Cordell Parvin Blog

Developing the Next Generation of Rainmakers

What Would Success Look Like in Your Firm?

Posted in Law Firm Leadership

I was doing a search of some old law firm documents recently, and I came across something I had drafted for my old law firm’s board of directors. I think many of the ideas are relevant today so I thought I would share it with you.

Years ago at my old firm, a group of us began brainstorming what we hoped would be the priorities and direction of the firm. When our firm leaders got wind of our brainstorming, they asked us to share our ideas. I drafted our suggestions.

Before responding I went back and re-read all of David Maister’s books and other materials he had available at the time. So, many of the thoughts I came up with were inspired by David Maister.

More recently I read an Economist Book Review: Staying on top, reviewing: Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works. I have not read the book, but I found the review helpful. As a result, I updated some of my thinking. So here some of my past and current thoughts:

I believe our board of directors are too focused on “management,” and not enough focused enough on leading our firm. If our board spent time focusing on the top line (e.g., values, principles, mission and vision), it could transform those who work in our firm. To accomplish this task I believe the board should:

  •  Agree on the definition of success and a plan to get there. A definition of success and a plan to get there will help the board answer the following questions:
  1. Where should the firm invest in clients and what are the services to be provided?
  2. Where should the firm put its leadership time?
  3. Where should the firm invest the human and dollar capital of the firm?
  4. Where should the firm invest the talent of the firm?
  5. How should the firm identify the lawyers who are and are not making a contribution?
  • Define the characteristics of a “one-firm firm.” Our board uses that term, but our shareholders and associates do not really know what that means. (It could mean having a clear priority of client service first, the firm second, and the individual last.)
  • Using help from outside the board of directors and research and identify the emerging market for our firm’s legal services.
  • Define the role of our shareholders in terms of meeting the agreed firm’s definition of success.
  • Decide whether you need to restructure our firm’s compensation system to meet the agreed definition of success and our plan to get there.
  • Challenge our shareholders to set higher and higher standards for client service and then measure their success.
  • Demand higher and higher return on our shareholder’s use of the firm’s resources.
  • Create the environment in which our lawyers and staff can excel in client service and career satisfaction.
  • Establish and identify our firm’s “core” clients that will improve the firm’s competitive position and make it more profitable in the next 10 years and decide what services we will provide on a local, regional, national and international basis.
  • Decide with Practice Group Leaders and Industry Team Leaders  what competitive position will be sought from the clients and service areas. Do we want the preeminent provider of the service, one of the top few, or one of many providers?
  • Once the competitive position is decided, the board of directors should work with Practice Group Leaders and Industry Team Leaders to develop a set of actions that will make our firm’s services more valuable to clients than the services of our competitors, including changes in the firm’s methods of delivering services so that clients derive additional benefits from our approach compared to our competitors.
  • Develop “friendly skeptic” questions as outlined on page 228 of David Maister’s book “Managing the Professional Service Firm” to ask each Practice Group and Industry Team regarding their strategic plans.”
I thought these were very exciting ideas and would help create an energized and exciting “one firm-firm.”  Our group of brainstormers felt the same way. Unfortunately, other, well-documented events prevented this from ever happening.


Client Development: Stand Out Now

Posted in Client Development

If you are looking to develop business you have to stand out from a very crowded legal market.

Several months ago I shared some ways to do that. How to Stand Out in Any Crowd.

I recently read an interview with marketing guru Dorie Clark. As you will see from her website, she has written a new book: Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It.

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I haven’t read the book yet, but I found an interview about the book. She says:

If you want to compete in a very globalized economy, where everybody’s coming at you, there’s competition everywhere, you need to develop a reputation as being an expert in your area. You have to give people a reason to want to do business with you.

As a lawyer, how to you become an expert in your area? Put simply, you have to be more curious than your competitors and spend quality time doing research on what is going on and how it impacts your clients.

Dorie Clark then recommends that you develop your expert niche practice. I can attest that this works.

