Cordell Parvin Blog

Developing the Next Generation of Rainmakers

Client Development Coaching for Senior Associates and Junior Partners

Posted in Client Development Coaching

Why is it important for law firms to provide client development coaching for senior associates and junior partners now?

There are several reasons. Here are two:

Developing business now is more challenging than it was 25 years ago.

Today, perhaps more than ever before the competition for good clients is greater, client have greater expectations, and the time available for business development has decreased.

When I was a young partner, most lawyers developed business by doing excellent work and waiting for the phone to ring. Most clients in those days were both local and loyal. It’s way more complicated now. Through consolidation and mergers, clients that were locally owned are now part of national and international companies. So, it is more difficult to become visible to those clients.

Coaching helps lawyers transition from associate to partner.

Many senior associates and junior partners are in the transition stage of their career, moving from being solely service providers to being responsible for developing and building client relationships.

For many, that is a daunting task. They do not know where to start. As a result, they do not start, or they give up quickly when some of their efforts do not work. To the extent there is any effort at all, it is unstructured, unfocused and ultimately unsuccessful. Many lawyers procrastinate, are undisciplined, have no written plan and ultimately little or no execution.


When I was actively practicing law, I spent time helping our junior lawyers with business development, but that time was very limited. Frankly, I did not have time to analyze why some things worked for me, while others did not. Now that I am no longer busy practicing law,  I have time to analyze what worked for me and why it worked.

Before I left my old law firm, I went to the leaders and told them I had peaked in my own business development efforts and offered to take 15 brand new partners and work with them on their client development. I bragged I could help the group double the collective business volume in two years.

They actually accomplished that goal in one year. I enjoyed working with our pilot group so much that I decided to leave my law firm so I could work with lawyers in other firms. I have been coaching lawyers now for the last 10 years.

If you have someone in your firm who will take the time to coach and work with your senior associates and junior partners, I think you will see both a benefit to the lawyers coached and a benefit to your firm.

Here are some thoughts on what you might do. The person who volunteers to coach should be like a fitness coach. In other words, he or she will help the participants be accountable to themselves and to the “team.” I love a quote I read several years ago in a book by Jack Canfield. The quote was from a 1998 Fast Company magazine article: WANNA BE A PLAYER? GET A COACH!

Executive coaches are not for the meek. They are for people who value unambiguous feedback. If coaches have one thing in common, it’s that they are ruthlessly results-oriented. Executive coaching isn’t therapy. It’s product development, with you as the product.

Put simply, the most important factor in the success of any coaching program is the burning desire of the participants to get better at client development and their willingness and openness to being coached. So, the first thing you must do is select the right people.

The second thing I suggest is to create both an individual effort and a team dynamic. Participants will 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. I have been amazed by the group dynamic. No one in the group wants to let the rest of the team down and they feed off of each other’s ideas.

In an effective coaching program, young lawyers will:

  • Develop a Business Plan
  • Determine both group and individual goals that will challenge, energize and stretch them
  • Determine what activities to undertake to meet their goals
  • Spend non-billable time more strategically and wisely
  • Learn how to write articles, or blog posts and give presentations that will enhance their reputation and increase their chances of getting hired.
  • Become more focused and strategic with their contacts
  • Become more client focused
  • Be held accountable

I wonder how many of you play golf or tennis. If you play golf or tennis, do you take lessons? If working with a professional helps you develop your game, I bet the same principles will help you become a more successful lawyer.

If you are a regular reader, you know that at Noon Eastern Today, I will be conducting a Webinar: Develop a Niche Practice and Differentiate Yourself Webinar. Participants will learn why they should consider developing a niche practice, how to pick the right niche practice and then how to market it. You can still join us if you contact

If you are unable to join us today, think about starting a coaching group. Do you have a group of 6 lawyers who would like to participate in a 12 Month Client Development Coaching Program? If so, we can start now in October, or start in January.  Contact Joyce and let’s get started. Our first session will cover how to prepare an effective business plan.


