Cordell Parvin Blog

Developing the Next Generation of Rainmakers

Rainmakers and Writers: What the Great Ones Share in Common Part 2

Posted in Client Development

This is Part 2 of John Cunningham’s guest post on rainmakers and writers.

John Cunningham

6. Fearlessness. Developing your own identity and your own message in your own voice can be a daunting task for a writer or a rainmaker. When go outside of the safety of the herd, you can offend those who lead the herd and those who fear the unfamiliar (recall “Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.”).

The rewards for following your own compass to your own unique position in the world are great, but both writers and rainmakers must steer past dark and nattering naysayers along their paths.

7. Something to Say. I have connected with some renowned writers at conferences, and they all seem to share a deep-seated sense that they have something they need to say. It is not just that they want to communicate with the world. They have a sense that it is part of their purpose.

Really good rainmakers, in my experience, also feel they have something important to say about their work. They thrive on talking about it and their voices reveal their passion for it, as well as their passion for helping their clients.

8. Memory. Both rainmakers and writers need good memories. I have noticed that rainmakers often remember names and they can recall details about their clients and prospects because they become genuinely interested in them.

Writers also must remember everything about their characters and their narratives in order to develop stories that are believable, internally consistent, and powerfully cogent.

9. Working Well With Others. You might think that great writers need nothing but their keyboards. But they need to get along with editors and publishers, and if they want to sell their work, they need to get outside their offices and make connections. Otherwise, their work will die along with them.

Rainmakers too need to work and play well with others. This was a theme I heard often from successful rainmakers at the conference I recently attended. All of them agreed that successful long-term marketing of professional services requires cooperation with partners, referral sources and others in your network.

10. Written Content IS Marketing. Now more than ever, someone who can create thought-provoking and original written content can be a rainmaker. As service providers start to invest more in content creation and distribution, they find it is one of the most effective forms of advertising they can do.

The Internet and social media have created an abundance of publishing platforms that can make a truly distinctive message or story go viral at very low cost, offering a huge return on investment.


Rainmakers and Writers: What The Great Ones Share in Common Part 1

Posted in Client Development

As you know, I’ve been working on a novel for 20 months. I feel like I’m still learning and practicing, but I’m not happy with my first completed effort.

A couple of weeks ago, when I spoke to young lawyers in Boston I met John Cunningham. He shares my interest in writing and helping lawyers. So, I asked him to share with you what rainmakers and writers have in common.

John Cunningham

Here is Part 1. Tomorrow I will post Part 2.

As a person who writes a lot about legal marketing, I work in a sparsely populated part of the world where writers and rainmakers intersect.

You might think that the two groups have little in common, writers being profiled largely as analytical introverts and rainmakers being thought of as gregarious extroverts.

But, Cordell Parvin, inspired me to think differently about this subject. After years of following Cordell’s blog, I finally got to speak with him in person at the Boston Bar Association headquarters on the occasion of his informative presentation: “Brand Yourself: Starting Right for Career Success.”

In thinking about his tips on business development and my own work as a writer, I came up with at least 10 elements that are common to successful writing and rainmaking alike.

1. Planning. As many successful rainmakers have told me, it is always good to start the year with a plan. Like a professional salesman, many good rainmakers target the prospects they want to meet, figure out how to connect with them, and look for ways of building bonds with them. They also set goals and track their progress.

Good writers similarly outline their writing plans, figure out how to achieve them, and work toward deadlines to insure progress. But both groups of people have to remain flexible, changing their plans when characters in their lives or stories take on unexpected dimensions. As Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt once said:

The more we proceed by plan, the more likely it is we encounter the divine accident.

2. Getting Inside of People’s Minds. Both writers and rainmakers can perform at their best by getting inside of people’s heads. A good rainmaker learns everything he can about a prospect before a meeting whenever possible, and a good writer gets inside the heads of his or her characters so that they become three-dimensional beings with whom the writer has an inspired connection that can be conveyed to the reader.

3. Passion. All of the rainmakers I have interviewed were people with genuine enthusiasm, not only for their own work, but for that of their clients. They have or they discover a motivating passion for what they do. They get hired in part because they care. They seem intuitively to operate on the principle that Simon Sinek once articulated:

People don’t buy what you do – they buy why you do it.

