Most of my offline client meetings (not including the entire team) involve both the attorney and the client. It’s important that we have a set meeting purpose that is relevant to where we are on the roadmap and that we make sure we accomplish what is possible for the need of each role. In most cases, these meetings are to prepare the client for joint option development or later meetings.
I love having these offline meetings on Zoom because I keep interests open on one screen and have the financial spreadsheets on another. It’s extremely helpful in discussing possible options when interests are well-formed in the client’s words to assist us in relevant, creative ideas. I find great value when interests include all applicable areas of a client’s world: financial, career, personal / emotional, familial, education, child financials, well-being of children, stability for children, relationship within the family, the process, etc. We listen during these meetings for hidden or missing interests as well and will let you know if new interests arise.
I try to send the current spreadsheet and budgets to the client’s legal team at least a couple of days prior to the meeting. This is a great time to provide updates and let them know if I have questions specifically for them. It is also a good time to ask for assistance if the client isn’t responsive or is struggling with certain items.
I send a PDF of the spreadsheet to the client so that they can review it for completeness and accuracy a few days prior as well. This is an opportunity to ask if they have any financial questions or concerns that they would like to discuss in the more private meeting.
Providing both client and attorney with information in advance assists the attorney in preparing the client for an efficient and productive meeting and can fill in holes before the meeting date. It is also a good meeting reminder and helps determine the meeting goal if one is not already set.
For the meeting, I try to remember that my role is quite often to educate about the parties’ assets, liabilities, and budget specifically on his or her level. Even financially sophisticated clients can have challenges with the spreadsheet so, whoever I meet with, it’s important to be curious about what they understand and not assume everything is clear to anyone. It is not my place to say what can or cannot be done unless it is dictated by contract, the law, or real-world model. Clients often need time to process and may need to hear things differently. Until they are ready with the information, we will not truly be able to work through preparing for option development in a joint setting. At that point, this meeting is an opportunity for the FP and lawyer to privately educate on pros and cons of different options and the possible outcomes of those options.
We hope to have the financials to you in a timely fashion so that you can review them. If that isn’t routinely happening, please reach out. It may be that we’re waiting on the client, and you can assist us in getting the missing information. If you do have the spreadsheets, let us know if you have any input or questions that we can address in advance of the meeting.
As with MHPs, interests are imperative in working behind the scenes on option development. Sometimes the lawyers hear interests that the neutrals don’t. I’ve found that those hidden interests can be extremely important to the client and the process.
I try not to involve the rest of the team in the document gathering part of the process. Occasionally I need assistance with parties who are moving more slowly or who believe they are doing what is required (but basically haven’t provided anything). When dealing with nonresponsive clients, I eventually reach out for help. MHPs and attorneys have each assisted in helping clients move past whatever stumbling block is delaying the initial steps of the roadmap. In these situations, we need to remember that we move at the pace of the most deliberate team member. It’s important for the team to communicate and to support one another in these and all challenges.