Cordell Parvin Blog

Developing the Next Generation of Rainmakers

Practicing Law: When was I most stressed out?

Posted in Career Development

A lawyer I coach asked me when I was most stressed out practicing law.

For most of my career I didn’t think about what I was feeling as being stressed out. I guess I thought it was just part of being a lawyer.

Looking back now, there were two primary things that were stressful and I remember both of them causing me to wake up in the middle of the night.

  1. When I knew it was VERY important to get a certain result for my client, and I did not have total control over getting the client’s desired result.
  2. When I had delegated work from my most important clients to my partners.

Stress Arising From NEEDING to get a result

When was I most stressed out over the need to get a result for a client?

Let me tell you a story. I think it was in 1982 when I was asked to defend a 60 something year old high level federal government employee who, close to his retirement had been accused of accepting bribes.

When he first came to see me with his wife, I saw a tall, once proud man slumped over, visibly shaking and looking like he had not slept a full night since he had been indicted. He proclaimed his innocence. But, almost everyone accused does that.

The meaning of his life had been challenged. I could see it was a chilling feeling. He had been removed from a job he loved, everyone in his small community who had respected him, now wondered whether he was on the take, and his integrity had been challenged. He looked at me and told me to do everything I could to get his trial scheduled right away.

Preparing his defense, I visited his modest one-story home in a small Virginia town, where he and his wife had grown up and lived their entire life. You know this kind of town. Even if you live in a large city you have driven through a town with two stoplights  a policeman stationed at one end or the other to catch speeders, and a place where everyone knew each other’s business.

When I entered their house and sat down on his couch, I looked up at a portrait of a young woman, their only child, who his wife painfully told me had been killed in a car accident, a few years before.

The prosecutor was a DOJ lawyer with whom I had gone to law school. When we first met before the trial, he bragged that he had never lost a case and did not intend to lose this one. I guess he was showing his macho side. That opening gambit set the tone for how well we got along, but on that day, I saw an opportunity to use his arrogance against him with the jury.

The chief witness against my client was an government IG investigator. He was a short, ruddy faced guy who wore scuffed brown shoes to court each day and sat at the table with the prosecutor. He reminded me of one of the Three Stooges characters and I hoped the jury might see him the same way.

I suspect it could not be done today, but back then I arrived at the courtroom early each day to crank down the height of the government’s chief witness’s chair as low as possible. I wanted the jury to see him, barely peering over the table. I am sure you understand the method in my madness.

When the jury came back, my law school classmate had suffered his first defeat. If looks could kill, I would have been dead on the spot. He refused to shake my hand, or even look at me. I understood, I could see the pain in his face. (It’s another story, but I was a defense expert witness in a Denver case, which I assume was his second loss.)

While this trial was the most stressful client matter I ever handled, I have never felt more relieved, and later more exhilarated than I did when I heard the jury say: “not guilty” and watched my client stride out of the courtroom with his head held high. I kept the transcript of my final argument. It is in a folder in one of the boxes in my garage now.

Why was this experience so stressful? I believed my client was innocent and I knew the meaning of his life depended on being found not guilty. He had put his faith in me.

Stress Arising from Delegation

I want to tell you about this kind of stress because you can’t make rain by yourself. There comes a time when you have to delegate work. Later, there comes a time when you have to delegate lead attorney work to your partners.

Even if your partners say they will keep you in the loop, it is not the same as being responsible for the matter yourself.

My best clients repeatedly told me:

Cordell, we did not hire Jenkens & Gilchrist. We hired you.

I was never stressed over delegating to associates, because I was still in charge and supervising them. I was far more stressed when I delegated the matter to another partner. I woke up many times thinking about whether my partners were making the right decisions, making a good impression, and treating my client the same way they would if it was their client.

Stress is a part of practicing law. How you handle it, will in part determine your level of success.

 

 

Legal Careers: Are Women Still Judged by Different Standards?

Posted in Law as a Business

Why is it that my work and life will be judged by a different standard than my male partners?

That may become the first line in the novel I am writing about a Houston lawyer, Gina Caruso. If you are a regular reader, you know Gina is my business parable character from Rising Star. In that book, Gina worries that she will disappoint her firm’s leaders after she completes working on her one big client’s matter.

In my novel writing classes and my study, I have learned that my character needs to be likable, but I can’t “fall in love with my character.”  That is a challenge for me. I have to give Gina flaws, I have to put her in peril, and I have to make her yearn for something that will be very difficult to obtain or achieve.