16 Questions For A Law Firm Leader To Ponder

Posted in Client Development, Law Firm Leadership
We live in a unique and challenging time for law firms. Even so, there may be a greater opportunity than ever for a firm to differentiate itself from competitors. It takes real leadership and self reflection.  

Here are some questions a law firm leader might ask for that self reflection about his or her firm.

  1. Who are your firm’s top competitors?
  2. Why do your very best clients select your firm over your competitors?
  3. Why do clients select your competitors rather than your firm?
  4. What specific practice areas or industry practices are you the best in your city, state, the world and what makes you number 1?
  5. What do you see as the major changes that will take will take place in the legal profession over the next five years?
  6. What do you believe are the most important steps you can take to increase your firm’s competitiveness, financial strength and security? 
  7. What specific steps should you take to better serve your clients?
  8. Why should the highest performing law students and lawyers want to join your firm?
  9. Describe your firm’s “culture.” Do your lawyers and staff know your culture? How can you preserve it and effectively compete in the current economic environment?
  10. Lawyers are the most skeptical and autonomous of any type of professionals, meaning they constantly question decisions and they do not want to be told what to do. How can you convince your lawyers to become a team and work together to build the firm with these two prevalent traits?
  11. Stephen Covey has written a top-selling book titled The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In your view, what are the 5,  7, 10 or whatever number habits of highly effective law firms?
  12. What specific steps can the firm take  to improve the quality of your firm’s work product?
  13. Leading consultants suggest clients’ satisfaction is directly related to whether the service provided exceeds expectations. What does that mean and how can you best implement the unbroken rule: “exceed their expectations”?
  14. What specific steps can you implement to cause your lawyers to be accountable? 
  15. A noted business man writes: “Almost every significant breakthrough is a result of a courageous break with traditional ways of thinking.” What courageous break with traditional ways of thinking would produce the most significant breakthrough for your firm?
  16. Dwight Eisenhower and Peter Drucker both reportedly said: “Plans are worthless, but planning is invaluable.” Your planning must be centered on an overall purpose or vision and on a commitment to a set of principles for the firm. Why are your lawyers practicing law together? What should be your “vision”? What should be your primary principles or core values?


Social Media: “I Don’t Think Hank Done It That Way”

Posted in Client Development

Do you have songs that you hear and then can’t get out of your head?

I do and one of them is Waylon Jennings song “Are you sure Hank done it this way” out of my head. I sing it until Nancy asks I find another tune. If you never heard of it, you can watch and listen here:

What is Waylon saying? He is criticizing the more contemporary country singers from the 70s with their rhinestone suits and new fancy cars.

Somebody told me when I got to Nashville
Son you finally got it made
Old Hank made it here, we’re all sure that you will
But I don’t think Hank done it this way
I don’t think Hank done it this way

Are you waiting to figure out how I can connect this to practicing law?

If you are a regular reader you know that I am a strong advocate of blogging and social media. I would use both tools to build relationships if I was still practicing law. But, I would also get up from my computer and build relationships the old fashioned way.

I began my practice in a city of 100,000 people. If you are practicing in a city that size or in a smaller town where everyone knows everyone, you want to be visibly active in the community. You should consider being active in the Bar and being active  in local charities and community organizations.

If, you are in a larger city, especially one where people leave the city and go home to a variety of different suburbs, it is more difficult to be involved in a community organization. After all, when your work day is done, you want to go home and be with the family. I have known lawyers who have been active, but they are the exception, not the rule.

I know several lawyers in big cities who have raised their visibility by being active in the Bar. I also know lawyers in big cities who have raised their visibility by being a leader in their college alumni association. I am a Virginia Tech grad and we have a very active alumni group in Dallas. if I was 40 years younger, I am sure I would be actively participating.

I believe it is more important in a big city to  find a niche that suits your talents, passions and client needs. The best thing I ever did was go from commercial litigation to government contracts to construction contracts to transportation construction contracts. Each time I narrowed my focus I was better positioned to discover client needs and write and speak about them.

So,  even if you are using social media as a tool, you should find other ways to become visible and credible to a more narrow target market. Get involved in something you are passionate about. Write articles, speak at industry meetings and create valuable guides are three additional ways to do it.

