Cordell Parvin Blog

Developing the Next Generation of Rainmakers

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.

Delegation: 10 Tips

Posted in Career Development

There comes a time in your career when you need to delegate work and supervise other lawyers. If not before, that time comes abruptly when you begin generating more work than you can do by yourself. 

You likely were not taught supervisory skills or how to delegate work. So, you are stuck learning “on the job.” Take my word for it, the first few times will be difficult. But, when you start thinking you could actually do the work faster, STOP. I did it and so can you.

To delegate work you must:

  1. Define the project that needs to be completed and establish a deadline and make sure both are understood by the junior lawyer.
  2. Make sure the junior lawyer has the training to be able to do his or her work and if not take the time up-front to do the training.
  3. Provide all the necessary information/documents needed to do the project.
  4. Have an open door policy so the junior lawyer is comfortable asking questions.
  5. Ask for periodic reports to make sure the junior lawyer is on track or simply ask how it is going.
  6. If possible, let the junior lawyer listen to telephone conferences or attend meetings about the project, even if the time is not billable.
  7. No matter how small the junior lawyer’ portion of the project is, let him or her know that what they are doing really matters.
  8. Provide feedback both during the project and certainly after it is completed.
  9. In the feedback use criticism as an opportunity to teach and give praise for work that is well done.
  10. After the project is completed, ask the junior lawyer what he or she learned from working on the project.

Recommended Reading: My Favorite Book to Give Golfers

Posted in Book Reviews

Greetings from Boise, Idaho. I suspect most of you have never traveled here. When I practiced law one of my largest clients’ headquarters was in Boise, so I had the chance to come here frequently. I saw this description on the website:

Boise is many things. Urban and outdoorsy. Wild and relaxing.

That is an accurate description. You likely never heard of it, but Boise has what is called the Boise Greenbelt, which is described this way:

The 25-mile Boise River Greenbelt is one of Boise’s most beloved parks. The tree-lined pathway follows the river through the heart of the city and provides scenic views, wildlife habitat and pedestrian access to many of the city’s popular riverside parks. The Greenbelt also serves as an alternative transportation route for commuters.

What makes Boise special for me?

It could possibly be the cleanest city in the US. The downtown area includes many local restaurants and shops and it is easy to walk to them. Boise State University, the one with the blue football field is located in town. But, more than anything else, the people in Boise are as friendly and kind as anywhere in the US. Finally, for my Texas friends, the high today will be in the 70s.

Photo by Nancy Parvin

If I have peaked your interest, you might enjoy reading this Smithsonian article: Boise, Idaho: Big Skies and Colorful Characters.

Ok, enough of my travel guidance for today. Let’s get to my recommended reading.

If you are not a golfer and none of your clients or referral sources are golfers, you probably think you can skip reading this blog because there is nothing of value in it. But, there is a quote from the book that I think you will find valuable.

The Match.jpgThe book is The Match: The Day the Game of Golf Changed Forever.

Several lawyers I coach have read the book and have given copies of the book to their golfing clients. One lawyer included the book in the client’s and referral source’s golf carts at a firm sponsored golf outing.

In 1956, during the week of the Crosby Clambake at Pebble Beach, millionaire San Franciso auto dealer Eddie Lowery made a bet with fellow millionaire George Colemen that the best amatuers in the world could beat the professionals in match play.

The two men set up the match at Cypress Point between professional golfers Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson, who were well beyond their prime, and amateurs Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward, who had not reached their prime.

The book details each and every shot in the match, the history of the beautiful Cypress Point golf course and, most importantly, biographies of all four players.

If you enjoy golf, you will love the book. If you enjoy biographies, you will also enjoy the book. To get you started here is one of my favorite reviews of the book.

The book includes a quote I particularly like. A friend, at Harvie Ward’s funeral, used this quote to describe his life:

Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather you skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming: WOW — what a ride!

I don’t know about you, but I want to skid into my grave broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming: WOW — what a ride!

Do you have a book you recommend? If so, I invite you to send your review and it just might make my Friday book review series.

Lawyers: Are You Confused About Appropriate Attire?

Posted in Client Development, Law as a Business

Men, has there ever been a morning when you were getting dressed for court, or an important meeting, and you had to think beyond whether your tie matched your suit, or whether it is ok to wear a striped shirt with a striped suit? I doubt it. As you will see below, you have a relatively stress-free clothing selection.

Women, how about you? Has there ever been a morning when you were getting dressed for court, or an important client meeting, and you did not worry how the judge or client might evaluate your attire?

Look, I don’t want to create a major controversy here, but frankly I was really surprised when I did research for my novel. As you know I am writing about Gina Caruso, an alpha female lawyer, mother of two, and partner in a big Texas law firm who finds herself as a potential defendant or witness in a DOJ criminal investigation of her energy client.

Gina is smart and a high achiever. She is self-confident and will never allow herself to fail. She is fit and is the best golfer in her law firm. She has charm and lights up a room when she enters. All of those positive traits work against her in her quest for success in my fictitious Texas law firm.