Sadly, like my character Gina, many women lawyers practicing in law firms are judged by a different standard.

On Sunday, The Dallas Morning News published an article and an editorial that addressed this issue. In the editorial: Gender discrimination hasn’t disappeared, I found most troubling this quote taken from a McKinsey Report:

Women are judged on what they have actually accomplished. For promising men, research shows, potential is enough to win the day.

If that is true in law firms, just imagine the additional pressure women lawyers feel to get results.

I have coached 100s of women lawyers throughout the US and Canada, including many of you reading this blog post. The women I have coached have accomplished a great deal.

I could share with you many examples of those accomplishments. Here are two very recent examples: Visible Expert Profile: Staci Riordan, and Holland & Hart Attorney Andrea Anderson Receives 2014 Client Choice Award for Intellectual Property – …: 

The business section article was titled: Gender gap seen in promotions at most law firms in Texas. As you might expect, there is a serious gender gap in most of the large Texas firms, with 18 of the top 40 firms having promoted either none or only one woman to partner in the last three years.

A few are doing far better than the pack.

Three law firms — Jackson Walker, Baker Botts and Andrews Kurth — voted 41 women into their partnership ranks during the past three years, accounting for nearly one-third of the women elevated to partner at the 40 firms…

No law firm in Texas has a better record in recent years of promoting women to partner than Jackson Walker. The Dallas-based firm elevated 20 women to partner between 2012 and 2014 — nearly twice as many as any other Texas law firm.

That is some great PR for Andrews Kurth, Baker Botts and especially for Jackson Walker. Those firms lead the way, while other law firms only make changes when their clients demand it.  I am certain those three firms attract top women lawyers and their clients value it.

So, do you think when Gina’s story becomes public, she will be judged by a different standard?

Client Development: Group Telephone Coaching

Posted in Client Development

I originally posted this blog in January. Recently, several lawyers have asked about the monthly coaching program and that has prompted me to post it again.

Years ago, over a one year period, I went to each office in my old law firm and did workshops on client development. I believe I called them Client Development 101,102 and 103. At the end of the year I took note that not many lawyers had made any changes. I now  believe that very few lawyers actually retain very much from client development one-shot training, and even fewer actually make changes.

My belief is consistent with neuroscience research, which has documented that most people have the mental capacity to focus on only one new idea at a time and that it is important to allow moments of “insights.” One article worth reading is “Why Neuroscience Matters to Executives” by David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz. They point out that during the moment of insight, the brain undergoes neural connections that enhance mental resources and overcome resistance to change.

If you are a regular reader, you know that for the last couple of years I have done monthly client development group telephone coaching. Some law firms have set up their own groups and many individuals have signed up on their own.

If your firm is interested in having your lawyers participate in one of the programs, here are some important things to consider:

Who is an Ideal Candidate for the Program: An ideal candidate is self-motivated, with a burning desire to learn, get better and build a book of business.

Ideal Number of Participants in Each Coaching Group: 5-6. I want each lawyer to fully participate.

Structure: 
Coaching Questions: I will send lawyers coaching questions to answer. The answers to these questions will help me get to know each lawyer.

Business Plan: Our first group session will cover how to prepare a business plan. Each participant will prepare a business plan for the year either using one of the templates I will provide, or any other format he/she thinks would work more effectively. Each 90 days each participant will provide Cordell with his or her 90 Day Action Plans. (I have examples of actions on my blog.)

Monthly Coaching: Each month, I spend half an hour coaching the 5-6 participants. I encourage each participant to email to me in advance what he/she has done the last 30 days. His/her planned activities for the next 30 days, and questions to brainstorm.rather than by email.

Monthly Teaching Topics: Each month I spend the second half hour going over a specific topic.

Month 1: How to Prepare Plan and Goals. To get some ideas check out my blog: Want an Example of a Really Good Business Plan?

Month 2: Client Development Now and in the Future. Principles of client development that will always be important and what is changing.

Month 3: Motivation, Time Management, Hold Yourself Accountable.

Month 4: How Business Clients Select Lawyers and Law Firms.

Month 5: Raising Your Credibility and Visibility.

Month 6: Writing and Speaking to Get Hired.

Month 7: Blogging: What and How to Write a Blog for Clients. Check out my iBook on Blogging and Social Media. You can get it on iTunes also.

