Cordell Parvin Blog

Developing the Next Generation of Rainmakers

The Secrets to Writing an Article or Giving a Presentation to Get Hired

Posted in Client Development

Greetings from Los Angeles. I am here for the 5th and final coaching session this year with a group of lawyers who started in January.

We’ve covered a lot of territory in our group meetings. One topic was writing and speaking to get hired.

Are you writing and speaking to become more visible to your potential clients? If so, how is it working for you?

Because I developed my practice by writing and speaking, I am asked to teach lawyers how to write and give presentations to get hired. In this post I will share with you some of my teaching points.

If you are not achieving the success you have been hoping for, you likely have one of two potential problems:

  1. You may not have chosen the right topic, or
  2. You may not have structured your presentation in an effective way.

Your clients do not care about what you do. They do not care about the background and history of a case, law or regulations.

All they care about is their problems, opportunities, internal changes and external changes. So, if you write an article that does not address one of those items, it will not result in attracting existing or potential clients.

Your clients do not have much time. So, they want to find out the answer to their problem or how they can achieve their opportunity without having to search for it.

Blogging and Twitter have become popular in part because of the time shortage. The time your potential clients will spend also means you should not write a linear article or give a linear presentation.

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As noted communication expert, Nick Morgan suggests in his book: Give Your Speech, Change the World:

The problem-solution approach works best because it is easy for the audience to digest.

Readers and audiences begin reading or listening asking why will reading or listening to this be important to me. Morgan writes:

Stating a problem first answers that question right away.

When I write, I pay special attention to the title and to the first sentence because I know potential readers will look at the title and may read the first paragraph to decide whether the article will be valuable to them.

When I speak, I know I have only 90 seconds to get the attention of my audience. I must answer the “What’s in it for me” question. I know I need to start and finish with high energy.

Years ago I was in the hallway getting ready to speak at a large firm retreat. I had my headphones. The managing partner who asked me to speak came by and looked. Finally he asked:

You’re going on in five minutes. What are you listening to?

My simple answer:


If you want to start a presentation with high energy, or if you want to cut a minute off your mile run, put on your headset and listen and watch Tina, Elton John and Cher. Guarantee you won’t bore your audience with your opening.

So, if you are getting ready to write or speak, what problem or opportunity are you addressing and how will you frame it so the readers or audience will want to read or hear your solution?

P. S. Do you have 7 minutes? Watch Carmine Gallo video on Make a Presentation Like Steve Jobs. Watch particularly how he verbally opens and closes each segment of his presentation to make it easy for your listeners to follow his story.


Success: Does Getting Up Early Make a Difference

Posted in Career Development

I am at a stage of my career and life when I am now able to look back and reflect on what worked for me and what didn’t.

I was recently listening to a James Patterson Master Class Video (link has article about the class. He talked about needing to have the passion for writing and how he got up every morning at 5:00 so he could write for a couple of hours.

Throughout my career, I got up early and worked out. If you are a regular reader, you know that when I practiced law in downtown Dallas, I woke up at 4:30, coffee in hand at 4:45 and arrived at Cooper Aerobics at 5:00 when it opened. By 7:00 I was at my desk and ready to go.

I look back now and I am surprised that not one time when the alarm went off at 4:30 did I say:

I just don’t feel like getting up early today.

Waking up early during the week meant I was also up early on Saturdays and Sundays. I spent those early morning working on client development activities which for me usually involved research, writing or preparing a presentation.

Thinking about what James Patterson said in the class, I guess I was passionate enough about becoming a valuable asset for construction contractor clients, and having energy from working out, that I always had the discipline to stay with my early morning habits.

You’ve read and heard the quotes about the early bird getting the worm, and the famous Benjamin Franklin quote.

Even though I only slept about 6 hours a night, I believe this habit, made a difference in my career. First, I started my day with more energy. Second, arriving at work at 7:00 before the phones started ringing gave me quiet time, or time for client development writing.

Franklin Early to Bed

I decided to do some research. I found a Life Hack blog post: This is Why Productive People Always Wake Up So Early. I was most intrigued when I read:

If you were to get up just one hour earlier each morning you would gain 15 days in a year.

I found this Entrepreneur Magazine article: The Power of Mornings: Why Successful Entrepreneurs Get up Early I found Laura Vanderkam, author of the book: What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast (Portfolio Trade, 2013) said:

…waking up earlier allows you to start the day with a victory and set the tone for a happier and more productive day.