I don’t think Hank done it that way. Neither Hank nor Waylon needed social media as a tool to build their fan base. Even contemporary country singers who use social media use the old fashioned tools to reach out to fans.

You should keep using those old fashioned tools also. Make a list of tools and create a plan to use them.

Client Development Coaching: Give Me Lawyers with a Burning Desire to Get Better

Posted in Career Development, Client Development

Do you know which lawyers in your firm will get the most out of client development or career coaching? After coaching well over 1000 lawyers in the US and Canada, I can usually tell after one meeting with the lawyers.

Suppose for a moment I asked your lawyers for their reaction to the following: “Client Development has never been more difficult than it is today.” I would likely be able to tell from their response whether they will be a good candidate for Client Development Coaching.

Fixed or Learning Mindset

Why? Put simply, it might tell me if your lawyers have a fixed mindset: “Lawyers either have the ability to get business or do not have the ability to get business,” or a learning mindset: “I can learn to get better at client development.”

Lawyers with a fixed mindset believe that effort is for those who are not talented. Their greatest fear is really trying hard to develop business and failing at it. As result, they will not make the effort to learn how to do client development and will give up if they do not have immediate success.

Lawyers with a learning mindset will keep striving to learn more and get better even if they were fairly successful when they started the coaching program.

Do You Have Lawyers Like This One?

When I told one of the lawyers I coach that client development has never been more difficult, her response was:

That’s fantastic because very few lawyers will be willing to pay the price to really get good at it. I plan to be one of those lawyers who will pay the price.

A Law Firm Management Committee Question

Several years ago, I met with a large well known law firm management committee about my client development coaching program. Near the end of the meeting, a senior partner asked me to describe the ideal candidate for my coaching program. I quickly replied: “Tiger Woods.”

He said: “Tiger Woods doesn’t need a coach.” I told the group: “Leave aside that Tiger Woods actually has a coach, I am referring to his desire to get better rather than his great talent.”

Why I Chose Tiger Woods as the Example

At the time I had watched Ed Bradley interview Tiger Woods. During the interview Bradley asked why when Tiger was the number one golfer in the world, he changed his swing. Tiger responded: “To get better.”

Bradley reminded Tiger that he was doing pretty well with the old swing. Tiger once again said he knew he could get better. Bradley then pointed out that Tiger changed his swing a second time and asked why. By now anyone could guess that Tiger answered once again “to get better.”

Even in this short interview on the Golf Channel, Tiger Woods talked about working every day “to get better.”

If you have even the slightest interest in golf, you have watched the dramatic shot on the 16th hole at the Masters. That is the shot Nike loves because the “swoosh” on the golf ball was visible for a full two seconds before the ball rolled in and CBS announcer Verne Lundquist exclaimed: “In your life have you ever seen anything like that.”

Lessons from Stanford Professor Dr. Carol Dweck

On July 6, 2008 the New York Times published an article titled: If You’re Open to Growth, You Tend to Grow.

The writer describes three decades of research done by Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck on why some people reach their creative potential in business while equally talented others do not. Dweck believes it is how people think about intelligence and talent. Those who believe their own abilities can expand (get better) over time. They “really push, stretch, confront their own mistakes and learn from them.”

The writer concludes that, while talent is important, people with the growth mind-set tend to demonstrate the kind of perseverance and resilience required to convert life’s setbacks into future successes.

If you are a regular reader you know I frequently recommend Carol Dweck’s book: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Her studies are amazing. You can also find many important articles on her website Mindset.

In the first chapter she refers to a study she did early in her career. She brought grade school children in one at a time and gave them a series of puzzles to solve, each one getting increasingly more difficult.

She watched the reactions of the students and saw something she never expected. One ten year old boy when confronted with hard puzzles, rubbed his hands together, smacked his lips, and cried out: “I love a challenge.”

Others with growth mindsets had similar reactions. They did not see themselves as failing. They believed they were learning and getting smarter. Those young children with fixed mindsets believed they could not learn to do the tough puzzles and didn’t try to do them.

