Cordell Parvin Blog

Developing the Next Generation of Rainmakers

Client Development: Important Communication and Listening Skills

Posted in Client Development

If you’re like me, you think you’re a great communicator, right?

I saw a Forbes article recently that caused me to reconsider: 8 Secrets of Great Communicators by Travis Bradberry. Here’s what caused me to reconsider:

When communicating with people we know well, we make presumptions about what they understand—presumptions that we don’t dare make with strangers. This tendency to overestimate how well we communicate (and how well we’re understood) is so prevalent that psychologists even have a name for it: closeness-communication bias…

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” -George Bernard Shaw

You see, I believe some, maybe even most lawyers make presumptions about their client’s problem. Those lawyers listen for what makes the new client’s matter familiar because it gives them the opportunity to show how smart and how experienced they are.

Time is Money

I know because I’ve been in a room more than once where a lawyer trying to make a sale tried to convince the new potential client that he or she had handled a matter just like the one the new client has. Clients feel those lawyers are more interested in the legal fees than they are interested in them.

In addition to the presumption of understanding, the other problem is no client believes his or her matter is just like any other.

All of the eight secrets are right on target. For example, Bradberry’s third secret on the list is to: Listen so people will talk. I believe this description of listening is especially important for a lawyer listening to a client.

Listening isn’t just about hearing words; it’s also about listening to the tone, speed, and volume of the voice. What is being said? Anything not being said? What hidden messages below the surface exist?

Bradberry’s  fourth secret is Connect emotionally.

Bradberry includes one of my favorite Maya Angelou quotes:

People will forget what you said and did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.

So, what’s the takeaway? You want to focus on your client, actively listen, don’t make presumptions and connect emotionally by taking a genuine interest in your new client and making them feel they are the most important client you have.

Client Development: Become the Go To Lawyer

Posted in Client Development, Client Development Coaching

Seth Godin posted a really short, to the point interesting blog on January 20. The title: Everyone is better than you are… Take a moment to read it, at least the last line because in that one sentence he describes how to be successful at client development.

His blog reminds me of his book: Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?

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He makes many great, thought provoking points in the book. Here is one of them:

Perhaps your challenge isn’t finding a better project or a better boss. Perhaps you need to get in touch with what it means to feel passionate. People with passion look for ways to make things happen.

And here is another, explaining what it takes to be a linchpin.

The combination of passion and art is what makes someone a linchpin.

When I was a young associate, a partner in my first firm unknowingly gave me about the best piece of advice I have ever received. He said:

Cordell, you are a very smart lawyer. After all you finished third in your law school class. But, smart lawyers graduate from law school every year and they are easily replaced by other smart lawyers. Your success in this firm will depend more on how well you attract, retain and expand relationships with clients. Lawyers with those skills are indispensable.

Are you busy doing the work for senior lawyers in your firm and hoping they appreciate your work so much that it will be ok for you to never have clients of your own? I hope not. If you want to become indispensable:

  1. What are you learning about client development?
  2. What are you doing to attract new clients?
  3. What are you doing to exceed your clients expectations and create value for them?
  4. What are you doing to build relationships with your clients and with partners in your law firm?
  5. What are you doing to become a linchpin?

My Birthday: Looking Back

Posted in Career Development

My birthday is today. Yesterday, Nancy and I celebrated with our daughter and son-in-law at the Dallas Fairmont Hotel, Pyramid Room. Much to my surprise and joy, Ada, the hostess when I regularly ate there, and Kim, the waitress who frequently served me,  are still there after 20 years.

Happy birthday

You may know I measure my years by finding my favorite, or the most famous, football player to wear my birthday number. The most famous Cowboys player to wear my birthday number this year is Hall of Famer , Rayfield Wright. Perhaps the best known player to wear my birthday number is Hall of Famer, Sam Huff.

Our home in Prosper, Windsong Ranch, has so many things great activities for adults and children. I’m currently taking a Memoir Writing Class and discussing novels in the Fiction Addiction Club.

In each memoir writing class we share 500-1500 words describing an event in our lives. I’m not planning on writing a memoir, but I’ve really enjoyed thinking back about memories.

I’ve enjoyed looking back and remembering things I have not thought about in some time. This last week I thought about my United States Air Force experiences.

When I was an Air Force Captain and lawyer, I represented the Air Force in Government Contract cases. At the time, the Air Force would do almost anything to avoid paying a commercial airline to take me where I needed to be for work. Instead, I was directed to fly on military planes.

