Cordell Parvin Blog

Developing the Next Generation of Rainmakers

Client Development: Building Your Brand

Posted in Blogging, Client Development

You have heard me talk about building your brand.

What does that mean?

In 2016, it’s not what you know, it’s not who you know. It’s who knows what you know. The goal of client development is to increase the number of influencers who know what you know and recommend you to potential clients.

In my career, I wanted to be known as the go-to lawyer for highway and bridge contractors. Every major new client/matter came to me because an influencer recommended me. I worked hard to become known by those influencers.

I coached Shawn Tuma several years ago and continue to work with him and share ideas. Recently he sent me a video from a presentation he recently gave that captured what I have been suggesting in my coaching.

Take 5 minutes and watch.

Career and Client Development: Are You Taking Advantage of Your Lunch Time?

Posted in Career Development, Client Development

I confess. I never really took advantage of my lunch time.

At one point I went to work out at lunch. I hated the idea because it took about double the time compared to working out in the early morning.

My clients were for the most part out of town. So, I very rarely took a client or even a contact to lunch.

I remember when I was a young lawyer in Roanoke, Virginia. My mentor told me I “needed” to be a member of the Shenandoah Club and eat lunch at the long table with the Roanoke Valley movers and shakers.

I joined (as told) and I sat at the long table (as told). I really didn’t enjoy it very much.

The Shenandoah Club was a nice place with a great staff, but for the most part the lunch served at the time was more food and more expensive than I cared to eat.

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I was just a blue plate cafe kind of guy having grown up that way. There were a few of those in Roanoke in that day. Plus, I discovered the presidents of the local banks didn’t have much they wanted to share with a young lawyer.

So, how did I spend my lunch? I did the opposite of what I would recommend to young lawyers. I dined with my best friends from the office and we rarely went to a restaurant where we would run into movers and shakers.

Since I have let you know I rarely used my lunch time to any advantage, why am I writing about it?

Turns out I found a blog titled: Things Successful People Do on Lunch Breaks. If you want to use your lunch break wisely, check it out.

Client Development: Why Healthy Paranoia Helps

Posted in Client Development, Client Development Coaching

Greetings from Chicago. Having grown up in Lombard, IL, I always enjoy coming back to visit (even in February).

Enough of my fond memories, let’s get to healthy paranoia.

I remember in 1983 when my friend and partner and I started our own firm. It was at that moment I realized how important it was for me to have healthy paranoia.

I was always just a little worried I would not generate enough revenue to feed my family. So, even when I was incredibly busy I was planting seeds.

If I was busy practicing law right now, unless there was a big trial scheduled I would have no idea what I would be working on six months from now. The thought of showing up for work one day with nothing to do would still scare me enough to continue planting those seeds.

I have coached many lawyers who have shared my healthy paranoia. Let me tell you the story of one of those lawyers. She actually served as the role model for my book Rising Star.

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A few years ago I received an email from a young partner I was coaching. She was experiencing the same thing I had felt. She had projects in the works, but her billable hours were lower than normal and that was a source of great stress.

My friend had created a really great business plan, and she was continuing to meet with industry contacts, governmental, consultants as well as a number of clients and potential clients. While her reputation was continuing to grow, it just was not translating into immediate work.

Part of her concern and stress was because she had such a great the previous year, and she feared the firm’s leaders would be disappointed with her. While she felt the leadership would think “long term,” the “associate” in her still worried about meeting and exceeding hourly targets.

My friend ended her email:

We are either moving so fast we fear we might careen off the highway, or we are not moving fast enough and we worry that the 18-wheeler behind us is going to run us over.

I could relate. I had been there. In the past I worried about having enough work for me and my practice group members. I also experienced feeling I was either moving too fast or not fast enough. Her highway analogy was very appropriate.

I told my friend she had what I call “healthy paranoia.” I believe most super successful people have it.

They are successful in part because they feel the strong need inside to be successful and they worry when things are not going just the way they want them. Because of their worry, they are the first to take action to improve their situation.

What do I mean? I always felt I could become a better lawyer, a more valuable counselor, and a better communicator. I worked at it every day because I loved the feeling I got from making progress.

Great athletes work at it every day. If you have a moment take a look at this New Yorker article from 2014:

Better All the Time How the “performance revolution” came to athletics—and beyond.