I went from commercial litigation to government contracts litigation to construction government contracts litigation to transportation construction contracts litigation. When I got to that point I expanded the niche by doing more than litigation.

I urge you to continue reading the interview because her suggestions just might work for you.

Success: Are you lengthening your stride?

Posted in Career Development, Client Development

Want to be a more successful lawyer? You won’t accomplish it by sitting back. You have to “lengthen your stride” and get outside your comfort zone to take your career to the next level.

A friend sent me a series of quotes from former golfer, and now golf TV analyst Johnny Miller in Charlie Jones’s book: What Makes Winners Win. I had never read the book, but I might go back and read it now. I won’t share all the quotes with you, but I want to share this one:

If you want to be great, you have to lengthen your stride. If you just stride so that it’s comfortable, you’ll never improve. You always have to stretch the muscles just slightly. If you lengthen your stride and you even hurt a little bit once in a while, because you’re striving for one more level of excellence, your eyes will be opened and you’ll gain more intelligence and you’ll gain more understanding.

A high percentage of lawyers are content to play it safe. If you follow professional golf, how many times have you seen a young golfer trying to win his or her first tournament, play it safe and then mess up? I saw it happen in a tournament final on Sunday.

I believe the same thing happens to young lawyers who play it safe.

Client Development: If You Want to Persuade-Ask a Favor

Posted in Career Development, Client Development

Have you ever persuaded someone by asking a favor? I am not suggesting asking for business, but there are other favors you can ask that will be very helpful.

A few years ago I read Selling Power magazine article The Persuasion Principle: How to Use Robert Cialdini’s Scientific Research to Close More Sales.The article was based in part on the findings in Cialdini’s book: Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive.

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There was a short sidebar section with the following:

Want to improve your relationship with anybody, anywhere? The key is simple-ask a favor.

Cialdini says it may seem counterintuitive, but research shows that the fastest way to get clients to like you is not to help them…but rather to ask them to help you. I have actually used this approach several times. Here are a few examples:

  • Asking clients and potential clients for their thoughts on what should be in our client service policy.
  • Asking clients to come to a quarterly all associate lunch to discuss what clients are looking for in their lawyers.
  • Asking clients to come to our practice group retreat (we paid travel expenses) to share with our group their ideas on how we could better serve them.
  • Asking clients and potential clients for their ideas on topics for articles and presentations.

I have a favor to ask:

What would senior associates or junior partners in your law firm most want to learn and implement in their client development efforts?

What favors are you asking your clients, potential clients and friends?

Client Development Coaching: How One Lawyer Got the Most from It

Posted in Client Development Coaching

On Monday I posted a blog about the group telephone coaching program and the video coaching program.

Dallas lawyer, Shawn Tuma watched the video, did the exercises and participated in a group coaching session. I asked Shawn to share his experience with you.

Shawn Tuma.jpgPerhaps the most important thing I can say about the program is that it is a complete program—not just a CLEesque video to play while distracted with other things (with the hope of absorbing a few tidbits by osmosis).

The program features a thorough video presentation, extensive workbook with exercises, and group telephone coaching sessions with Cordell.

It is very helpful that the presentation is on video because Cordell’s presentations are packed with information and there is a lot to grasp in real time.

By having the presentation on video, you can pause it when necessary or, if in a group, go back and replay it later. Having this on video makes the program an even better learning tool that will enable the participant to take their time and really absorb the information without worrying about missing something.

The workbook really helps put the lessons into practice. The exercises in the workbook are extensive and will force you to think about your career goals, where you are in your practice, what type of client development activities will work best for you, and what specific things you need to do to accomplish them.

This will require work on your part but the more effort you put into it the more you will get out of it.

Cordell and his team have put a lot of thought into the presentation and workbook but including the group coaching sessions is the icing on the cake!

No matter how well planned any program is, people will always have things they want to talk about. And, if you have ever talked to Cordell you know that even in a casual conversation you will learn something valuable from him.