Great writers similarly must have a passion for what they do. Anything less leads to formulaic, soul-less composition that fails to connect with readers and leaves no lasting impressions.

4. Persistence. Both writers and rainmakers need persistence. First-time authors are routinely and often disparagingly rejected by publishers. John Grisham and Stephen King are just two examples of great authors who have received dozens of now hilarious rejection letters.

Rainmakers similarly can expect to hear the word “no” many times before they become so well known that people seek them out. Neither group could succeed without a gritty persistence that endures even when the passion wanes.

5. Originality. Writers and rainmakers must be original to stand out from the crowd and be memorable. They must figure out their unique niche or their unique twist on that niche. They need to express themselves in ways that are both intriguing and memorable to prospective readers or clients.

What Are You Reading?

Posted in Uncategorized

What are you reading for your career?

Seth Godin recently posted: Did you do the reading?

I always “did the reading.” What kind of reading?

First, I read everything I could get my hands on about the construction industry. I read books on civil engineering, road design, and bridge design. I read books on the business of construction. I subscribed to the American Society of Civil Engineering Journals.

I read books about leadership, business, negotiation, successful companies and persuasion. I read biographies of famous lawyers. I read books about famous trials.

Whenever I read a business book of any kind, I underlined, later highlighted and created my list of takeaways. It’s the only way to make reading the book worth the time.

If you are a regular reader, or if you just know me well, you likely know that several lawyers I coached read books together and every other Friday at 3:00 PM Eastern time they send an email to me and the group outlining their takeaways from a chapter and how they plan to implement what they have learned.

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Some of the books they have read include:

To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink

Give and Take by Adam Grant

How Will You Measure Your Life by Clayton Christensen

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

They’ve read even more, but I just want to give you a sample.

What are you reading? Will it make you better able to serve your clients, or  lead your lawyers?

Want to start a book group in your firm? Want to be part of one with lawyers I coach?

Making Time for Client Development: Manage Your Time and Energy

Posted in Career Development, Client Development

I’m up bright and early this morning for the long and stressful trek through security and US Customs in Montreal. Even though I have Nexus and Global Entry, it took a long time this morning.

Last night I dined at my hotel Le Germain. The restaurant is called Laurie Raphael. My waiter recommended the Cod. When it arrived I was struck by two things. First, how small it was for the money and second, how tasty it was.

In the US, we seem to think if whatever we order doesn’t cover our entire plate, we have not gotten our money’s worth. That’s not true in Canada, especially in Montreal. For the first time in many meals out, I had room for desert when I finished my main course.

Charging based on the quality of the meal rather than the quantity of the meal would be a novel concept in most US restaurants. Maybe it would be like a law firm charging based on the quality of its work rather than the number of hours it took to do the work.

Enough musing on fine dining and billable hours.

Yesterday, at the end of my lunch presentation, a law firm partner and father of three children approached me and told me that he was exhausted at the end of most days after working on billable work, and trying to spend quality time with his children.

Believe me, I get it. I have heard many times:

Cordell, I’ve been so busy and I want to be there for my children. So, I have not been able to find time for client development.

I recommended that the lawyer read a book called The Power of Full Engagement written by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz.

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When a partner and I started our own firm in 1983, I knew I could never be too busy for client development. I rarely knew what I might be doing six months out. So, I was constantly planting seeds that I hoped would develop later.

In this post, I will share with you three noted experts’ approach to time management.

Noted author Carl Sandburg once said:

Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how well it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.

He wrote that long before the Internet, email and other current potential distractions.

Over the years, bar associations and law firms have asked me to do a program called “Time Management: Making Time for Client Development.”

In the presentation, I  included a discussion on time and energy management and shared ideas I learned from books by Stephen Covey, David Allen and Jim Loehr.

Each author approaches the subject in a slightly different way. I have read their books and listened to their presentations. I have found each approach valuable.

Time is Money


When I made the presentations, I found a report on the effectiveness of coaching programs using each approach.

I planned my week around my roles as Stephen Covey suggested. I used David Allen’s approach to next actions. I set physical/economic, mental/learning, emotional/relationship, and spiritual/values goals based on Jim Loehr’s four sources of energy.

Take a look and decide which approach will work best for you.

One final thought: One way to make time for client development is to eliminate wasted time.