Month 8: Relationship Building.

Month 9: Social Media

Month 10: Client Service. Check out my iBook on Client Service. Also available on iTunes.

Month 11: Expanding Relationships with Existing Clients and Cross-Selling.

Month 12: What Sets Rainmakers Apart or What Separates Superstars from Stars.

Suggested Reading: I will provide interested participants with suggested reading on specific topics that interest them. There are groups of lawyers who read books and every two weeks share what their “take-a-ways” are from 1-2 chapters. I can share examples of reports.

Time Commitment:  Each month the group coaching session lasts an hour. Generally, some reading material will be sent in advance. Reading those materials takes no more than 20 minutes.l

Cost: The cost is only $95 each month for 12 months.

How to Sign Up or Learn More: If you would like to sign up, or learn more, contact Joyce at jflo@cordellparvin.com

 

10 Questions to Ask to Coach Yourself

Posted in Client Development Coaching

I have coached many of you who regularly read my blog. Each of you likely remember some of the questions I asked you.

For those of you I will never coach, I want to share some of those questions with you so you can answer them and coach yourself.

  1. What specifically do you want?
  2. Why is that important to you?
  3. What will achieving this do for you?
  4. What level of commitment do you have towards meeting this goal?
  5. Where are you now?
  6.  How will you know when you have achieved what you want?
  7. What will you need to do to achieve it?
  8. What firm resources will you need?
  9. What can you do now to start?
  10. What will you do to stay on track?

 

Success: You Can’t Be Content

Posted in Career Development, Client Development

Are you content with your law practice and your success attracting, retaining and expanding relationships with clients? I hope not. I can’t help you if you are content and you can’t create a more successful career by standing still.

Several years ago, in 2006,I was coaching a team of lawyers. After the second month, the managing partner asked me how they were doing. I told him that so far the firm was wasting money and the lawyers were wasting time.

He looked at me wide eyed and asked why I thought so.

They are too content with where they are.  They are relatively busy, making decent money and do not feel pressure to build for the future.

Lawyers who are content likely do good work for clients and wait for the phone to ring. That strategy may have worked 25 or 30 years ago when there were fewer lawyers and when clients were local and loyal.

My Virginia bar number is in the 12,000s. That means from Jamestown until I was admitted 12,000 and a handful of lawyers were admitted to practice in Virginia. I bet the bar numbers now in Virginia are close to 100,000.

When I first began my practice all of the banks and hospitals were locally owned. I knew the presidents of most companies in my city and my firm’s clients did not shop around for law firms. Just to give you a perspective, All in the Family and Laverne and Shirley were two top TV shows back then.

Just as television shows have changed, practicing law and developing business relationships in 2014 is far different. In the competitive environment we live in now, you do not have the luxury to be content. You must always strive to become a better lawyer, to better understand your clients’ needs and to find new ways to help them.

I occasionally post poetry here. I like a poem by Robert Frost. It has been meaningful to me in my personal life and it causes me to reflect on the importance of never being content.

NOTHING GOLD CAN STAY – by Robert Frost
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

If you get a chance, do a search on the meaning of the poem. In the meantime, think about where you can make the greatest improvement.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game: What are your fondest memories?

Posted in Career Development

What is your fondest memory growing up? That is an exercise on my creative writing websites.

For me, my fondest memories were early April each year and the beginning of the baseball season. I played, watched and went to baseball games each year.

I grew up 21 miles west of Chicago, in Lombard, Illinois, the Lilac Village.

We frequently endured several months of cold, frigid temperature with packed snow on the ground.  April brought the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Cubs back home to Chicago, along with the green, green grass at Comiskey Park and Wrigley Field.

Each of my friends loved baseball.  Starting in the summer when we were about 7, we  grabbed our baseball gloves, a bagged lunch, and bicycled to the park where we played baseball from sun up to dinner. We each dreamed of playing in the major leagues and mimicked our heroes.

When I was 9, I started playing little league baseball on the White Sox team. Looking back, I am not sure if that was the reason I became a White Sox, rather than a Cubs fan.

My White Sox hero was Minnie Minoso. I wrote about him in a blog two years ago: Law Firm Excellence Needs A Culture of Creative Dissatisfaction.  I mourned the year he was traded back to Cleveland, just in time for the Go-Go White Sox to win the 1959 American League pennant.