For example, when I settled a case before a trial scheduled for a week in San Francisco, instead of allowing me to fly commercial either back home or on to Honolulu for my next trial, I was instructed (ordered) to show up each day at Travis Air Force Base to fly “space available” on a military flight to Honolulu.

I showed up three days and waited each day only to learn there was no “space available” for a lawyer like me who needed to get to Honolulu. Imagine what it was like those three days prior to having a lap top, tablet or cell phone sitting in the terminal waiting to see if I could get on a flight.

My second experience was less boring, but more hilarious. I needed to get to Hanscom Air Force Base, in Massachusetts to interview witnesses and prepare for a trial. I was told that due to budget issues, I could not fly to Boston on a commercial airline.

I waited and then one day I learned a plane was leaving that night from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base to Hanscom Air Force Base. I was delighted until I learned that to get on the plane I would have to carry a firearm to guard some documents I was taking with me.

I explained that I had flunked out of marksmanship class because of an eye disease. That didn’t seem to matter.

I showed up at the appointed time with my weapon and walked with the pilot and co-pilot, reserves needing to get their flight  hours,  to what looked like the oldest prop plane in the Air Force. When we got into the plane I discovered there were no seats.

Where was I to sit, I asked? They pointed to what I would describe as something that looked a wooden milk case box, turned on its side. I was to sit on that during take off and landing, but during flight I could hang out just outside the cockpit. Needless to say there was no normal seat belt. Instead there was a rope for me to put around me and tie.

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We took off. It was a little rough so I stayed seated on the milk carton. After about 20 minutes I felt a sensation unlike any I had ever experienced. It was like the bottom had fallen out of the plane. I quickly discovered we  were going straight down in a nosedive.

I don’t think I ever thought of the possibility that we might crash and I might be done right there. I was more concerned about not losing my dinner.

Finally we leveled off and the co-pilot motioned for me to come closer to the cockpit. He told me the windshield had cracked when we were at 22,000 feet and we needed to get to under 10,000 feet in a huge hurry.

A few minutes later we landed back at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. In the military, you don’t get to say what you will do or won’t do. But, I decided that unless I was threatened with a dishonorable discharge, I would not agree to carry a gun and not agree to fly in a plane of World War II vintage that had not seats.



Lawyers: Life and Career Purpose-Look Back, Look Forward, Look Inward

Posted in Career Development

If you don’t like touchy-feely stuff, then you might want to pass on reading this post.

My career changed in a very positive way when I started thinking about my life and career purpose. All of a sudden, I had a stronger sense of direction and it was easier to plan my future.

What is your life purpose? What is your career purpose?

What do you really want in your life and in your career?

Very few young lawyers I meet have answers to those questions. In fact, I know of very few who have even pondered the questions and looked introspectively within for the answers.

Perhaps in the course of dealing with day to day work and family events, young lawyers do not take time to focus on the soul searching exercise of looking within and searching for the meaning of what they are doing.

Your life purpose or work purpose is like your calling.

As theologian, Frederick Buechner describes it:

The place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

As a lawyer who focused on construction I tended to think of building my career in the same terms as constructing a building project. Before an architect or an engineer begins to design a project, the ultimate user of the project provides a detailed description of its intended purpose.

A few years ago, Nancy and I toured the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

It illustrates my point about purpose. In the narrative about the hall I learned how the famed architect, Frank Gehry, spent hours with Lillian Disney to understand her vision of the hall.

Mrs. Disney made clear that she wanted the concert hall building to reflect the culture and character of Southern California, remain accessible to the entire community, boast lovely and inviting garden areas, and offer acoustical perfection for the enjoyment of music.

It is one of the most visually and acoustically sophisticated concert halls in the world. The stainless steel panels on the outside and the hardwood paneled interior are truly unique.

I ask young lawyers to think back to that day they decided they really wanted to become a lawyer and think about what prompted them to consider law for a career.

I remember what it was for me. When I was in about 8th grade I read an autobiography of Clarence Darrow titled: The Story of My Life.


I was immediately inspired by his description of a case less famous than most. It was the Sweet trials in Detroit. It was the real life version of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Dr. Sweet and his family had moved into a white neighborhood, in part because there were no homes available int the black part of the city due to the auto industry creating the migration from the south. Each night when the family came home, there was a mob taunting them outside their house. One night a shot rang out and a man was killed.

Darrow just back from the Scopes trial in Tennessee was exhausted and wanted to rest. But, when the NAACP pleaded with him, he came to Detroit. If you want some inspiration, I urge you to read Douglas Linder’s account of the trial and Clarence Darrow’s final argument in the second trial.

