Whether we choose to embrace it or not, the meeting - which now can take place nearly anywhere and at any time - has become the de facto epicenter of where business gets done. For professional services like law or consulting the client-facing meeting is also an opportunity to shine a light on the best facets of the business, qualities like punctuality, advanced technology, and flawless execution. By making the most of meetings, the business enhances its standing, differentiates itself from competitors, and attracts and retains high quality employees. The pressure for "meeting excellence" is intense given what can happen when mistakes occur like double-booked rooms, video conferencing delays, and catering that was never delivered. These disasters make meetings memorable in all the wrong ways. In today's hyper-competitive markets, those failures can mean the difference between a follow-up meeting and a cold shoulder.
Law Firms and Meetings
The pressure to present the perfect meeting holds especially true for the top law firms, where highly paid professionals with high expectations meet in high-rent offices. The largest firms, which may have as many as 2000 lawyers working from 20 global offices, annually hold over 50,000 meetings in total. That's quite a few billable hours spent in meetings. To ensure that these meetings and events meet their exacting standards, most firms have a conference planning and services staff in one of more of their main offices. "We deliver on perfection," explained one legal conference service manager. "There's no tolerance for any failure, including water. It's all about the timing, all about showing the clients that we're the best."
The Challenges of Scheduling Legal Meetings
The scheduling concerns in a law firm environment are complex and exacting. This is primarily attributable to the firms' desire to control their conference spaces but also due in part to the scope of the real estate -- multiple offices in different time zones. Individual offices can offer up to 100 reservable spaces ranging from small, one- to twopeople rooms and video conferencing (VC) rooms to large multi-purpose event rooms with divisible walls that accommodate up to several hundred people. Firms provide a long list of services that include catering, AV, presentation laptops, all types of rentals (chairs, linens), flowers, room configurations, and furniture. Meeting types consist of everything from client-facing conferences, depositions, phone conferences, internal and external trainings, internal staff reviews, and recruiting -- all of which require some level of customization. Law office regularly hold special events for the firm, a client or an external association or non-profit group. With so many moving parts, event and meeting planners face multiple points of failure:
- Last-minute cancelations
- Unreported changes in services, locations and attendees
- Inability to easily schedule recurrent meetings
- Complex and multi-location video conferencing
- Failed communications with attorneys and vendors
- Poor delegation of planning responsibilities when staff is absent
- Multiple platforms required for ordering resources and services
- Tedious, manual billing procedures
One tactic used to address some of the above is to require administrative staff to log meeting requests through online forms. Making the entire firm "managed space" – that is space that must be requested and supported through the conference group – can also add a level of control that eliminates potential gaffes. Only rarely, such as with visitor apartments or workspaces, do firms provide lawyers and staff with the permission to book in a "selfserve" style.
Customer Perspective: The Four Benefits of a Scheduling Solution
Law firms care deeply about customer service, client satisfaction and efficient space management. Many firms have recently undertaken utilization studies and renovation efforts to more closely align their physical space with the new ways employees and partners are meeting and the communication technology they're using to facilitate their work. Conference and event managers have also turned to comprehensive meeting and room scheduling solutions to address these challenges and eliminate meeting mistakes.
To better understand those needs, we recently reached out to 10 directors, managers, and coordinators from global law firms who are directly responsible for meeting scheduling. We discussed their roles, challenges, and use of technology. Their comments provided insights into four key areas of concern and how they are addressed by an end-to-end meeting and room scheduling solution:
- WHITE GLOVE SERVICE IS THE STANDARD
As quaint as the prospect of attendants with formal dress and gloves may seem to most of us now, law firm planners have fully embraced the underlying concept: delivering perfect service that exceeds customers' expectations. And by customers, they mean external clients, the internal partners and staff, and the legal community as a whole. "White Glove" is customer satisfaction to the nth degree, with a tight focus on accuracy and flawless execution. When asked, customers shared these examples:
- Seamless email, ordering and billing integration with all services groups
- Audio visual and video conferencing setups that are tested and ready to go
- Room furniture positioned and customized for meeting type
- Catering that matches the numbers and special needs of attendees
- Automated apartment and office space reservation for visiting lawyers
While planners themselves have no control over the substance of a meeting or event, they can directly impact the outcome by presenting a polished, welcoming and professional experience that sets the stage for success.
