Cordell Parvin Blog

Developing the Next Generation of Rainmakers

First Year Lawyers: This one is for you

Posted in Law Firm Leadership

Does your law firm have first year lawyers starting next week? Do you know a first year lawyer who will start next week? If so, this one is for you and for them.

I remember how excited I was when I showed up for work my first day at my law firm. I had spent four years in the USAF and now I was starting my law practice. If my memory serves me correctly, I wore a short sleeve dress shirt with my tie and suit that day, and learned that was not appropriate attire.

Over the years, I have regularly given presentations to first year lawyers during their firm orientation. I call it Starting Right for Career Success. This fall I will be giving the presentation to University of Nebraska law students. I focus on the importance of taking responsibility for their careers, developing a plan with written goals and using time wisely.

If you are a regular reader, you know I have written my suggestions for first year lawyers. Several months ago I took two blog posts and created a Practical Lawyer Article: 40 Important Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me When I Was a First Year Lawyer. Finally, I wrote an article for the Texas Young Lawyers Association titled: Practical Tips on Client Development for Young Lawyers

First year lawyers have other questions. They rarely ask them because they are afraid the questions are stupid, or they feel they should be able to figure out the answers on their own. Here are 10 questions I have been asked by young lawyers.

Seasoned lawyers might think they are stupid, but for young lawyers ready to start their first “real job,” knowing what to do in the circumstances described may be important.

  1. What should I do if I do not understand an assignment?
  2. What should I do when I don’t know the answer?
  3. What should I do if I make a mistake and make the partner I am working for upset?
  4. What should I do if I  have too much work and another partner wants me to do an assignment for them?
  5. What should I do when I am short of work and others in my practice group are busy?
  6. What should I do if I  have a personal commitment I really need to tend to that will prevent me from timely finishing an assignment?
  7. What should I do you if I am not getting any feedback on my work?
  8. What should I do when I  go home exhausted every day from sitting in front of the computer and working all day?
  9. What should I do you if I am not getting secretarial support or help from a legal assistant because their allegiance is to a more senior attorney?
  10. What should I do if I am asked to attend an important recruiting event and I have a memo, brief or document a partner expects to receive the next morning?

Law Firm Associates: You are Never Too Young, Too Inexperienced, Too . . .

Posted in Career Development, Client Development

Are you a law firm associate? If so, do you ever feel that you may be too young, too inexperienced or too something else to be successful at client development?

I frequently hear:

  • I don’t have gray hair like he does.
  • No one my age is making the decision which law firm to hire.
  • My firm would not value the potential clients I could attract.

As the visual points out, you are never too young to dream big. Think about your youth in another way. Focus on the advantages you have being younger than the lawyers with whom you compete. Clients and potential clients consider more than just age and experience when picking a lawyer.

There are plenty of older and more experienced lawyers who may be complacent about their client development. They may be content with where they are in their career. I look at their website bios all the time and find the last time they wrote anything or gave a presentation was more than 5 years ago. Those lawyers are coasting, or at least content with where they are in their career.

If you are hungry to become more valuable to your potential clients, and if you are willing to do what older lawyers are not doing, you have a real opportunity. The name of the game is to become known by as many potential clients in your target market as possible. Frankly, the more people who know you and like you, the more likely you will get hired.

It is never too early to start building relationships. You are never too young to dream big. You are never too young, too inexperienced, too…to become visible, build relationships and begin your journey to success.

How about starting this week. What is the one thing you can do this week?

Recommended Reading: The Boys in the Boat

Posted in Law as a Business, Law Firm Leadership

On Fridays, I have been recommending books. Last Friday, I recommended Unbroken.

Today I recommend The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown.  I am listening to the book currently. Once again the narrator is Edward Herrmann and he does an excellent job bringing the story to life.

My thanks to Fox Rothschild partner, Jacqueline Carolan for both recommendations.

On his website, Daniel James Brown describes the book this way:

The Boys in the Boat celebrates the 1936 U.S. men’s Olympic eight-oar rowing team—nine working class boys who stormed the rowing world, transformed the sport, and galvanized the attention of millions of Americans.

Why should you read this book?

I think you will get two important points from the book.

  1. Crew, perhaps more than any other sport requires teamwork.
  2. Those featured in the book pushed themselves to individual and collective excellence.

I found a USA Today article: Rowing teaches teamwork lessons from 10 years ago focusing on the teamwork required for Crew and how it relates to business.  I hope you will read the article. I found this quote insightful.

Leaders must understand that team building is as much exclusive as it is inclusive. In sports and business, lives aren’t on the line. But team bonds are established the same way. I hate to use the word, but high-performance teams are cults. You’re on a mission from God. That’s what appealing to the spirit is all about. Everyone wants to be a part of something bigger. That’s their greatest desire.

I found another article I recommend: Lessons in teamwork from rowing. I was inspired by these words in the article:

That excitement and physicality is undoubtedly part of any rower’s experience. But talk to them about the most important teamwork lessons they’ve taken from the sport and they will begin to speak of values: trust, dedication, selflessness, determination, honesty and commitment. In truth the list could be longer. Ultimately it is a transformational experience, not only in the sense of taking an individual’s performance to a level they may only have dreamt was possible, but also how the spirit of teamwork transcends a person’s ego.