The group coaching sessions give participants the opportunity to interact with Cordell as well as with the other participants in a way that allows them to not only learn from Cordell, but also from the other participants. This feature really makes the program one-of-a-kind!

I know that Shawn would be happy to speak with you if you have any questions for him. In the meantime if you want to participate in the program, grab some friends who share your motivation and contact Joyce Flo at

Your Blog: Is it Resonating with Readers?

Posted in Blogging

I have long ago lost count of how many lawyer blogs I have read.

Many firms where I have coached had no blogs before I started coaching there and now they have well over 10 blogs. You might be a lawyer in one of those firms.

Recently I was asked why lawyers who are blogging regularly are not doing better on client development. I believe there are many potential reasons.


  • They aren’t picking topics their potential readers care about. Remember, potential client readers only care about their problems, opportunities and changes.
  • They just report on the latest case in their subject area without letting readers know what the case means. If the case is a big one, the reader likely saw the article about it in the New York Times, or  your hometown newspaper. Potential clients don’t care a lot about your journalism skills. They care about your judgment.
  • They aren’t making it easy for potential readers to find their blog. If someone did a search of the legal topic of your blog, would they find it?
  • They write as if the reader is a federal circuit court judge. Business clients don’t want to read a legal brief.
  • The blog posts are too long. People who read blogs want the USA Today version, not the Atlantic Monthly version.
  • They aren’t building a trust based personal relationship with their readers. When I read the best lawyer blogs, I feel like I know the writer even if I have never met her. Don’t be afraid to show some personality.
  • Their blog is hard to read on a computer, more difficult on a tablet and impossible on a smart phone. Check your font size, the length of your paragraphs, and the amount of white space.
  • They aren’t using the social media tools available to bring targeted readers to their blog. It takes very little time to use these tools.
  • They don’t consistently post. They might post two in a week and not post again for a month.

I contend that a blog is an on-line conversation with readers designed to build trust and rapport. The lawyer blogs I like the most make me feel like I am learning about the subject of the blog AND THE BLOGGER over coffee at a coffee shop.

How well are you explaining the subject of the blog? How well are you letting the reader get to know what kind of lawyer and person you are?

If Clients Hire Lawyers Not Law Firms, How Can You Ever Delegate Work?

Posted in Client Development

A lawyer I coached a couple of years ago called me to discuss a problem every lawyer wants to have.

Her client development efforts have paid off and now she is generating so much business that she has to be able to delegate work. She also mentioned that her clients expect her to work on their matters.

Clients hire lawyers first and foremost. Even when they say they are hiring a firm, they hire the firm because a particular lawyer, or a team, is there.

I wish I had a dollar for each time a client told me:

Cordell, we did not hire Jenkens and Gilchrist, we hired you.

My challenge was to convince great clients that the lawyers who worked for me were at least as good as me, if not better. As your practice grows, that will be your challenge also. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Hire and train highly motivated lawyers with good people skills.
  2. Have a junior lawyer sit in on important telephone calls.
  3. Bring a lawyer who is helping you to a client meeting and don’t bill for your time.
  4. If you conduct workshops or presentations, have a junior lawyer be a co-presenter.
  5. Put a younger lawyer in your client’s office (or, in my case a construction project) for a week at no charge.

If you want more of my thoughts on this important subject, take a look at my Practical Lawyer article: Practical Supervision Skills For Attorneys.

You might also find valuable ideas in It Takes a Team, a book I co-authored that is available on your Kindle, iPad or Nook.

Client Development: How Well Do You Listen?

Posted in Career Development, Client Development

Men, how many times has your wife told you something for a second time, claiming you weren’t listening when she told you the first time?

I have been married 45 years. I try to listen carefully to Nancy, but I have fallen short many times. Over the years, I have had a variety of excuses.

Recently I learned I may not have ever listened with all of my brain. I don’t want to startle you, but recent research shows women listen with both sides of their brains and men only one side.