As I shared in: What are you borrowing from your role models? Nellie Fox became my White Sox hero and, as evidenced in my family photos in 1959, my cheek bulged from the big wad of gum from my Topps baseball cards. I haven’t really chewed gum since that year.

Sadly, I rarely got the chance to see my heroes at Comiskey Park. Young kids from Lombard could not get there on our own, and most of the games were played at night. But, we could fairly easily get to Wrigley Field, where all the games were played in the afternoon.

Until we started working in the summer, we regularly went to games at Wrigley Field. We rode our bikes to the Lombard train station, took the train to Oak Park and took the L from Oak Park to Wrigley Field.

I believe the most expensive box seats tickets were $4 or $5, the grandstand seats were $3 and the bleacher seats were $1. We always arrived early so we could stand right against the wall at first or third base and watch the teams warm up.

In those days, players would gladly sign our programs. I believe my father tossed those old programs along with my 12 years of Topps baseball cards, during my first quarter at college. Oh, well…

Many fans remember Harry Caray as the voice of the Cubs. In the day when I was taking the train and L to Wrigley Field, Caray was the voice of the Cardinals. Jack Brickhouse was the television voice of both the Cubs and the White Sox.  As you will hear in the clip below, when a Sox or Cubs player hit a home run, we heard: ”Back, Back…Hey, Hey!”

Baseball fans also know that Wrigley Field is 100 years old this year. My high school friend Jim Roberts has taken some photos.

What are some of your fondest memories growing up? I would love to hear about them.

Blogging and Podcasts: Great Way to “Practice” Law…and Attract Clients

Posted in Career Development, Client Development

Have you ever wondered why we say we “practice law?” I wonder because I see less and less “practicing” and I think that is scary.

Recently I read an ABA article: Law firms say they want ‘practice ready’ grads—but who are they actually hiring? The article started with a discussion of  Washington and Lee’s Law School’s decision to emphasize practical skills in 3L and the subsequent enrollment surge. Sadly though, teaching practical skills did not lead to the W&L students getting hired at a higher rate than students who had not learned practical skills.

As a lawyer, you need to be able to anticipate issues and present solutions coherently.  One of the best ways to learn these practical skills is to “practice” writing and speaking.

Look to the right and you will see a Blogroll of lawyers I have coached. Are you blogging? Are you creating podcasts for clients and potential clients? If not, you should be.

“Why,” you ask? Scott Ginsberg wrote  that blogging is the single most effective tool at eradicating anonymity.

For further support, here is what Seth Godin and Tom Peters have to say about the blogging.

As you will see, Tom Peters argues that blogging is:

…the best damn marketing tool by an order of magnitude that I have ever had.

Put simply blogging and creating podcasts will force you to stay on top of what is going on that will impact your clients and will enable you to go from being invisible to becoming visible and credible to your target market.

To effectively blog or create a podcast:

  1. Choose a topic your clients and potential clients care about
  2. Create content and present it in a way that your clients will find valuable.
  3. Use social media tools to distribute what you have created.

Each time you pick a topic, and each time you post a Blog or create a podcast you are “practicing” becoming a more valuable resource for your clients.

Yes, it really does take a team to make rain

Posted in Law as a Business, Law Firm Leadership

One thing I love about my work is the chance to meet lawyers who are striving to get better. More often than not those lawyers are young associates or young partners. It is great fun to meet and work with a baby boomer like me, who is still working to get better.

A month or so ago, I met Bill Neal, a family lawyer from Lewisville, Texas. Bill founded his family law firm Neal Ashmore  five years ago with great enthusiasm and ideas. Among other things, the firm brings in a personal trainer twice a week to lead the lawyers and staff workouts.

Before I met Bill he had found the book I co-authored with Brice Voran: It Takes a Team, read it and started implementing many of the ideas. I asked him to share what he learned with you.

Remember when you were young, and you read that page-grabbing book that made you want to be one of the characters – a Hardy Boy, a Harry Potter, a James Bond or a Jack Ryan? Now, do you find when you pick up book to read, you find the main character is YOU!

This was exactly the revelation that stunned me as I read “It Takes a Team – You Can’t Make Rain by Yourself ” by Cordell Parvin and Brice Voran. There, jumping off the pages of the book was me – in the form of David Coleman, the main character. As I followed his journey from being the only one that could “get the job done” and “bring in the clients” while instilling fear and dislike from those working for him to embracing the team concept, I realized that this model could work in my small law firm of Family lawyers.