Another approach to discovering your life and career purpose is to look forward.

Visualize that your firm or company is giving you a retirement party. Several people will speak about you. They include a partner, your assistant, a client, your spouse and one of your children.

What do you want each of these people to say about you? If you can visualize what each person will say about you, I think you will have a pretty clear idea of what your life purpose and career purpose are.


Lawyers: Tell Me About A Time You…

Posted in Career Development

I was looking at some of my old coaching files. In 2010, I coached 125 lawyers located in Canada, and from New York to California in the United States. In 2017, I’m coaching far fewer.

I was wondering, have firms developed their next generation of rainmakers? With more baby boomers retiring each year, business succession has never been more important.

I have always thought that business succession for law firms starts with making good hiring decisions.

A few years ago I posted what turned out to be a controversial post: Are You Hiring Law Students Who Will Succeed? I was trying to make the point that it takes more than good grades to be a successful lawyer. I received several comments from readers.

More recently I read an ABA Journal on-line article Why Law Firm Interviewers Are Asking ‘Tell Me About a Time’ Questions. As I said above, the  answer is really simple: It takes more than good grades to be a successful lawyer.

Another 2 Women

According to the article law firms are looking at these four behavioral patterns:

  1. Decision-making and problem-solving skills
  2. Motivation
  3. Communication and interpersonal skills
  4. Planning and organization

I like questions looking at those behavioral patterns, but I would add two more:

  1. Integrity
  2. Cooperation, collaboration and teamwork

I would love to hear from you. Tell me about a time you….

Lawyers: What does it take to reach the top?

Posted in Career Development, Motivation

In my 38 years practicing law, and 11 years coaching lawyers, I’ve been around incredibly smart lawyers. You know that type of lawyer. They finished near the top of their law school class without even trying.

Years ago, my last law firm was hiring law students who were in the Top 10% of their class. If a lawyer was in the 11 or 12 % of his or her class, he or she didn’t get an interview.

I railed against being so focused on class rank. Finally, our head of HR came to me and asked:

What are you looking for when you hire an associate?

If you are a long time reader, you may remember my response:

Give me the Young Lawyer

Recently I read a short piece by Michael Pietrzak from Success Magazine. The title hit home with me: How to Develop an Insatiable Hunger. Without looking at the article, how do you suppose you can develop an insatiable hunger?

Now look at the five tips. For me they are right on target. It begins with having clarity on what you want to achieve.

Going all the way back to when I was a kid playing sports, I set some kind of clear goal and visualized achieving it. I also knew why I wanted whatever it was.

I invite you to check out the other four suggestions.

Client Development: 10 Important Lessons I Learned

Posted in Client Development

  1. Just doing good work, getting a Martindale A-V rating and waiting for the telephone to ring was not a viable client development strategy. That was just the price to have a chance to potentially attract clients.
  2. I had to decide what I wanted to become and which clients I wanted to target. If I was marketing to everyone, I was marketing to no one.
  3. I had to develop a plan that would enable me to be more focused on my efforts. The plan itself was not that important, but the thoughts that went into the plan were invaluable.
  4. I had to find a way to be accountable for my non-billable client development efforts. It was too easy to blow off client development.
  5. I actually did more client development activities when I was busy. I believe this was because I was afraid of waking up one day with nothing to do.
  6. Writing was a great way to build my profile and become visible to my clients. I enjoyed writing articles that my clients and potential clients found valuable.
  7. Writing led to speaking opportunities at industry meetings and speaking led to clients contacting me. I could take an article I had written and send it to an association executive and mention I would be happy to speak to the association members on the topic in the article.
  8. I had to be patient, persistent and persevere as it took some time for my efforts to build traction. When I first focused on transportation construction it took two years of hard work before my first client called me.
  9. Clients did not care about what I did. They only cared about how what I did would help them solve a problem or deal with a change. I wish I could share with you how this revelation came to me because it was one of the most important lessons I learned.
  10. My best efforts were to focus on becoming a trusted advisor for my clients and keeping them happy with my work. Getting a new client is exciting. But, the lesson was to spend most of my time and energy on the clients I already had and know they would recommend me to others in the industry.

I learned these lessons by the seat of my pants and by making mistakes. I am hopeful that you will learn these lessons from me and not by making mistakes.

If you are interested, I have a video coaching program, you can preview here.