- SIMPLIFIED SCHEDULING FROM START TO FINISH
A single go-to solution brings order to legal scheduling by removing the reliance on multiple, disjointed systems and error-prone manual processes like billing. It solves scheduling challenges across offices and departments, increasing productivity by reducing the administrative time spent managing meetings. "A meeting that used to take an hour to book now takes us about 10 minutes," said one conference services specialist. Throughout the entire scheduling process, features like search filters, favorites lists, meeting recurrences and setup wizards all act to save time in the planning process. Reinstating canceled or postponed meetings is as easy as referencing the reservation number and changing the meeting status to active. Access privileges help to delegate responsibilities for individuals and groups and pre-programmed business rules (e.g., a popular conference room with a cityscape view can only be booked for specific partners or types of meetings) eliminate potential errors.
- IMPROVED COMMUNICATION AND TRANSPARENCY
Scheduling software connects and communicates to all the individuals and departments required to manage a successful meeting or event. With detailed reservation and services descriptions along with automatic email notifications, planners tell us that they sleep well at night knowing that everything is covered for the next day, even to the point of enforcing time restrictions on changing, modifying, or canceling meetings. "We used to book a lot of recurring meetings and big meetings far in advance with faulty details," explained one conference services manager. "We now have a reconfirmation process with meeting host notification rules. Three days in advance, they get the email asking them to confirm the details. This really works out well! When people are automatically notified and required to review and confirm the details, we're able to get ahead of issues, open up space and save on wasted services like catering." Visual communications, digital room signage, floor maps, directions, and reception area kiosks all help to promote the correct location and meeting details to attendees. Postevent, the ability for office managers and administrators to report on analytics concerning sites, rooms, services, and even space in distant offices helps firms to understand resource utilization and reduce the costs around space management.
- FULLY SUPPORTED VIDEO CONFERENCING
Video conferencing (VC) is an increasingly popular option for law firms, with some firms booking hundreds to thousands of such meetings each year. Planners acknowledge that offering video conferencing does come with a price beyond the cost of the equipment -- the technology is advanced and demands additional coordination, especially when it involves multiple offices, personnel, and recurrences. When video conferencing is integrated with a meeting and room scheduling solution, conference managers no longer need to coordinate with support staff in each office because they can set up the entire VC experience within one interface -- reserving rooms, ordering services, and emailing invitations notifications. And, when the attendees walk into their respective locations, the system can be set up so that the video connections have already been established and the meeting is "live." Now, that's White Glove service.
Expanding the Potential of Your Office
The next great challenge for law firm conference managers and coordinators is to determine ways to overcome limitations with their existing resources. For example, planners explained that the cost of video conferencing equipment and the limited number or size and type of rooms that could be reserved for video conferencing is leading to occasional bottlenecks and scheduling conflicts.
One recommended solution is to deploy different and less expensive technologies to convert even the smallest of meeting rooms into viable video conferencing spaces. This could open up the abilities for smaller and satellite offices and greatly expand the choices available to the lawyers. Gartner® Research recently published a brief Best Practices for Enabling Videoconferencing in Huddle Rooms that elaborates on many of the details required to make this solution work. Click here to download the brief, compliments of EMS Software.
Why Law Firms Turn to EMS Software
Whether attorneys are taking a deposition, partners are holding a multi-office video conference, or firms are hosting an onsite continuing law education (CLA) class, EMS Software provides a comprehensive, single system that efficiently helps to manage the rooms, resources, services, people, and everything in between. "EMS practically eliminated service delivery failure," shared one conference center manager. "It makes me and my team look like rock stars."
For over 30 years, EMS Software has been a widely-used room and meeting scheduling solution for law firms, with 6 of the top 20 global law firms by revenue currently using EMS software1. These firms often see their investment in EMS pay off within mere months.
With an extensive understanding of the legal environment and its scheduling challenges, EMS continues to add the software functionality and features that support the day-to-day efforts conference managers, meeting planners, and legal administrators. EMS helps create the positive, professional and flawless meetings that successfully merge "law and order" together each and every day.