The following Monday I put the principles from the book into action in my firm. I started by handing out the work that had been sitting on my desk because “only I could do it.”  I started setting up mini meetings with my associates throughout the week to review the strategy of the cases and their progress. We instituted a new client introduction procedure. We identified when the client retained us who would be on that client’s team, and then had that team member come in and spend time with our client at the start of our representation.

It’s only been a few months since we instituted this dynamic switch in how we do our matrimonial legal business, but the effect it has produced has been dramatic. Clients love the concept and feel of a team handling their case, their work is getting done faster with no loss in quality, my associates are happier doing the work. I now, suddenly, have less stress and more optimism about our future and the business forecast for “rain.”

Most of us joined law firms to be able to work with other outstanding lawyers and a motivated professional staff. It’s just more fun practicing law that way. As you see from Bill’s post, it also produces great results for a firm’s clients.

 

Lagniappe: Giving Your Clients Value and Extraordinary Service

Posted in Client Development, Client Service

Want to stand out from the crowd of other law firms?  Give something to your clients, without expecting anything in return. Surprise a client by offering to spend 1/2 a day or a day off the clock helping with anything the client would find valuable.

Why is this a good client development strategy? Because most lawyers and law firms over promise and under deliver. It starts with the firm’s website.

If you go to any major law firm’s website, including your own, somewhere on the site you will find the firm’s commitment to its clients. The branding slogan on the Home Page of my old law firm’s website was the first statement: “The Jenkens experience… the experience you deserve.” On that same page we also stated: “It’s not about us. It’s about you. Your business. Your concerns. Your success.” And then: “experience the difference it makes for you.”

I once asked our marketing department to explain to me what “The Jenkens Experience” was. I also wanted to know what the “it” was in the phrase: “experience the difference it makes.”

I wanted to know because I wanted to make sure my clients knew when they were getting the Jenkens experience or it. No one could explain it to me. Frankly it was just a slogan for a webpage. The only time I ever heard about it from a client was when the general counsel was surprised by how much a bill was one month. He told me that he guessed his company had gotten: “The Jenkens Experience, the experience his company deserved.”

What does your law firm website say about the firm’s commitment to clients? Are they just statements on a webpage or do your lawyers actually fulfill the commitment?

You would think that since law firms all talk about their commitment to clients, their clients would be happy with their law firm’s  services. Business clients are not happy with their law firms and have frequently made that point.

What do you suppose the problem is? Perhaps law firms are too focused on “profits per partner” and associates”getting their hours.”

Have you ever heard the term “lagniappe? ” Click on the link to find out what it means. The term is used in New Orleans and other cities along the gulf coast.

Just suppose that instead of focusing on “profits per partner” and “associates getting their hours,” your firm actually focused on lagniappe, giving something extra, or going the extra mile for your clients.

Charisma: Clients Want Lawyers Who Have It

Posted in Career Development, Client Development

I believe clients want their lawyers to have charisma.

That thought scares many lawyers, especially those who are introverted. I think those intimidated by the idea have a mistaken notion of what Charisma actually is. It is not necessarily having the gift of gab. It is more focused on exuding confidence, being open and listening and paying attention to others (clients and potential clients).

I have studied charisma over many years and wrote about it in 2012: Client Development Question: What is Charisma?  I hope you will take a moment and read that blog post again.  In this post, I want to provide further support for my feeling that you can develop charisma by focusing on a few important things.

Malcolm Gladwell  wrote about charisma in his book: The Tipping Point. He noted that charisma can be measured and referred  to the Affective Communications Test created by Howard Friedman, a psychologist at the University of California at Riverside. Friedman reports that the test identifies those who:

are generally popular (even if they are shy) and influential, because of their ability to transmit emotions through nonverbal cues.

I was intrigued by the studies done on charisma and Dr. Friedman’s test, so I did more research. I found an article he had contributed to on Oprah’s website: How Charismatic Are You?  Take the quiz to determine where you fall on the charisma scale.

In my research I found a 2012 Forbes article: 5 Qualities of Charismatic People. How Many Do You Have? I thought the 5 qualities were good ones:

  1. Be Self Confident
  2. Tell Great Stories
  3. Body Speak-Be open and approachable. Gracious and graceful.
  4. Make The Conversation About The Other Person
  5. Be A Good listener
What can you do to develop each of these 5 qualities?