Men Do Hear — But Differently Than Women, Brain Images Show

Men listen with only one side of their brains, while women use both, according to information on brain imaging presented Tuesday, Nov. 28, at the 86th Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

The study may add fuel to the females’ argument, but researchers say the findings don’t address whether women are better listeners than men.

That peaked my interest. I decided to read more. I came across Men Can’t Hear: Sex-Linked Sensory Differences. It was eye opening to say the least and I discovered why I am color blind. Here are some interesting findings on listening:

  • According to a study from Johns Hopkins University, men are five and a half times more likely than women to experience hearing loss as they age, starting as young as 20 years old.
  • Men are more likely to need hearing aids, but women are more likely to wear them. (LOL)

Ok, I think the science suggests that women listen better than men. I wanted some ideas, other than wearing a hearing aid,  on what I could do to become a better active listener.

I found a very recent article: Become a Better Listener: Active Listening. There were 13 Steps. I won’t list them for you here.

Take a look at the article. There are many ideas including a list of 7 Communication Blockers. How many of those blockers are you guilty of? I thought if I showed the list to my daughter, she would rat on me.


One Key for Success: Hold Yourself Accountable

Posted in Career Development, Client Development, Client Development Coaching

Do you want to be more successful with client development? If so, find a way to hold yourself accountable.

Here are some suggestions. One lawyer I coach created a scoring system for his 90 days goals.For example, he gave himself 2 points for each meeting with a client outside the office and gives himself 20 points for an article he got published.

Another lawyer I coached kept a handwritten journal of her activities by date. Each month she sent me her updated journal.

Several lawyers I coached reported monthly to their coaching group, their firm leadership and me.

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Rob and Suzanne, a husband and wife team I coached several years ago here in Dallas shared their weekly plan/report with me. Suzanne sent me this email explaining how it worked for her:

Cordell, really like the weekly list idea, it helps keep me on track! Just called my one client for the day and got a new case!

I can’t assure you that holding yourself accountable on a weekly basis will result in a new matter, but I can assure you it will increase your chances because you will be more purposeful and focused.

A couple of years ago, I asked a group of lawyers:

If you were me what would you do to help more lawyers become successful.?

The majority suggested I create an affordable Internet or group telephone coaching program. I have both programs available.

Many of you have participated in the group telephone coaching program. For those of you who have not, it costs $95 per month and we have monthly coaching and teaching sessions with usually 5 other lawyers.

In this blog, I shared with you the topics we cover each month and more details about the program: Client Development: Group Telephone Coaching.

As you also know, you can get coaching from me with the $95 Video Coaching Program. I shared details with you here: Client Development Coaching: New Opportunity to Work with Me and one lawyer’s experience in Client Development: Video Coaching Program Takeaways.

This is likely the last year these programs will be available. So, if you have given thought to becoming more accountable for your client development efforts, contact Joyce at

Your Career: Are you spending more time planning your vacation?

Posted in Career Development

It’s vacation season. Have you planned your vacation?

Where do you want to be in your career five years from now?

What is your plan to get there? What do you want to do during the last 6 months of 2015 to get a great start?

When I was practicing law I frequently asked young lawyers those questions? If they didn’t have a really good answer, I would ask what they planned to do on vacation this year. Almost always I heard about a detailed plan on what sounded like a really great trip.

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Inevitably the lawyers knew where they wanted to go on vacation, why they wanted to go there, what they wanted to do each day there.

Approach your career planning the same way.

  • Where do you want your career to be in 5 years?
  • Why is that important to you?
  • What do you want to do the second half of 2015 to get there?

A few years ago I saw an HBR on line article: A Better Way to Plan Your Career. I especially liked this concept:

On the other hand, you can increase your probability of success by approaching your career with the right mind-set–one that recognizes that career planning is a continuous process that has to be actively managed. At each step in your career, you need to ask yourself: What can I do next that will maximize my options in the future?

So, what can you do the second half to 2015 that will maximize your options in the future?