What a great combination for lawyers in a law firm. Are your lawyers part of a transformational experience and are your lawyers taking their performance to a level they may only have dreamt was possible? Does the spirit of teamwork in your firm transcend your lawyers’ ego? Finally, do your lawyers, more than anything else, want to be part of something bigger than their individual practices?

If so, I want to practice law in your firm.

 

What Motivates You?

Posted in Client Development

 Donald Trump once said:

Money was never a big motivation for me, except as a way of keeping score. The real excitement is playing the game.

In my career, money, billable hours or client development numbers were never a real motivator for me. Nevertheless, I typically set goals for client development and billable hours because those numbers did represent a way to keep score.

The real excitement was striving to become a better lawyer and building relationships with clients. For me, there was nothing more satisfying than the appreciation of a client for going the extra mile.

What motivates you?

 

Presentations: Take Command of the Stage

Posted in Client Development

Are you giving a presentation to a business audience any time soon? If so I recommend you take command of the stage.

What does that mean? It is easier to explain in the context of a rock concert. The best example I know of was when James Brown took the stage in a concert right before the Rolling Stones.

You can read about it in this New Yorker article: The Possessed: James Brown in Eighteen Minutes. It is the story of a Teenage Awards Music International concert that took place 50 years ago. As you will see, James was not happy that the Rolling Stones were the closing act.

“Nobody follows James Brown!” he kept telling the show’s director, Steve Binder. Mick Jagger himself was hesitant. He and Keith Richards were boys from Kent with an unusual obsession with American blues. They knew what Brown could do. In Santa Monica, they watched him from the wings, just twenty feet away, and, as they did, they grew sick with anxiety.

Watch the video and you will see why the Mick Jagger and Keith Richards grew sick with anxiety. James Brown clearly took command of the stage.

Ok, other than my admiration of James Brown and my feeling that the 18 minutes he was on stage that night may have been among his best, what can you learn from his performance and how can you take command of the stage?

If you are a regular reader, you likely have read some of my presentation ideas before. Here’s how I recommend you take command of the stage.

  1. Present with high energy. (I always listened to Tina Turner just prior to going on stage.)
  2. Start and finish strong. If any part of your presentation is boring put it in the middle.
  3. Never stand behind the podium. You don’t want anything between you and your audience.
  4. Make Your Presentation Unique. If you are one of many presenters and everyone else has slides, consider giving your presentation with no slides. If their slides have lots of words, make sure yours have few or none.
  5. Practice, Practice, Practice. I feel certain James Brown rehearsed again and again. Have someone watch you practice. Have someone shoot video of you practicing. Look at your facial expressions. Look at what you are doing with your hands.

Look, I know you and I will never match James Brown, and I know that a legal presentation will never generate the audience response that a rock star receives. But, that does not give us a license to bore an audience.

Client Development: Lessons from a Great Coach and Star Athletes

Posted in Career Development, Client Development, Client Development Coaching

Are you stuck figuring out where to start your client development efforts?

If so, you are not alone. I have coached many young lawyers who are struggling with that same issue. Ok, what can we do about it?

I urge lawyers to do what star athletes do. Begin by making small improvements each and every day. Coach John Wooden made that point:

When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur. . . . Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made. Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time.That’s the only way it happens—and when it happens, it lasts. (Wooden,1997, p. 143)

What is the small improvement you can make next week? It might be to invite a contact to lunch. It might be to find a topic for a blog post. Do something next week no matter how small.

I have ready many articles on how star athletes train.  A 2013 New York Times blog post gives some good insights:  Training Insights From Star Athletes.

Stay Focused: I contend that in the distracting world we live in,  the best lawyers in 2014 and beyond will be those who are most focused on what they are doing.

Manage Your ‘Energy Pie:’ You are busy at work and want to spend more time at home with your kids. Your time and your energy are your two most important resources. You need a plan to use your time and energy most wisely.

Structure Your Training: Structure what you want to learn and practice on client development. Structure your client development efforts. Like the athlete mentioned in the NYT blog post, making random client development efforts is a waste.

Take Risks: The lawyers I coach who have been most successful are those who have gotten outside their comfort zone.

The Other Guy Is Hurting Too: Lawyers in other firms have the same issues and challenges you have. If they didn’t, they would have already cornered the market.

If you have time, read one more thing today. It is a short one page Forbes article titled: 10 Lessons For Entrepreneurs From Coach John Wooden.

The next time you have 30 minutes, I urge you to take each of the 10 lessons and simply write a sentence or two on how each lesson applies to your law career. If you would like, share your ideas with me.  I would enjoy posting a blog with readers ideas.

I hope to hear from you.

Recommended Reading/Listening

Posted in Book Reviews

Have you read or listened to the book Unbroken?

If you haven’t, I urge you to read or listen to it. I listened to it. Edward Herrman was an excellent narrator.