If you’re interested there is a good list of benefits of waking up early in Why successful people wake up at 5 a.m. I found number 2 to be true in my experience:

2. Get more quality time – People who get a jump on their day, often report that they have more time in the evenings to spend relaxing with family or friends.

How about you? Do you see any advantages to getting up early?

Client Development: Get Great Returns on Your Time Investment

Posted in Time Management

A lawyer I am coaching asked a great question.

What was the greatest return on your investment of time?

Time is Money

For me that answer is an easy one. I wrote a monthly column for Roads and Bridges magazine titled: “LAW: The Contractor’s Side” each month for almost 25 years.

I chose the title of the column purposely. I wanted to convey that I represented contractors.

Here are a couple of columns I wrote:

At the Risk of Sounding False:I wrote this column after the Enron and Worldcom cases because I knew it was more important than ever for contractors to focus on business ethics.

Traveling the Measured Mile: I wrote this column to share with contractors how they needed to prove their damages when their project was delayed by the owner.

Why was writing this column such a great return on investment and what is the lesson for you?

  • The column was one page long, so I was not writing a law review article. I spent more time searching for the best topic than writing the column about it.
  • My photo was included with the column, which made it more personal. Contractors got to know me and they were interested in learning from the column.
  • Perhaps most importantly, the magazine was read by virtually everyone in the road and bridge construction industry.

Seth Godin has written about the importance of shipping it in his blog post Unrealized projects. In the post Godin writes:

One key element of a successful artist: ship. Get it out the door. Make things happen.

So, to get the greatest return on your investment of time, write short pieces often, write them on a regular basis, include your photo and then get what you write as widely distributed as possible.



Are you getting the most from your time investment?

Posted in Career Development

I started a coaching session a few weeks ago asking the lawyer what she would like to get out of our coaching session. The lawyer replied:

Find a way to give me more hours in a day.

Are you like that lawyer, wishing someone could find more hours for you? Unfortunately there is no way to add more hours to your day. Other than the weekend when daylight savings time “falls back” to standard time, there are only 168 hours each week.

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The real question is how well we use those hours to achieve our priorities. Suppose you sleep 8 hours a night, or 56 a week. Suppose you bill 40 hours a week and you invest another 10 hours a week on your career development, client development and other firm activities.

That leaves 62 waking hours of personal time for family, fitness, community, church, recreation, hobbies, commuting and other activities. That is really a significant amount of time.

How you spend the 10 hours a week (or whatever number) of investment time will ultimately determine the quality of your career. How you spend the 62 waking hours (or whatever number) of family and personal time will ultimately determine the quality of your life and family relationships.

Pie Chart Using Time Wisely


P. S. Even though you cannot add more time to your day, if you read and implement David Allen’s ideas from Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity I can assure you that you will waste less time.

Authenticity: You Gotta Have It

Posted in Client Development, Uncategorized

I hope each of you had the chance to read Mette Kurth’s guest post: Your Sales Pitch: Better to be like Pistachio.

I believe that authenticity can be Pistachio. So, speaking of debates, I believe the Vice Presidential debate showed an interesting contrast.

I believe the public likes both Tim Kaine and Mike Pence. I suspect if you do a Google search today, you’d likely find someone suggesting he or she would prefer if they were running against each other for President.

But, Tim Kaine was not the Tim Kaine most people know and like at the Vice Presidential debate. See this Washington Post article: Tim Kaine seemed like he was trying too hard at the VP debate. The writer questioned Kaine’s authenticity.

At the vice-presidential debate here Tuesday, however, Kaine turned in a performance that threatened to undermine the image of authenticity that has been one of his greatest strengths.

If you are a regular reader, you may recall that I lost a jury trial in 1981 and was devastated by the loss.

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After I finally picked myself off the mat and dusted myself off, I read a book authored by famed trial lawyer, Gerry Spence. If nothing else, I learned I had to be my authentic self in the courtroom.

Thereafter, in rapid succession, I won a white collar criminal case, a patent infringement case and a construction contract case, all in federal court, all with the same judge.

There are many articles you can read about Gerry Spence’s Trial Lawyer’s College. Here are links to a couple with quotes about authenticity:

JR Clary, Faculty Co-Leader at the upcoming February 2016 Georgia Regional Seminar on Closing Argument, discusses the value of TLC methods in his practice. Clary says:

What I’ve learned time and again at the College is that to unleash the power of your client’s case, you have to be willing and courageous enough, and have the fortitude, to release yourself to tell your truth. You have to impart the truth about yourself first or you’ll never know the truth that exists within the hearts of the jurors with whom you are interacting.