So, give me the lawyers in your firm who have a burning desire to get better. You may not think some of those lawyers need coaching, but I can assure you they will get the most out of it, because they will put the most into it.

Even lawyers for whom client development is anything but natural get a lot out of the coaching if they have the learning mindset. After all, there is great energy around trying to get better.

Selling Legal Services: Both an Art and a Science

Posted in Client Development

Years ago, I saw a booklet titled: The Pocket Guide to Selling Greatness, by Gerhard Gschwandtner. In the book he references definitions of selling given during his magazine, Selling Power’s leadership conference.

One definition given was: Selling is an art and a science. The science is the ability to diagnose a problem and find the best solution. The art is the ability to create the relationship and to co-create the solution with the customer. (Check out the other definitions because they are worth thinking about also.)

That definition struck home with me. As lawyers you were taught to diagnose a problem and find the best solution.You likely have great analytical skills.

You likely could spend more time learning how to create the relationship with your clients and learning how to co-create the solution with them. You can do that most effectively by asking great questions, listening and uncovering their needs,

To build the relationship you must focus on building trust and rapport. You build trust by putting your clients’ interest ahead of our own and by consistently meeting or exceeding expectations. You build rapport with our clients by getting to know them on a personal level and, if they are in business, getting to know their company.

When your clients trust you and feel a connection with you, then you can co-create the solution.

What steps are you taking to become more effective in the “art” of selling? If you share them with me, I will give you my feedback.

Reminder: As part of my webinar series, we still have some slots for the October 2, 2014 Webinar: Develop a Niche Practice and Differentiate Yourself Webinar. I owe my success practicing law to creating a niche practice and differentiating myself from other lawyers and law firms. I will share my ideas with you.

Client Development Questions For Your Law Firm Associates

Posted in Career Development, Client Development

Greetings today from Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I will be giving four, yes four, presentations at the State Bar of Michigan Annual Meeting and Solo & Small Firm Institute. If you would like to see my handout materials for each of the four presentations, you can find them here.

If you are a regular reader, you know that I especially enjoy helping associates prepare to become partners and rainmakers. If you share my passion for associates, or if you are an associate, here are some client development questions for your associates, or you to ponder.


  1. Why should you learn about client development when your firm represents some of the largest companies in the United States and would likely not want a client that might engage you?
  2. When should you begin learning?


  1. Why is it important to set goals?
  2. What is the most important element of effective goals?
  3. What are the most important elements of an effective business development plan?
  4. How much non-billable time do you believe you should spend on your own career development and client development each year?
    1. 100 hours
    2. 200 hours
    3. 300 hours
    4. 400 hours
    5. 500 hours

Client Development-What to do now

  1. What should a 1-3 year associate do on client development that will provide the greatest return when he or she becomes a partner?
  2. What should a 4-7 year associate do on client development that will provide the greatest return when he or she becomes a partner?
Client Development-Building Your Profile
  1. How can you best build your profile?
  2. What do you think a lawyer interested in developing clients by being active in the bar could do?
  3. What do you think a lawyer interested in developing clients by being active in the community could do?
  4. Why is it important to write articles?
  5. Where can you get your articles published?
  6. How do you decide on what topics to write?
  7. How can you write a blog that will generate business and/or help existing clients?
  8. Why is it important to make presentations?
  9. How do you determine where to speak?
  10. How do you determine the topic on which to speak?
  11. What are the elements of a good presentation?
  12. How can you differentiate your PowerPoint slides from those of other lawyers that put audiences to sleep?
  13. What does “repurposing” content mean and how can you best do it?
  14. How can you best use the social media tools to get more readers and a bigger audience for your presentation materials?
Client Service and Relationships
  1. In surveys, 75% of clients are not satisfied with the legal service they are receiving.  What can you do to change that perception?
  2. What can you do to better serve your clients?
  3. How can you better focus on contacts?
  4. What can you do to build trust with your clients?
  5. What can you do to build rapport with your clients?

As I shared Tuesday, on October 2 you can participate in the Develop a Niche Practice and Differentiate Yourself Webinar. Contact Joyce at if you or your firm want to participate.