When I read the article I was reminded of the managing partner of a large US law firm who said to me:

Client Development Coaching Cordell? What good is it? Lawyers either have it or they don’t.


That was the way we started the coaching program in his firm. Needless to say he was the firm’s biggest skeptic.

In the article the writer describes a change in how athletes view getting better.

Today, in sports, what you are is what you make yourself into. Innate athletic ability matters, but it’s taken to be the base from which you have to ascend.

As a lawyer seeking to attract, retain and expand relationships with clients, innate legal and communication ability matters, but it is the base from which your hard work striving to get better helps you ascend.

I have coached lawyers now for 11 years and mentored and coached lawyers in my own firm before that. Many of you who read this blog are one of those lawyers. The joy I had working with you was seeing that healthy paranoia and your great efforts to get better.

2016 Tips from My In-House Lawyer Friend

Posted in Client Development, Client Service

As many of you know, a law firm partner I coached went in-house in 2015 and shared with me ideas he wished he had thought of when he was with his law firm.

Last year I posted:

Client Development Tips: From Law Firm Lawyer Who is Now In-House

Client Development: More Tips from a Law Firm Lawyer Who is Now In-House and

Client Development: Even More Tips from a Law Firm Lawyer Who is Now In-House

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Well, my friend is back again with some new ideas for 2016. All three of the posts above and the one today are focused on improving client service.

I invite any of you who are interested to take a look at the four posts, pick out the top ideas from each and share with me how you might implement the ideas in 2016.


Here are some additional client relationship/client development tips:

If you get an RFP from me, look at value added (i.e. no or minimal cost to me) items you can bundle with your RFP response. This can help make your proposal stand out from the crowd. Plus, you may have thought of something that I haven’t thought of which makes real sense. When I am evaluating a proposal, I’m looking at total value to my company.

One way for me to get to know your firm better is to include me on your e-mail / webinar / seminar lists. I might not be able to attend your seminar, but someone in my organization likely will. This is true even if the seminar doesn’t directly impact the area I support.

Understand that in our view, there is no single law firm that can do all of our work. Law firms frequently do not see themselves in the way that in-house counsel see them. For example, if you see that we have been sued and you are tempted to send it to me in the hopes that you get the work, ask if you truly have expertise in the area. Do you have additional knowledge that would make your hiring make sense? Do you know the Plaintiff’s counsel? Do you have (or have you had) a similar case recently? Ultimately, I have to be prepared to defend my choice of counsel.

When I was outside counsel, I used to ask my clients, “What keeps you up at night?” While on the surface that seems like a reasonable question, it’s too easy to respond “nothing” or “not much.” For me, better questions to ask me are: “What kind of projects are you working on?” “Do you have anything you are working on that we could give you a quick – no charge – review?” “Do you have any recurring issues that we could help you brainstorm ?” “When was the last time you had your severance agreements reviewed?” Look for an opportunity to showcase your talents. You may have to do as unpaid, but I might be able to pay you for it.

One way to assist me – and help you in getting your name before others in my company – is to look where we operate. If we operate in Florida, think about whether you have a desk guide on operating in Florida. Do you have a 50-state guide – or multi-state guide – on a particular issue relevant to me or those who I support?

If you are going to have someone speak at a presentation at my company, make sure they are a good speaker. Nothing hurts you like having a poor speaker who reads their slides, seems nervous, or uncomfortable. Believe me, we talk later about what we saw – good and bad.

I especially appreciated the ideas suggested instead of asking what is keeping you up at night. I always felt that was a trite marketing question that came from a book on sales. My friends questions are far more effective.

Client Development: What if I don’t like marketing?

Posted in Career Development, Client Development

I am frequently asked that question.

What if I don’t like marketing?

My response is usually to say:

Tell me what you consider to be marketing.

You see, I didn’t like marketing either, if marketing was:

  1. Going to networking events
  2. Participating in Rotary Club (I was voluntold I had to to that)
  3. Being active in the Bar Association
  4. Taking relative strangers to lunch, or worse to dinner (when I far preferred to be home with my family)
  5. Going to pro sports games with people I barely knew
  6. Playing golf with people I barely knew

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So, to the extent possible I did as little of those things as possible. What marketing did I do?