Authenticity, Honesty, and Humanity: Lessons From the Trial Lawyers’ College. Attorney Andrew Mishlove says:

I can summarize the entire experience down to three words: authenticity, honesty, and humanity.

I believe clients are like jurors. They can tell when the lawyer sitting across from them is authentic, or when he or she is not.

When I was a young lawyer I had the opportunity to see many senior lawyers interact with clients. At first I tried to emulate what one of them was doing. It didn’t work. When I found my own voice, I was more comfortable and more successful.



Your Sales Pitch: Better to be like Pistachio

Posted in Client Development, Client Development Coaching

This year I’ve been working with a group of Fox Rothschild Los Angeles lawyers. Mette Kurth is one of the group’s leaders. I love working with Mette because of her energy and enthusiasm.

I’ve been seeking guest posts by lawyers I currently coach or have coached in the past. Mette volunteered.

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When she sent me the title above, I was anxious to get the connection. Here’s her post.

This is perhaps the most important lesson I have learned about pitching a client.  It is a mantra I now repeat before each presentation.  It is something that lawyers find very difficult.  And it is, in part, why we may wake up on November 8th and find Donald Trump elected to be our next President.

Be the Pistachio Ice Cream.


How did I come to this odd, single-minded fixation on pistachios?  It was born from a series of defeats, followed by a period of introspection and awareness, culminating in a singular “aha moment.”

Part of my practice includes representing committees of unsecured creditors in bankruptcy cases.  The U.S. Trustee’s office forms these committees in most large bankruptcy cases shortly after they are filed.

This means that there is no pre-existing client and the usual advice about developing and maintaining long-term client relationships doesn’t readily apply.  Getting the work is largely about the sales pitch. And I, apparently, am able to consistently get into the room, handily defeat large numbers of competitors, and… come in second.

But in sales pitches, there are no prizes for second place.  There are no goodie bags or participation trophies.  Not even MCLE credit for the hours of preparation.

I asked for feedback and learned that the committee members knew me and my brand.  They wanted to hear my pitch.  I received high marks for being the most prepared, for understanding the case better than anyone else, for having a clear strategy, and for being the smartest lawyer in the room.

And yet, the committees were consistently choosing the other guy.  If I went first, I was told that the last pitch was more present in their minds.  If I went last, they were already sold after the first pitch.

The other guy made them feel a greater sense of urgency.  He was more compelling.  The feedback was clear, but I couldn’t move forward.  I raged.  I sulked. I reflected.  I blamed the microphone.  How, I wondered, could I be more…. what, exactly?

And then I heard it.  The pistachio ice cream pitch.  The person who made the pitch had a reputation for being very aggressive.  There were also rumblings that he lacked substance, depth, and knowledge.  This was his pitch:

There are a lot of very good lawyers who could do this work.  Not everyone likes me.  I’m pistachiPicture2o ice cream.  Not everyone likes pistachio. 

The other lawyers pitching, they’re like vanilla ice cream.  Or chocolate.  And that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with vanilla or chocolate ice cream.  Lots of people like vanilla and chocolate. 

But I’m pistachio.  So if you want something different, if you like pistachio, I don’t know, then you should hire me.

Huh??  Seriously?  That was the pitch. My inner Hermione Granger was floored.

But not only did he win, he won bigly. (Or big league.)  He won so big that the committee couldn’t wait to get some pistachio ice cream-Because he’s a winner.

If you think the pistachio ice cream pitch is easy to replicate, it’s not. When the Presidential campaign started there were 17 Republican candidates. They raised some $700 million collectively and hired some of the best campaign advisors in the country to try to defeat Donald Trump. On the whole, they were better prepared, more knowledgeable, and more qualified than Trump.

And yet Trump swept past all of them.  He claims he can say or do almost anything and his support won’t waiver.  Actual facts or experience are apparently irrelevant.

A large part of what makes Trump so compelling is that he has been able to tap into the mood of the country and the voting based on a very emotional level.  Whatever else you may think about Trump, he is without a doubt the change candidate.

Even when he doesn’t make sense, you know what he stands for.  He will “Make American Great Again,” even if he can’t articulate how.  By comparison, all other politicians are boring. They don’t connect.

You can deride Trump.  You wouldn’t be alone. But, I’m pretty sure he would sell out of pistachio ice cream at the fair before lunch while Hillary sits at a table all day with a pile of unsold Girl Scout cookies and a pile of literature about their nutritional value and ingredients and the importance of supporting youth organizations.

So before every pitch, I now repeat this to myself: “Be the pistachio ice cream.”  It’s not easy, but I know now when I’ve nailed it.  And so do my clients.