I cannot picture how I would have ever been resilient enough to endure what Louis Zamperini did. He is an inspiration for us all. He passed away at 97 this year. You can watch this CBS segment to learn more about him: Remembering the “Unbroken” spirit of Louis Zamperini.

Success: Want More? Get Comfortable Outside Your Comfort Zone

Posted in Career Development, Client Development

Success: For many lawyers, success is achieved when they become comfortable outside their comfort zone. Over time they succeed and wonder why the task was uncomfortable in the first place.

Want an example to make the point? Networking events are uncomfortable for many lawyers I coach, including one I coached seven years ago.

Apple Sulit-Peralejo is a Fox Rothschild Atlantic City Family Law lawyer I coached way back in 2007. She is vibrant and expressive and she lights up the room when she enters. Yet, when I first met Apple she was uncomfortable going to networking events and meeting new people.

During our coaching that changed. Apple shared with me what had happened. Here is what she said.

During my legal career, I have frequently attended bar functions, “marketing” or “networking” events. I went to these events because I needed to go, not because I wanted to go. Even though I attended many events, I never seemed to develop business contacts, clients or referral sources and for a long time I wondered why.

I finally figured out the problem during our coaching. Even though I attended many bar and community events, I only mingled with the handful of people that I already knew. I stayed mostly within my comfort zone. Even when I met someone new, there was only a brief introduction followed by brief interaction.

During our coaching sessions, I realized I was missing the opportunity to meet new people, develop new relationships and develop deeper relationships with new contacts. I realized that I had to work on meeting and developing relationships with people I did not know. That meant I needed get comfortable outside my comfort zone.

Working up my courage, I tried a new approach when I attended social events. Instead of looking for people I knew, I approached people I had not met before. As important, I also made a conscious effort to avoid “business talk” or have the “hello interaction”. I stayed away from “business talk” because it is much easier to have a conversation with someone and to get to know that person by finding something we had in common – - travel, children, sports, news, etc. I realized that the “hello interaction” is the easy thing to do, because all you do is say “hello,” make small talk, say “nice to meet you” and then move away.

At first, I felt awkward not being in my comfort zone, but it has gotten easier for me. More importantly, I no longer dread going to these events. I actually look forward to going because it is now enjoyable. The icing on the cake is that I am promoting my business while having fun!

I recently asked Apple if she had anything to add to what she told me years ago. She replied:

I have nothing to add,  except it seems like a lifetime ago since I was apprehensive about events.

The world’s greatest athletes, artists, musicians and others get better by practicing and focusing on developing skills. That is what Apple did and now she had honed those skills to such a degree that it seems like a lifetime ago when she was uncomfortable.

I know you can experience the same success. So, what can you work on to get better?

What differentiates your firm or practice group from competitors?

Posted in Client Development

If you are in a small firm, or  a practice group in a large firm, you have meetings, right? What do you talk about at those meetings? Have you ever talked about what differentiates your small firm or your group from groups in other law firms with whom you compete?

A leader must have a clear vision of where he or she wants to take the firm or group and a plan to get there. When I was a practice group leader my vision was to develop a preeminent construction law practice group in our niche construction areas. Our group developed a strategic plan which included these targeted differentiators:

  • First to Market
  • Investing in our Client Relationships
  • Effective Use of Technology
  • Strategically Located Offices
  • Full-Service Law Firm
  • Quality Service Driven

We developed a plan to implement each of these differentiators. Here is our Construction Law Strategic Plan.

What are your small firm or large firm practice group differentiators?

 

Law Firm Leadership: Is It Like Managing the Best Baseball Players?

Posted in Law Firm Leadership

Have you ever wondered how a baseball manager can lead a team with several players making significantly more money? I thought of that question recently when three managers were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame: 2014 MLB Hall of Fame Inductees: Tony La Russa, Joe Torre, Bobby Cox

Years ago my firm gave me a copy of Patrick McKenna and Gerry Riskin’s booklet: Herding Cats. That title reminded me of what it must be like to be the manager of a top baseball team. I am sure there are technical things I do not understand, but I also believe each manager knows how to take a group of individual stars and get them to win as a team.

Here are my thoughts on how they do it.

  1. They find a way to align the team goals with the individual aspirations of their players. 
  2. They realize they cannot motivate the unmotivated. They get rid of those players. Instead, they focus on finding the motivation their players already have and tapping into it. 

What does this mean for law firm leaders? Let me give a personal example to illustrate.

During my law career, I met a couple of law firm leaders who shared these traits. In both instances they were trying to recruit me to join their firms.

They both asked questions to learn what motivated me. They each discovered I wanted to build a preeminent construction law practice group and that I wanted to join a firm where I would want to stay until I retired.

One leader asked me to pretend like resources were not an issue and prepare a three year plan to develop a preeminent construction law practice group. He also talked about the efforts the firm made to cause partners to believe there was no better place to practice law.

The second leader focused on describing his firm’s culture specifically focusing on how teamwork was rewarded. He showed me the firm’s retention statistics.

I know both of these leaders and their firms. While the firms are vastly different, the leadership is similar.

Have you discovered what motivates your lawyers? Are the firm’s goals and the partners’ ambitions aligned?