Answer this Question to Become a Better Lawyer

Posted in Career Development

A few years ago, I was looking at my RSS feeds  and saw a post by Patrick Mathieu titled How To Be A Better Person.

The title intrigued me so I clicked on it. Patrick mentions seeing a book Being, Nothingness, and Fly Fishing: How One Man Gave Up Everything to Fish the Fabled Waters of the West. The author mentions a particular river that makes him want to be a better fly fisherman.

I liked this question raised by Patrick Mathieu in the blog:

Is there anything in your life that would make you say: “I owe this the very best that I have to offer!”

What makes you want to be a better lawyer? What makes you say: “I owe this client the very best I have to offer?” When you figure that out, you will be on the road to discovering what motivates you and you will likely become a better lawyer.

Why Clients Aren’t Hiring You and Why Your Firm is Not Hiring Me

Posted in Law as a Business

When I practiced law I often wondered why the client who had hired me to get them out of a tough jam at great expense, had not hired me to help them avoid getting into the jam at far less expense.

Today, I wonder why law firms do not hire me, or anyone else to do client development coaching for their lawyers to make sure they get it.

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Some time ago, I found the answer to my questions in a Fast Company article by Dan and Chip Heath titled: Turning Vitamins Into Aspirin: Consumers and the “Felt Need” As the Heaths point out:

If entrepreneurs want to succeed, as venture capitalists like to say, they’d better be selling aspirin rather than vitamins. Vitamins are nice; they’re healthy. But aspirin cures your pain; it’s not a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have.

I know that when I practiced law, clients were more willing to pay for the “must haves’ than they were to pay for the “nice-to-haves.”

The same is true in my current work with lawyers and law firms. Sad as it may seem, many law firms view developing the next generation of rainmakers as a “nice-to-have” rather than a “must have.” I guess they assume their baby boomer lawyers will never retire.

Likewise, when the economy is tough, law firms cut training and development of their lawyers because it goes from a “must have” to a “nice to have.” Thus, even though developing the next generation of outstanding lawyer rainmakers is “nice-to-have” not a “must-have” for the near future.

One irony in all this: My best construction law clients were the ones who hired me to do “nice-to-have” legal work and now my best law firms and the best lawyers for whom I work hire me to help with “nice-to-have” goals.

One other irony: The primary way I got hired for “must have” work was by creating content to help clients avoid the “must have” problem.

I have a question for you. What will happen to your law firm when the vast majority of baby boomers retire? Have you developed the next generation of rainmakers?

Small Law Firms: This One is For You

Posted in Client Development, Client Development Coaching

Are you in a small or medium sized law firm? If so you will want to read a report I saw recently:

How Small Law Firms Succeed Under the Pressure of Today’s Challenges … or Fail: 2016 State of U.S. Small law firms Study.  (Note: You have to fill out some information to get the study).

In the study, small law firm leaders identified their top challenges:

  1. Challenges acquiring new client business
  2. Client rate pressure/clients wanting more for less
  3. Spending too much time on administrative tasks

What are the most successful small firms doing differently?

In essence, the study shows that among “lawyer entrepreneurs,” simple goals allow each firm to fill in unique strategies to get there…

It is this same opportunity for entrepreneurship that will likely help position small law for greater growth in the coming years…

By contrast, successful firms are differentiating themselves – building a brand, leveraging it to win
new business, and investing in the firm’s future. Less successful or unsuccessful firms, on the other hand, are instead trying to cut their way to profitability.

If you are a long time regular reader, you know I believe:

  1. About 10% of the business out there is “bet the company” and whoever is perceived to be the top lawyer/law firm will get that business.
  2. About 30% of the business out there is price sensitive meaning clients will do it themselves or whoever is willing to do it at the cheapest price will get it.
  3. About 60% of the work out there will go to lawyers the potential client knows, likes and trusts.

Small firms should be actively seeking that 60%. Attracting those clients is based on building trust based relationships.

When I practiced law, my clients were my friends and my friends were my clients. Recently, Nancy and I were on vacation in Cabo San Lucas. There were five couples. Three were clients from my law practice and the fourth was the brother and his wife of one of those clients.


Tomorrow  Nancy and I will travel to Phoenix where I will begin coaching lawyers in a firm there.

On Saturday, we’ll eat dinner with a lawyer I coached several years ago, her husband and three kids. Every time we go to Phoenix we see them. On Sunday, we’ll eat dinner with, you guessed it, a former client and his wife.

If you are a small firm, are you investing in your firm’s future?  If you are interested, I know I can help develop your next generation of rainmakers.