How much time do you waste each day on things that really do not matter? You might be opening and responding to unimportant emails, doing things that could be delegated, searching for things in your office.

If you saved just 30 minutes a day, that would be 182 1/2; hours for a year. Suppose you used that time for client development or your own development, what do you think would happen to your career?

Key to Your Success: Think Bigger

Posted in Career Development, Client Development

Greetings today from Montreal. At 8:00 AM this morning, just a couple of hours from now I will be speaking to law firm associates. One thing I will tell them is to think bigger. In other words, visualize becoming more than they may think possible.

As I am thinking about this topic, I’m reminded of what Walt Disney once said:

If you can dream it, you can do it.

Recently I read a post titled: How To Be Successful In Life: 13 Tips From The World’s Most Successful People.

The first tip: 1.Think big, jumped out at me because I have written about it here. I even created a magnet I give to lawyers I coach with the quote under that tip.



When I am coaching, I focus on helping the lawyers “think bigger.” Are you thinking big enough, or are you limiting your success?

I remember the day in 1978 when I shared with partners in my Roanoke, Virginia law firm that I wanted to build a national transportation construction law practice working for construction clients who were building  the biggest, most complex, transportation construction projects in the country. My partners smirked.

I guess that is understandable since at the time I had no experience working on transportation construction projects.

I like this quote I recently saw:

I always did something I was a little not ready to do. I think that’s how you grow. When there’s that moment of ‘Wow, I’m not really sure I can do this,’ and you push through those moments, that’s when you have a breakthrough. Marissa Mayer

On the other hand, I never one time doubted I could accomplish this big goal. Over time, I worked on some of the most complex cable stayed bridges constructed in the country and many other well known transportation construction projects throughout the US.

Ok, think about 2016, what is the something you are not 100% ready to do, but if you do it you will have a major breakthrough?

Business Planning: Plans are Nothing, Planning is Everything

Posted in Career Development, Client Development

I’m in Toronto today where I confess, it’s a little colder than I expected when I looked in my closet and purposely left my topcoat at home.

I’m speaking to lawyers this week on planning, a timely topic as we are reaching the end of the year.

How can a young lawyer develop an effective plan? First, keep in mind that as Dwight D. Eisenhower said after the D Day invasion:

Plans are nothing, planning is everything.

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The thought that goes into developing the plan is invaluable. In order to make the planning process valuable, you might answer questions including:

  1. What is your target market?
  2. What steps have you taken to understand your target market’s industry and business?
  3. What are the problems, opportunities, external and internal changes your target market is facing, or better yet, will likely face in 2016?
  4. What solutions can you offer?
  5. What makes you unique and able to add value to your clients better than your competitors?
  6. What do you consider to be areas where you could improve?
  7. What client development efforts have you made in 2015? Which were successful? What was the greatest return for the least investment of time?
  8. What do you perceive as obstacles to your client development success (either firm or self-imposed)?
  9. What have you done to expand relationships further with your existing clients?
  10. What is the one thing you can do that you are not doing now that would have the greatest impact on your client development efforts?

Want more thoughts on Planning? Take a look at these 2010 Blog Posts where lawyers I coached explained how they were creating their plans for the next year.

Business Development: It doesn’t have to be overwhelming

Posted in Uncategorized

Thinking of overwhelming this morning because we woke up at about 4:00 AM to the tornado siren outside our house. A few minutes later we, along with the dog were huddled in the closet and heard and felt a tremendous wind going over our house. Just a couple of minutes later it was quiet again.

One of the great joys I have working with law firms across the US and Canada is the opportunity to meet and learn something new from outstanding lawyers.

One example is Pierre Raymond, one of Canada’s leading M&A lawyers, and  the former chair of the well known Canadian firm, Stikeman Elliott. Pierre and I served as a panel sharing ideas with the Stikeman Elliott associates.

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I enjoyed listening to Pierre and asked him to share some of the same ideas with you. Here is Pierre’s guest blog.

When I talk about Business Development to articling students, associates or junior partners, my mantra is always the same, irrespective of their seniority:

1. Get known by as many potential clients as possible;
2. Earn the trust of the potential clients; and
3. “Ask for the order”.

Throughout our career, everything we do in Business Development revolves around these three directives.

1. Get known by as many potential clients as possible: the lawyers senior to you in your firm when you are starting your career and members of the business community when you are a partner.