  1. I wrote articles
  2. I gave presentations
  3. I did in-house workshops for clients
  4. I spent quality time including vacations with clients who were also friends

So, what’s my point? Many lawyers who tell me they do not like marketing are really saying they don’t like the marketing they have been told to do.

What do you enjoy doing that just may bring in business as well.

Blogging and Social Media: Proof it works

Posted in Blogging, Social Media

I hear it all the time.

No one has ever hired be from reading a blog post.

I wrote a column for Roads and Bridges Magazine for 25 years. I’m not sure anyone ever said:

Read your column on… and I want to hire you.

Yesterday, Shawn Tuma and I gave a presentation on Blogging and Social Media to the Collin County Bar Association.

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I started coaching Shawn over five years ago, after he met me first on Twitter. I invite you to fast forward in Prezi to his part of the presentation.

Why? Because Shawn actually has had new clients find him because of his blogging and social media. Shawn has actually written for some top publications after the editors found his blog through social media.

While, I don’t think blogging is for everyone or every type of law practice, Shawn is living proof that at least for the Computer Fraud Act and Data Privacy, blogging and social media can be amazing tools.

You may know Shawn did a three part series on how to blog and use social media in an hour. Here is the Link to Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Long Range (5 Years) Career Planning Made Simple

Posted in Career Development, Client Development

Want a fairly concise idea on how to set goals you will actually achieve? Here goes.

When I teach or coach lawyers, I like to play the Curly video from City Slickers. It’s the One Thing video.

Figuring out your “one thing” is the beginning point of long range planning. But, that is not enough.

You won’t stick with it unless you also identify the benefits of achieving that “one thing.” I call it the answer to the “Why” question. Why is achieving it important to you.

I suspect every reader knows that as an associate handling litigation for the partners in my small law firm, I decided I wanted to focus on and represent construction contractors building highways, bridges, airports and rail.

I clearly understood the benefit to me.

  • First, I am far more comfortable knowing a lot about a little rather than a little about a lot.
  • Second, at the time, the highway construction program across the US was growing leaps and bounds. So, I would be working with a growing industry.
  • Third, I knew of no construction lawyers who were focused that narrowly on transportation construction. So, I could become known as the “go-to” lawyer in that narrow field.
  • Finally, I loved being out on construction projects and working with construction contractors on those projects.

What is the one thing you want to achieve or become in five years? More importantly, what will be the benefit to you of achieving that one thing?

Law Firm Professional Development: This one is for you

Posted in Law Firm Leadership

Is training your lawyers thought of as an expense or a revenue enhancer? I believe most firms view it as an expense and that is why they do so little of it.

I know, because law firms routinely spend less money and time on developing their lawyers than their clients spend on developing their skilled workers and professionals.

Many years ago I read In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters.

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I still enjoy reading what he has to say. I recently read: Excellence, No Excuses, Now. I found many nuggets there in his 34 BFO’s (Blind Flashes of Obvious).

Here is Number 1 BFO.

BFO #1: If you (RELIGIOUSLY) help

people—EVERY SINGLE PERSON, JUNIOR OR SENIOR, LIFER OR TEMP—grow and reach/exceed their perceived potential, then they in turn will bust their individual and collective butts to create great experiences for Clients—and the “bottom line” will get fatter and fatter

and fatter. (ANYBODY LISTENING?)


PROFITABILITY. PERIOD.) (ANYBODY LISTENING?) (FYI: “People FIRST” message is 10X more urgent than ever in the high-engagement “AGE OF SOCIAL BUSINESS.”)

Here is Number 3 BFO.

BFO 3: The “CTO”/Chief Training Officer should (MUST!) be on a par with the CFO/CMO.

Training = Investment #1.

(8 of 10 CEOs see training as an “expense,” not an investment/prime asset booster.) (“Our training courses are so good they make me want to giggle.” “Our trainers are on the same pay scale as our

engineers.”) (In a 45-minute “tour d’horizon” of the enterprise: GUARANTEE 9 of 10 CEOs* [*10 of 10?] wouldn’t once mention training.

I imagine that 8 of 10 law firm leaders see training as an expense. Training in those firms amounts to lawyers getting their required CLE hours. It is focused on substantive law.

Practicing law in a firm requires much more. Lawyers must learn people skills. That is becoming an increasingly challenging task as young lawyers come to firms having spent the last several years communicating by text.

