It's always a good time for writing lists and making sure that everything is in order. And that goes for your meeting contracts as well. Here's a list that can help to get you focused on important ways to limit or eliminate your meeting liability and protect your company.

Read the contract

Too many people sign things without reading them, then end up agreeing to things that they shouldn't. And you must understand the contract. If it isn't drafted in easily understood terms, redraft it.

Know what should be in the contract

Whether it is a contract for hotel meeting space, a tour operator, an exhibit-builder, or whatever, there are key terms that should be included. If you're unsure, make it a point to learn these basics.

Know when to hold 'em, fold 'em, or walk away

Learn to be a good negotiator — and apply those skills to every negotiation. Understand that negotiations happen all the time — not just on formal occasions when a contract is at stake.

Understand potential liability

Liability can arise in three basic ways: common law, based on court decisions; statutory law, in which legislative action creates potential liability (copyright, Americans With Disabilities Act, Dram Shop laws, etc.); and contractual law, in which duties not imposed by the law are voluntarily assumed (hold harmless or indemnification, for example). By understanding how, where, and why potential liability arises, you can minimize or even eliminate certain exposure.

Manage risk

Certain risks can be eliminated. For example, one can minimize the indemnification provided to others. Or, you could decide not to take your meeting of senior citizens on a skydiving excursion. Risks also can be transferred. For example, one can obtain indemnification or get those senior citizens to sign waivers or releases. Risk also can be managed by education and by providing warnings. The airlines do that all the time with pre-flight safety messages. Finally, for risks that cannot be eliminated, transferred, or mitigated, consider purchasing insurance.

Protect your assets

Through the use of trademark and copyright protection, the rights to your organization's names and ideas can be preserved. It is relatively inexpensive and simple, and should be done without fail. Organizations should then create license agreements that allow others to use their intellectual property without losing ownership or control.

Respect other people's assets

Whether it's photos, educational content, music, or other “intellectual property,” the materials trademarked, copyrighted, or otherwise owned by others should never be used, except with written permission.

Plan for the unexpected

Meeting pros know that they fail to plan if they don't plan to fail. Think ahead and planning accordingly. That means everything from having a properly worded force majeure provision to having the emergency contact numbers for all attendees to knowing whom to contact in your meeting city for whatever emergency arises.

Jed R. Mandel is a partner in the Chicago-based law firm of Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg. He heads the trade and professional association practice.