client sees what topics you intend to cover. Often, this gives the client an opportunity to be more efficient by doing any pre-work or check-in before the call begins.
2. Confer Beforehand. To know what to put on the agenda, it’s often helpful need to confer with your team beforehand. For example, you might need updates from another attorney who may be focusing on or have expertise on a certain aspect of the case. If you are more junior, you may want to seek guidance or insight from a more senior colleague about how to concisely explain and discuss a complicated issue. Although this pre-meeting may take additional time, it not only helps you prepare your agenda, but also allows you to resolve issues, be prepared, and be able to knowledgeably discuss and provide your best guidance to your client.
3. Tone. How many times have you had another person join a call late, seem flustered, and start the call off on the wrong foot? Setting the tone can start the call off in the right direction. If your schedule allows, try to join the call early to get settled, welcome people to the meeting, and even provide an opportunity for small talk or other non-work-related conversations. You might even reserve time on your calendar before the call to ensure you can join early and in the right mindset. Even if you cannot join early, take a deep breath, center yourself for a moment and show up mindfully to the call. Taking a moment to set the tone for yourself will help you show up in a good mood, rather than appearing to be the distracted outside counsel, too busy to truly focus on the client or their concerns.
During the Call: Hi FIVE
(Highlight others, Facilitate the meeting, Very limited substantive items, End early)
4. Highlight others. If you have multiple attorneys on a call with a client, whenever possible make sure each person has a chance to contribute so the client is not left wondering why those who don’t say a word are on the call. This is a perfect way to involve younger attorneys, especially those who performed research on an issue or are otherwise involved in the case, and to allow them to work on both their communication and client relation skills. While the younger attorney will certainly jump at the opportunity, you will be there to clarify anything or help your protégé walk through questions the client may have.
Younger attorneys: ask for this opportunity! Your colleagues will appreciate having a chance to turn the mic over to someone else for a few minutes and will be happy to give you the opportunity to shine.
Tip for more senior attorneys: by having others participate, you will reinforce that you are a strong team leader who is efficiently managing the group, while also getting the opportunity to offload some work; a win-win scenario.
5. Facilitate the meeting. Having an appointed leader for the call keeps the discussion on track and allows for smooth transitions between topics. Especially if you have multiple people on the call designated to discuss different agenda items, having one person to seamlessly introduce a topic and indicate who will be speaking provides a sense of assurance and organization. If you do not want the leader role, delegate it to someone else on your team, to keep the call moving and save a lot of valuable time.
6. Very limited substantive items. Starting with a few simple items or quick updates can build momentum and move through the agenda seemingly quickly. These quick topics also highlight progress on items that you have discussed more substantively in the past. Aim to limit the substantive discussion to just two or three topics that can realistically be covered and resolved in the time allotted. If you find that you need more time to discuss any of these substantive items, or if it is clear that you all need more information before making a decision, perhaps suggest scheduling a separate call dedicated to that topic. You could also let the client decide, noting that this may take longer than the time allotted, indicating that you are happy to stay on longer to discuss this more in detail, and asking the client’s preference. Being mindful of the client’s time is always appreciated.
7. End early (if you can). Ending a call early will provide value to the client that, most likely, none of their other outside counsel provides. That alone will make you shine! If you start wrapping up a call with five minutes left, you may end early more often than not. By ending on time or early, you not only illustrate efficiency and organization, but even further how much you respect the client’s limited time. Also, at the end of each call, provide a quick recap of any decisions made and a list of action items. Younger attorneys: make a point to write these action items down and circulate afterwards as a helpful reminder. With this recap, you create a feeling of accomplishment and ensure everyone is on the same page.
Post-Call: DONE (Don’t Overbook and Notes Every time)
8. Don’t Overbook: block off time after your regular call. How many times have you rushed off of one call to join another call late, and without writing down any action items from the call you were just on? This is my number one tip for staying organized: block off your calendar for 30 minutes after the end of the client call. This provides time to (a) write down your action items (b) delegate items to other team members, (c) draft up any notes to send around to the client or the internal team, (d) perhaps even start on some of those quicker action items, and (e) get ready for the next call, take a breath, and arrive early. Even if it is only 10 minutes, you can better plan for your action items and send off a few emails, ensuring that nothing falls through the cracks. This extra time allows you to truly check that call and action items off your list, rather than review your scattered notes at the end of the day to only then begin your action items. If your calendar is blocked off, you have free space to stay ahead on your action items, allowing yourself to be responsive and attentive to what your client needs.
9. Notes Every time. Sending notes from the call helps keep your clients and team on the same page for what was accomplished during the call. Younger attorneys: If you are not running these calls, volunteer to take notes and send around to the team afterwards! That is an excellent way to add value to the team. Keep these notes short focusing on the issue, decisions made, and action items. You may keep longer internal notes for yourself to reference, but a quick summary provides a consistent and unified reference point for the team. Further, the notes keep anyone who was not on the call informed.
All nine of these tips are simple to implement, but can create real value to your client and to your team. Even if you make just a few of these part of your normal practice for client calls, it will become easier and more routine, and your clients and colleagues will notice. Now go shine!
Megan LaDriere is a senior associate at Baker Botts practicing in their Patent Section. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.