As an articling student or junior associate, your very first aim ought to be: every associate senior to me and every junior partner in my firm (they are your first pool of clients and will remain so for numerous years) knows (i) that I exist and (ii) that I am eager to work, not only for the lawyers of the firm in general but specifically for him or her.

There are may ways to achieve this goal, here are a few thoughts. You ought to look for a way to distinguish yourself from the crowd: make the first move.

You would be surprised to know how impressive it is for a “senior” to be politely approached by a younger lawyer who introduces himself or herself to me, for example, in an elevator, the lawyers lounge, an office get together, a retreat or (the best) who knocks on my office door and who tells me unequivocally something like “my name is x. I understand you do public M&A and, next time there is an opportunity, I would be very interested to work with you and learn from you”.

Sounds corny? Wrong, big time wrong!

Let the older guy (me) tell you: it is hard not to be impressed by the forthrightness and desire to work shown by a young lawyer who approaches you in such a way. The next time that I am looking for help, do you think that I will be leaning towards asking the articling students/junior associates who wait in their office for seniors to knock on their door to give them work or towards asking the fellow who “got himself/herself known” to me and “asked for the order” a week or two before? Don’t be shy, your seniors will truly be favourably disposed towards you as a result.

2. Earn the trust of the potential clients: being socially apt is useful, but the lawyers senior to you/the external clients will not handover to you the file/ business they are responsible for unless they think you are smart, knowledgeable, reliable and will bring value to the resolution of the matter.

This is not just a fuzzy concept you read about in books (or blogs). As you work on a file for a senior or for an external client, -every day-, ask yourself if you are, at this very moment, earning the trust of your client (internal or external) as a result of

(a) the quality of the work you do for your client this very day,

(b) the timeliness of your deliverable,

(c) the way you summarize verbally your findings, etc.

Every day, be aware of that. Each of those item is an opportunity to earn (or loose) the trust of your client. Don’t miss it.

In my view, one of the best Business Development tools per se and also a great tool to develop your business development abilities is to give a substantive presentation to your practice group or to an external client. Every year, you should participate in two or three of such presentations.

By doing so, you obviously touch on the first two segments of the mantra. But, as or more importantly, such presentations are hard to beat at demonstrating your substance on a particular topic, and in general, hence at gaining the trust of your potential clients.

Of course, giving a presentation can be intimidating at first. But cut your teeth with your practice group, then move on to the whole section. Also, you don’t have to do it all by yourself.

Share the presentation with someone else, it will dilute the stress. Same for client presentations or even lunches with clients, bring someone from another section. It will make the presentation or the lunch livelier and the clients will feel that they got insights from two lawyers with two different backgrounds instead of only one.

3. Ask for the order. Lawyers usually agree with the first two segments of the mantra but are often shy to “ask for the order” explicitly. They push back and say to me “I don’t need to be that outright, the client must know that this is what I am looking for”.

Obviously, you need to be polite but leave the ambiguity at home and you must hear yourself say: internally:

“Do you think that I could be on your team for your next litigation file?”; to an external client:

“Would you retain me and my firm for your next acquisition?”

Doing anything less than that will raise doubt in your clients’ mind as to your determination or you will give them an easy excuse to use someone else who is more insisting (and your internal or external competitors will not be shy, trust me!)

By the way, senior associates and junior partners also ought to knock on their seniors’ doors to get better known (as suggested in 1. above for articling students and junior associates) but principally to “Ask for the order.

Senior associates and junior partners are usually not very keen to do this and say to me:

“I can’t go and knock on doors of lawyers senior to me and ask outright for work, the seniors will think that I am not busy” (and hence that I am probably not a good lawyer in the eyes of the lawyers who generate work in the office).

This is simply paranoia or a bad excuse! Again, the seniors are really pleasantly impressed to see the juniors eager to work and proactive to fill their plate. And, by the way, all seniors have had (and more than once!) a slow period and they will probably secretly think that they should have done then exactly what you are doing now with them!

You can’t get yourself to admit to seniors that you are not busy? Say a white lie (and if you are busy, you nonetheless need to plant the seeds for when you will experience a slow down, say the truth):

“I am quite busy these days, but I would really like to work with you/but we haven’t worked together in a long time. Can you keep me in mind in the near future ?”