If you can’t channel your Inner Dancing Pistachio, if it just doesn’t feel authentic, try to be strawberry.  Or at the very least, all natural, organic vanilla with colorful sprinkles, a syrup topping, those little wafer cookies, and a sprig of mint.

But don’t be boring.

Mette is the real deal.  She’s truly her authentic self and it shows. In that way she connects with her potential clients.

Come back tomorrow for my thoughts on authenticity.



Client Development Success: What Makes the Biggest Difference?

Posted in Client Development, Client Development Coaching

Some time ago I was eating dinner with a group of lawyers I was coaching. One asked me what I thought was the most important thing I had done to become a rainmaker.

For me the answer was easy.

I narrowed my focus and developed a niche for which I could become a “go to lawyer.”


After that I asked each person in the group to identify what he or she thought was the most important thing to do. No one was permitted to use something that had already been stated. Here is the list my coaching group identified.

  • Develop a plan and execute
  • Build relationships with your clients and business referral sources
  • Do the highest quality work
  • Be more responsive than the client expects
  • Be persistent, client development takes time
  • Be passionate and enthusiastic about your work and clients
  • Put in the time to do client development
  • Focus on client development activities that work best for you
  • Become a better listener and better at asking questions to enable you to learn more about the client
  • Make raving fans of existing clients and then focus on staying in touch with old clients

What would you add to this list?

Client Development: Melissa Has Another Book for You

Posted in Career Development, Client Development

If you are a regular reader, you likely remember Client Development: Here’s a Book for You written by Denver Fox Rothschild lawyer, Melissa Lyon. I received very positive feedback from readers, so I asked Melissa to write another book review. Here she shares her thoughts on a book on selling.


Melissa Lyon Photo 2

I have a confession to make, I have read “The Sell: The Secrets of Selling Anything to Anyone,” by Fredrik Eklund about 3 times.  My copy is highlighted, underlined, notes are scribbled in the margins, pages are bent in and earmarked, and I even put tabs on some of my favorite pages.

As part of my client development coaching with Cordell, I recognized that attorneys actually do have to learn how to make a sale – practicing law alone, even doing so extraordinarily well, is not enough to bring a client in the door all of the time.

Selling is something that I have always felt uncomfortable with, even though it has always come naturally to me from the time of my first lemonade stand.  This book helps you realize there is nothing bad or negative about selling.  It is a part of life.

Fredrik Eklund is a remarkably successful and charming young, handsome Swede in the real estate biz in New York City, but he reminds us that regardless of your business or the industry you are in, it is all sales.  “The Sell” is something everyone should read at least once.

As an attorney, pitching your legal services and selling your case to your fact finder is sales, even though “salesperson” isn’t what most of us typically consider as part of our professional repertoire.  The ability to make the sale – most of the time a BIG sale – is part of our legal profession and personal lives.

Whether you are making your client’s case to a jury or judge, negotiating a settlement, asking a girl on out on a date or trying to talk your kids into getting in their pajamas at bedtime, it is all a pitch.  It is all selling – and Fredrik Eklund is just the person to teach you the finer points of the skill.  If you are familiar with Fredrik, the words of this book jump of the page as if he were speaking to you directly – you can hear his voice clearly.

I was introduced Fredrik Eklund by a friend who was obsessed with his hit series on the Bravo channel, “Million Dollar Listing New York.”  I mean he was obsessed.  He is also a salesman, so I think he felt like a kindred spirit with the show’s stars.  I was immediately drawn to Fredrik’s energy while watching the show and bought his book as soon as I found out that he wrote one – I just had to learn the secrets to his success.

So what are Fredrik’s secrets?

His fascinating book contains his many tips, hints and secrets, but in my opinion the most important of Fredrik’s secrets to success is in staying true to yourself.  Fredrik refers to it as your authentic self.  It is not changing or molding to what others want or expect, and instead confidently and boldly being who you are.  I have always believed that people are drawn to sincerity and both Fredrik and Cordell emphasize this.

Fredrik purses his lips, wears crazy wild socks and does high kicks while shouting “weeee!”  I love it – share who you are with others.  Being yourself means sharing your life.

We are not meant to live in solidarity, but as part of a community.  No man is an island, as they say.  Fredrik would say build an amazing team, stay focused, work hard doing what you love and then take the ones you love and care about with you to an island to eat wonderful food and drink spectacular wines to celebrate!

Fredrik also teaches you his pointers on effectively and easily using social media to expand your reach.  Engaging with others while being yourself sounds so simple, but it can be so difficult.  We are shy, we want privacy and we don’t want to let people in.  But, after all, isn’t this what life is about?  Being your most authentic self and sincerely engaging with others?

