In today’s business world, time is a precious commodity.

Being triple-booked for a meeting has become a badge of honor. Responses to emails at 3:00 a.m. have become an expectation. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg even famously installed count-up clocks in City Hall during his tenure so his staff could be mindful of how long they were spending in meetings.

In the present climate, it’s no surprise I always seem to start all of my meetings with our C-suite with an apology for me taking time out of their day.

But should I really have to feel guilty calling a meeting together which may save off some sort of legal liability or financial pitfall for our hospital?

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing I loathe more than a meeting that lasts an hour when it could have been wrapped up in 15 minutes. And I often wish unspeakable harm fall upon those who can’t help but ask just one more question in my last meeting before lunch (blame the hanger pains).

But given the nature and complexity of the topics we are often confronted with as in-house counsel, maybe we should start to worry more about ensuring our client understands a given topic than we do about some arbitrary clock hanging on the wall.

This past week, I called a meeting of a few of my associate counsels and our CEO. We had reached a decision point on a sizable case we had been working on for a few years and needed the CEO’s input prior to proceeding.

As I mentioned above, I instinctively start each meeting with our CEO with an apology for taking up their time and I had warned my associates to be prepared to be succinct in their delivery of the case.

After quickly introducing my associates to the CEO, I asked that they deliver the latest on the case.

In my opinion, they did a fantastic job. They hit on the all the main points we discussed and they delivered it in record time.

Success, right?

Wrong. And after one look at my CEO’s face, I realized how wrong we were.

Of course, I had followed along with their presentation of the case. I had been receiving weekly briefings on it for the past two years. I understood the various nuances associated with the case as I had been intimately involved with it since its inception.

But to our CEO, while I had kept him apprised of the case on a semi-regular basis, it had been weeks, and about 4,000 of his meetings ago, since our last update. Unsurprisingly, he had forgotten a few details along the way.

I had failed to appropriately coach my team and did a disservice to our CEO by limiting the amount of information I thought he needed.

Thankfully this was one such day our CEO was not triple-booked and we were able to spend the next hour walking through the intricacies of the case in sufficient detail that he was able to finally offer his opinion on how we should proceed.

On the way out of his office, I now felt compelled to offer an apology to his executive assistant for spending over an hour of his day on a topic that I promised her would only last “a quick five minutes.”

While I still maintain my disdain for unnecessary meetings, sometimes legal discussions are going to take some time. Moving forward, I would much rather be the guy who requests an hour only to need five minutes than vice versa.

After all, as in-house counsel, I have a duty to protect my client from their legal liability, not their lunch hour.


Stephen R. Williams is in-house counsel with a multi-facility hospital network in the Midwest. His column focuses on a little talked about area of the in-house life, management. You can reach Stephen at stephenwilliamsjd@gmail.com.

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