I have worked with the Professional Development Professionals in several firms. They love their work, they love the lawyers in the firm. They hate when firms cut their budgets to the degree that they cannot help the junior lawyers develop skills to become successful partners?

It all reminds me of the well known imagined conversation between a CFO and CEO.

CFO: What happens if we train them and they leave?

CEO: What happens if we don’t and they stay?

What is your firm’s plan for professional development in 2016?

Are You Writing Articles or Blogging? If So Practice, Practice Practice

Posted in Client Development

A few years ago I read Chris Brogan’s blog post The Writing Practice. I looked at it again recently.

It is a great piece well worth reading. He discusses how he comes up with ideas and how those ideas become a blog post. Then he makes the point that you should always be practicing your writing. I agree.

As you know, I wrote  a monthly column for Roads and Bridges magazine for close to 25 years. I know my columns got better over time.

I began writing this blog in 2006. I hope 10 years later my posts are better than the posts I wrote those first few months.

If you are a young lawyer take an assignment you just finished and create an article or a blog post that potential clients would find valuable. Do it just for practice.

Then do it again after the next assignment. Ask yourself how your potential clients would benefit from reading what you have written.

Glenn Frey: There’s Plenty of Room at the Hotel California

Posted in Law Firm Leadership

As you know, Eagles leader and songwriter Glenn Frey passed away recently. I saw many articles about him and the Eagles. One I liked was a CNN opinion piece: Why Glenn Frey’s death shakes us.

Even though I grew up in the 60s, I really get why Glenn Frey’s death shakes those who grew up in the 70s.

The CNN piece includes a lot of background information including when Frey and Don Henley played backup for Linda Ronstadt and a great discussion of why Hotel California was an important song.

You may recall I wrote about it a few years ago. This is a good time to reprise what I wrote.

Is your law firm becoming like the “Hotel California?”

A friend sent me the link to Steven Harper’s book: The Lawyer Bubble. That prompted me to read the American Lawyer article: What’s Wrong With the Law—And How Lawyers Can Fix It. That article focuses on the book and many things Harper writes, including:

He makes the indisputable point that many law firm managers began running firms with their Am Law 100 numbers in the forefront. This led to (you pick) mindless growth, heartless treatment of colleagues, a depressed workforce, gross pay disparities, and, in some cases, spectacular public failures caused by leaders who believed their own malarkey and by the partners who followed them.

In those words,  Harper painted a picture of many law firms that have been in the news over the last several months. Reading about those firms reminded me of the  The Eagles hit Hotel California.

Nancy and I saw the Eagles in concert shortly after they recorded the Hotel California. They opened their concert with it. I am still in awe of the guitar opening and the guitar ending. But, for our discussion today the lyrics are important.

Many have shared their thoughts on the meaning of the lyrics. Don Henley in a 60 Minutes interview said:

I know, it’s so boring. It’s a song about the dark underbelly of the American Dream, and about excess in America which was something we knew about.

I am confident most law firms will not will not  experience a “spectacular public failure.”  But, how many law firms are so intently focused on money, that they are experiencing “mindless growth, heartless treatment of colleagues, a depressed workforce, gross pay disparities.” Will those firms ultimately face a “tipping point?”

I am reading a book I strongly recommend to lawyers I coach. The book is How Will You Measure Your Life by Harvard professor Clay Christensen. (There is so very much more in this excellent book. I will write future blog posts on some of those important topics.)

You can watch this 20 minute TED Video to get some of the ideas from the book. At about the 11 minute mark, Christensen describes why successful companies (law firms) fail. He says:

The reason why successful companies (law firms) fail is because they choose to invest in the most immediate and tangible evidence of achievement. (Profits per Partner and AM Law Rank)

Is your firm choosing to invest in the most immediate and tangible evidence of achievement? If so, keep this line from Hotel California in mind.

And she said ‘We are all just prisoners here, of our own device’

So why does Glenn Frey’s death shake us (especially those who grew up in the 70’s)? Here is what the CNN writer said:

When we mourn for Frey, are we mourning our lost selves and a time when we all thought we could live hard and stay free and surf and bike and run and jump and love and never lose because we were forever young.

God bless, Glenn Frey. You were part of our dreams. Now, truly, you belong to the night.