The other secret?  Joy.

Melissa Lyon photo1

Fredrik’s joy is magnetic.  You want to watch him on television, keep turning the page in his book and follow his every move on Instagram because he *truly delights* in his life and work.

Cordell’s client development coaching similarly emphasizes finding what you are passionate about in your career in order to find joy and success.  The task is not finding happiness – happiness is temporary and fleeting, while true joy is lasting.

Read one page of Fredrik’s writing and you will see that the ability to live the results of finding real joy are what we are all searching and working for.

“The Sell” is a must read when working hard to achieve your goals – this is an inspiring and practical guide for everyone, including today’s attorney.  I warn you now, this book is addicting!

Speaking of books, Melissa and several lawyers I coached are reading Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy. Last Friday members of the reading group shared their ideas from Chapter 1 with each other and with me.

I’m looking for more book reviews and guest posts from lawyers I have coached over the last 12 years and lawyers I mentored before that. If you have something you want to share with readers, I invite you to send me a draft.

Also, if you are interested in starting a book group like the one mentioned above, I’d be happy to share some book ideas with you.

Client Development Coaching: Some Current Thoughts

Posted in Client Development, Client Development Coaching

I love coaching senior associates and junior partners, especially when they are energized and want to learn more.

Most lawyers my age never had coaching on client development when they were senior associates or junior partners. So, naturally many ask why it is important for lawyers now.

There are several reasons why coaching is important.

First, developing business now is more challenging than it was 35-40 years ago. When I was a junior partner we could develop business by just “doing good work,” getting an AV Martindale rating and being active in the community. There were far fewer lawyers, almost all clients were local and loyal.

Now, each year the competition is greater, clients have been acquired and merged, client expectations have increased and the time available for business development has decreased.

Second, many junior partners are in the transition stage of their career where they are moving from being solely service providers to being responsible for building client relationships and developing new business. For many young partners, client development is a mystery.

Third, in 2016, there are far more ways to do client development than ever before. As a result of the mystery, lawyers client development efforts may be unstructured, unfocused, and ultimately unsuccessful.

They procrastinate, are undisciplined, have no plan, little focus, and ultimately little or no execution. Mentors within the firm can balance the current situation with both institutional firm knowledge and their own experience, but they do not have the time to focus on the business development of more junior partners.

John Wooden Activity


Coaching is designed to assist junior partners in their client development and ultimately make client development a habit.

Like working with a fitness coach, participants learn what activities will provide the greatest benefit to them and then will have regularly scheduled sessions with the coach to report on activities and learn more.

Any coaching program should include:

  • Developing a Business Plan that includes the non-billable activities designed to lead to the greatest return on investment
  • Determining both group and individual goals that will challenge and stretch them
  • Determining what activities to undertake to meet their goals
  • Learning how to write articles and blog posts and give presentations that will enhance their reputation and increase their chances of getting hired
  • Developing a Focused Contacts Plan
  • People skills including asking questions and actively listening
  • Being held accountable

Client Development: Attracting Your Second Client

Posted in Client Development

I am coaching lawyers in Florida today and heading back to Dallas this afternoon. One thing we are discussing is persuasion. If this subject interests you, I have a book recommendation below.

A few years ago, I received an email at 10:00 PM from a Reno law firm associate I had started coaching a month before. She wrote:

Cordell, I’ve tried everything we talked about in our first group meeting and my coaching session with you and I haven’t landed a new client. Am I doing something wrong?

Clearly, this associate, who is now a partner was a little impatient and unrealistic, but she might have asked the same question a year later.

I have coached lawyers who have made efforts to raise their visibility and credibility with their target potential clients and haven’t received that first phone call. I tell them do not give up, when the first client calls, the second client will not be far behind.

I know because I experienced it myself.

I started focusing on construction law generally and highway construction more specifically in 1978. It took two years before the first highway contractor called me. After that company hired me, others contacted me rather quickly.

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Why is attracting the second client so much easier. I believe there are two main reasons:

  1. You have figured out what is not working for you. (In my case, I made presentations to the wrong groups. But, even so practicing presenting was worth the effort.)
  2. The first client who hires you gives you the credibility you need to attract the second. (Robert Cialdini called this “social proof.” To get the idea check out: Dr. Robert Cialdini’s 6 Principles of Persuasion (Over 50+ Examples Inside!)

So, if you are reading this blog, trying the ideas suggested here and not getting results, keep on keeping on.