Client Development: Use Mass Customization

Posted in Book Reviews, Career Development, Client Development

Who was the most memorable speaker at one of your law firm’s retreats. For me, that speaker was Barry J. Gibbons, the former Chairman and CEO of Burger King. I came away from his presentation with many new ideas about client development.

He spoke to us on Saturday morning just after a speaker from Fidelity showed us at least 100 PowerPoint slides while explaining our 401K program.

Gibbons used no PowerPoint slides, so the focus was on him rather than the screen. He also told vivid stories to make his points stick with the audience. He made them in a way that I could easily remember them.

For example, the way he presented innovation was to say that he had always been fascinated by what happened when man for the very, very first time got milk from a cow. Gibbons asked:

Just what was that guy thinking? What kind of mind says to itself: ‘I’m going over there to that beast, and I am gonna pull on those things, and drink what comes out.

He said that kind of mind changes the world’s diet. When I think of innovators, I think back to that description of an innovator.

After hearing Mr. Gibbons speak, I had to buy his books, including: “If you want to make God really laugh, show him your business plan: The 101 Universal Laws of Business.” I laughed and I think God would also. I also found that Mr. Gibbons universal laws apply to law firms and lawyers. Over the last few years many law firms have adopted some of his ideas, without ever hearing of Barry Gibbons or his book.

Let me give you an example. One of his laws focuses on branding. He suggests that branding has moved away from supply-side (as lawyers what we do) thinking to a demand-led (as lawyers what our clients need) approach. Gibbons says we are moving from an era of mass marketing to an era of mass-customization. He describes this as “an era in which winning companies will know as much about their customers as they would if they were dating agencies.”

His views are supported by what clients and potential clients look for in law firm web pages. Specifically, they are looking for experience and industry knowledge. Think about how your firm’s webpage has changed to reflect these ideas. It would be very interesting to compare your law firm’s web page from 2000 with the one you have now.

But, how much time are your lawyers spending on what we do, compared to how much time they are spending on understanding your firm’s clients’ individual and unique needs and figuring out how you can add value?

Even clients in the same industry will be unique and have needs differing from other companies in the same industry.

I speak often about the “targeted differentiators.” It is how you can differentiate your self or your firm and your services in the eyes of your clients and potential clients. Just suppose one of your targeted differentiators was that you know each of your clients’ industries, their unique and individual needs and you provide value based on those needs far better than any other lawyer or law firm. My guess is that you would have an incredible volume of business.

Would God laugh at your law firm’s business plan? Hopefully not.

Do you want to learn more about developing a niche practice and differentiating yourself or your law firm from others? Sign up for my October 2 Develop a Niche Practice and Differentiate Yourself Webinar.

Law Firms: Is Yours Best Place to Work in America or Are Your Associates “Getting Hours?”

Posted in Career Development, Law as a Business, Law Firm Leadership

Is your law firm a  Fortune Best Place to Work in America Law Firm, or are your associates just  ”getting their hours?”

What difference do you think that might make to your business clients (Bet many of them read Fortune), your lawyers and staff (Bet many of them are proud…or not of their firm) and recruits (Bet many want to work for a Best Place in America Law Firm)?

Sadly, I don’t think my old firm ever made the Best Place to Work in America list. I found out one reason years ago when I was scheduled to give a lunch presentation on career planning to my law firm’s Los Angeles associates.

I saw no reason to make the presentation mandatory, especially since we were serving a “free lunch.” On the Monday before I was to speak on Friday, only six associates had signed up. I called our Los Angeles Office Administrator who told me so few had signed up because the others wanted to “get their hours.”

Wow, I was taken by surprise. I never once thought as an associate that I needed or wanted to get my hours. I think like many associates today, I would have hated practicing law if my most important goal was “getting hours.”

Incredibly, several relatively large law firms are rated within the top 100 best places to work each year.  In the 2014 Fortune Magazine list of 100 best places to work there are 6 law firms. Baker Donelson is number 31, Alston & Bird is number 40, Perkins Coie is number 41, Bingham McCutchen is number 60, Arnold & Porter is number 81, and Cooley is number 100. What do you suppose sets these firms apart from the rest?