Gina faces some smaller challenges as well. At one point, a firm mentor tells her to quit dressing like the men in gray and navy pantsuits. Later she is criticized for dressing less conservatively, including her 4 inch Christian Louboutin heels.

In my research, I have found true stories that I could have never made up. Just do a google search and you may find more articles with strong suggestions on how women lawyers should dress than perhaps any other topic for women. Here is a small sample:

I found an article: Do Female Lawyers Have The Strictest Dress Code?  (Ally McBeal seems to be a popular example of how not to dress, as this article includes her photo. David Kelley must have purposely created Ally McBeal’s attire to create a stir.)

There are many interesting suggestions/rules mentioned in the article. Here is one.

Famed judge Lenore Nesbitt, the first female judge appointed to the U.S. Southern District of Florida, used to send women out of her courtroom for wearing open-toed shoes. Pearls were an absolute requirement.

Pearls? I was surprised. How about you?

I found this Slate article: Female Lawyers Who Dress Too “Sexy” Are Apparently a “Huge Problem” in the Courtroom. From this article, it appears that “real” progress is being made, as long as women did not dress sexy:

Prior to the 1980s, it would have been scandalous for a lady lawyer to approach the bench wearing pants. Pantsuits are acceptable now, but the expansion of wardrobe possibilities for female attorneys has not made their choices any less political.

But, while pantsuits may have become mainstream, women still better make sure their skirts are an appropriate length. You must read: Federal Judge Suggests That Women Lawyers Not Dress Like ‘Ignorant Sluts.’  (He comes across as the ignorant one.) Do you see why I say I could not make up stuff to match this.

Finally, if you are confused about what is appropriate attire, take a look at: THE IMPORTANCE OF A WOMAN’S IMAGE IN THE WORKPLACE. The detailed suggestions there are based on “substantial research:”

The information presented in this article isn’t opinion; instead it’s the result of focus groups, surveys, and in-person testing with a database of more than 18,500 respondents from across the United States and in seven foreign countries, including attorneys, judges, and other professionals.

Make sure and read the article. In it you will learn about:

  • Hairstyle-shoulder length or shorter with no loose strands.
  • Your jacket-very important and you must keep it on.
  • Your work shoes-dark colors, no open toes and heels no higher than 2 1/2 inches

How would  Jessica Pearson, the lawyer in Suits be judged? I think her attire is very professional, but clearly her heels are too high and she frequently does not wear a jacket.  You can read about the designer’s ideas in ‘Suits’ costume designer on the show’s tailor-made wardrobe, or How the Costume Designer for Suits Tells Stories Using Just the Right Attire.

Check out this interview of Gina Torres.

Some law firms have created memos to help the women lawyers in their firm. One law firm wrote a memo: Presentation Tips for Women. Even though the firm had good intentions, the memo was not well received when it was leaked on the internet. You can find some of the memo tips in this article: Biglaw Memo From Top Firm Advises That Women ‘Don’t Giggle,’ Don’t ‘Show Cleavage’

Want to help me with my novel? You could help me with the wardrobe. Also, do you have a law firm or courtroom true story that is stranger than fiction to share with me for my book?


Client Development: Practice, Practice, Practice

Posted in Client Development, Client Development Coaching

How to do get to Carnegie Hall? That was a question asked in a recent New York Times article: How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall? TalentIt focuses on a recent study.

I still believe deliberate practice is a key for lawyers. Last year I read: What Mozart and Kobe Bryant Can Teach Us About Deliberate Practice. Then, I posted a blog: Career Success: What learning is most important?

Great athletes and musicians practice. Soldiers and sailors in our military practice. Most lawyers I know don’t. I always practiced, especially when I was not getting real life billable work experiences.

If you want to become a great trial lawyer and you are not trying cases, you actually have to find ways to practice opening statements, or cross examination, or final arguments. Obviously there is NITA training, but I recommend doing more than that on your own. When I was a young lawyer I read as many actual cross-examinations as I could get my hands on. Then, I would create a scene and outline how I would cross exam the witness.

At my old firm, I asked one of our most senior and respected transactional lawyers to create a NITA type course for transactional lawyers. He created scenarios which included, tax, real estate and M&A issues.

If you want to become a better negotiator, get a group together and create a mock negotiation. There are books and articles with negotiation exercises. I did a Google search and found Negotiation Exercises. The Harvard Program on Negotiation has over 200 roleplaying exercises.

Client development skills can be learned the same way.

If you want to learn how to network, go to events where you can practice. In fact, go to a networking event and approach strangers and introduce yourself. I coached a group of associates at one firm and we created a mock networking event with partners in the firm and their spouses playing the roles of potential clients. It was both great fun and a great learning experience.

If you want to become a better public speaker, speak in public. Consider joining a Toastmasters International club, or starting your own speaking club. Practice speaking and get feedback. Consider having someone shoot video of you speaking and watch.

If you want to become a better writer, write and have someone review it and offer a critique. There are plenty of editors and senior lawyers who are retired, who would gladly critique your writing.

If you want to practice meetings with potential clients, set up a potential matter and role-play the meeting. Again, consider having the mock client meeting taped so you can see yourself.

What can you practice now?