Note that I said “Can you keep me…” and not “Please keep me…” Subtle pressure will not hurt!

To sum up, if you look at the Business Development tool kit, some of its tools can, at the outset, be intimidating as they require time, commitment, social skills, etc. But other tools are immediately accessible, numerous small steps that you can easily insert in your everyday routine.

Yes, it requires stepping out of our comfort zone, but ever so slightly. Really. And, as it is for any other matter in our life, stepping out a bit of our comfort zone is…fun and tremendously rewarding professionally and personally.

Pierre Raymond



Blogging for Business: Make Your Blog a Conversation

Posted in Blogging

I’ve coached at least 100 lawyers who are blogging.

You likely recall that I describe blogging as a conversation with the reader designed to build rapport and a trust based relationship.

I tell lawyers you can’t do that if you write a blog like it is a brief for a federal circuit court. You need to write the way you talk.

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Recently Seth Godin made the same point about business writing. He wrote: The simple way to get better at business writing. His main point:

Don’t do business writing…Write like you talk instead.

Look at your last blog post. Is it written the way you would explain the issue to me if we were having coffee? Will I get to know you better after reading your post?


Use Positive Language to Persuade

Posted in Client Development

Greetings from Fort Myers, FL where I am visiting the Henderson Franklin lawyers today thanks to one of the most enthusiastic marketing directors I have ever met- Gail Porter Larmache.

Needless to say, I am looking forward to a great day. Oh, I should also add that it will be a great day because the Virginia Tech defense held the Georgia Tech offense scoreless for the last three quarters last night leading to a 23-21 victory.

Enough about Florida and Virginia Tech football, let’s get to our topic today. Thinking about Gail’s positive, upbeat attitude, caused me to write about this topic.

Look at some of your recent letters to clients. Did you end a letter with: “If I can help further, please do not hesitate to call me.” I would be surprised if you get a call.

In How to Connect in Business in 90 Seconds or Less Nicholas Boothman recommends you use positive language. I recommend the book to lawyers I coach. It is a quick read and well worth the time.

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In a CBS Early Show Interview, Boothman gives a specific example:

It’s no good saying to my daughter, ‘Don’t mess up your room,’ when I mean, ‘Tidy your room.’ If you say to a customer, ‘Don’t hesitate to contact me,’ they don’t know what you mean. What you really mean is, ‘Phone me Friday,’ or, ‘Call me if you need some help.”‘

So, next time you write a letter consider ending your next letter with: “If I can help further, please call me.”

P.S. Are you a golfer? When you are on the tee with water in front of you, are you thinking you do not want to hit the ball in the water? If you are, you are more likely to hit the ball in the water than if you were focusing on where you actually do want to hit the ball.

Career Planning: Is Your Law Firm Encouraging or Discouraging Associates?

Posted in Career Development, Law Firm Leadership

As we are approaching 2016, is your law firm encouraging your associates to create a career plan with goals? I asked the question because when I was the partner responsible for career development in my old firm, our firm made if more difficult.

The message our associates received was that achieving billable hours was the only thing that mattered. Some of our partners subtly, and not so subtly, made the point repeatedly.

Bonuses were set based on “billable hours.” I used a graph to show spikes of billable hours at the bonus levels. Our associates were congratulated more often for their billable hours than they were for the quality of their work.

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Our firm laid off associates because they did not have enough “billable hours.” It wasn’t the associates fault. Their lack of hours occurred because the work in the practice group was slow, or because the partners needed to get their own billable hours.

I remember some partners in our firm discouraging associates from attending “training” and career development sessions because it took away from “billable hours.”

When associates returned to the office from a pro bono effort, community service or client development meeting, they were sometimes made to feel they were not carrying their share of the load. If they cut back on their billable hours in order to spend more time with their children or in the community, some were made to feel they were not committed to their work.

We had some really great mentors and some that were not interested. As a result some or our  associates became disillusioned by the mentoring process. They anticipated their mentor would help them in career planning and they had high expectations when they selected their mentor, only to have those expectations dashed when the sole mentoring activity was lunch at the firm’s expense.

I remember one associate who with my help had developed a specific career plan. When she enthusiastically shared it with the partner for whom she worked, he put down her idea.

In 2015, is your law firm encouraging or discouraging your associates?