I don’t know about you, but I would like to practice law at a Best Place to Work in America firm. As a parent, I would like for a son or daughter to practice law there. If I was a business, I would want one of those firms to be my outside law firm.

Recommended Reading: Making Rain

Posted in Book Reviews, Career Development, Client Development

My book recommendation this week is Making Rain: The Secrets of Building Lifelong Client Loyalty  by Andrew Sobel. As an aside, I think you will find his other books valuable as well.

In Making Rain, Andrew Sobel tells a great story about his son’s interview with the head of admissions at a college to which he was applying. Sobel describes that at the end of the one-hour interview, his son said to the admissions director, “I notice you’re wearing an Outward Bound pin. Are you a graduate?” “Oh, yes,” she beamed. “This past summer I finally took one of their adult courses–it was something I had wanted to do for years.”

As Sobel points out, this story illustrates how you can break through when you make an emotional connection with someone.

What does all this mean to lawyers? Put simply observation and doing your homework can be powerful client development techniques because it allows you to connect with the client on a personal level.

Here are some ideas on applying those techniques. Before you meet with a client or prospective client do your homework. Prepare for the meeting by finding out as much about the person and the company as you can. Where did the client representative go to college and law school? Where did he work before joining the client? Has he written any articles?

When you arrive at the office, take a look at the coffee table books and magazines in the reception area. They may be industry magazines or may be books about the city or state of the business. Whatever they happen to be, they convey the client’s interests or values.

Meetings in the client’s office provide ample opportunity for observation. What is on the wall and shelves? Are there sports pictures, pictures of his or her kids, or works of art? What books are on the book shelves? Is the office neat and tidy or kind of messy?

With the information you gather by observation you can find ways to connect with the client. You can subscribe to trade publications, send things you find that will be of interest to your client, and read some of the books that interest you.

Do you have a book you would like to review for readers here? If, so let me know.

10 Client Development Lessons from a Top Sports Psychologist

Posted in Client Development, Client Development Coaching

What could a top sports psychologist teach lawyers about client development?

If his name is Dr. Bob Rotella, I believe you can learn a great deal. Nancy has every book Dr. Rotella has written, including the one below.


I recently read a Golf Digest article from 10 years ago: Inside the Golfer’s Mind: 10 things a player must do in a competitive round. Dr. Rotella begins with this statement:

Golf is a game of confidence and competence.

I believe practicing law is a profession of confidence and competence and I believe that you and I can work every day to become more confident and competent.

Here are the 10 things Dr. Rotella believes a golfer must do and my take on how they apply to practicing law:

1. Play to play great. Don’t play not to play poorly. In law. I say work to achieve something rather than working to avoid something.

2. Love the challenge of the day, whatever it may be. In law you will have great days and boring days. You will have great triumphs and bone crushing defeats or disappointments. Don’t try to be a perfectionist.

3. Get out of results and get into process. I have written about this many times. Focus on developing your skills, building your profile and your relationships. If you do it each and every day you will see results over time.

5. Playing with a feeling that the outcome doesn’t matter is always preferable to caring too much.  This gets back again to not being a perfectionist. Look, we all know that the outcome of whatever you are working on does matter. But, if you focus intently on that you will not make your best effort.

6. Believe fully in yourself so you can play freely. As you know I have written many times about the importance of fully believing in yourself. When you do, you can naturally respond to things you encounter.

7. See where you want the ball to go before every shot. I am a big visualizer. I visualize presentations. I visualize meetings with clients. I visualize where I want both to end up.

8. Be decisive, committed and clear. Clients want lawyers who are decisive, committed and clear. Trust your judgment.

9. Be your own best friend. If you are working on an important deal or an important case, or delivering an important presentation, it is ok to be nervous. As Bob Rotella puts it: “Make the butterflies fly right.”

10. Love your wedge and your putter.  It is hare to come up with a direct analogy here. But, my advice is to work on and master the small things. The big things will follow.

If you are an avid golfer, I am confident you will find Dr. Rotella’s books and audio helpful.