Cordell Parvin Blog

Developing the Next Generation of Rainmakers

Client Development: Become Entrepreneurial

Posted in Book Reviews, Career Development, Client Development

A lawyer I am coaching recently shared with me her idea for a new niche practice. Her novel idea made me think of a blog I wrote in 2013: Who will become the “hot sauce” industry go-to lawyer?

I was impressed because her idea was one I had never even considered. I told her she was thinking like an entrepreneur.

What did I mean?


I absolutely enjoy reading the Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge web page. Several years ago I read an interview with Professor Joseph B. Lassiter III titled: Turning High Potential into Real Reward.

In the interview Professor Lassiter is asked what the keys for success are for a new venture moving from product development to marketing and selling the product. The professor responded:

In these high-performance ventures, entrepreneurs leading the ventures look ahead and say, ‘Two or three years from now, this is exactly the customer and exactly the product, and this is exactly why they’re going to be compelled to buy.”

He described what this means for MBA students (substitute lawyers).

What that means is that most MBA students should go to work in an area they think is going to be hot—and they’ve got to anticipate where it’s going to be hot—and then build up a deep knowledge of who the good engineers are, who the interesting customers are, what the right channels are, and who the essential business partners are.

I believe client development begins in much the same way. As a lawyer you should ask yourself:

  1. What do my clients need now?
  2. What will my clients need in the future?
  3. What do I have to offer them?
  4. Why should they want to hire me rather than other lawyers?

I did that long ago. I decided I wanted to represent transportation (highways, bridges, airports and rail) construction clients. At the time I had experience handling government contract claims.

Over time I gained experience in other areas. I thought they should hire me rather than other lawyers because I was so specialized that I understood their industry and the business and legal challenges they faced better than lawyers less specialized.

Being the best in the world is seriously underrated.

I love this quote from Seth Godin at the beginning of his book “The Dip,”

Ask yourself the four questions above and write down your answers. I hope you will become more focused in your client development efforts as a result.

P. S. I am still looking for the lawyer who decides to create a niche practice in the Hot Sauce Industry.

Mentoring: Can you get your partners to do it?

Posted in Career Development

Mentoring was a hot lawyer development topic prior to the 2008 recession. I was asked several times to help firms with mentoring programs. Now, I rarely see anything written about it.

Mentoring Visual


Yesterday I received this email from Natalie, with questions about mentoring:

Cordell, I recently thought about your article where a partner mentored you early in your career and how this partner met with you early in the morning to teach you about the practice of law. What advice do you offer to today’s young attorneys about forging similar relationships? How can a young attorney turn a grumpy old partner, who is only concerned about his billable hours, into a mentor?

Those are great questions. My first thought when reading them was:

Gosh, I hope none of the associates who worked for me thought of me as a grumpy old partner.

My second thought was that the older the partner, the more likely he or she will take time to listen and provide advice. The greater challenge is getting a grumpy young partner to take the time away from billable hours.

I am not sure a young attorney can ever turn a grumpy partner, who is only concerned about billable hours, into a mentor, but here are some thoughts I have.

  1. Try to find the right partner. People who are good mentors tend to be well known in the firm. They typically do not have their door closed all the time. So, look for open doors.
  2. Find the right time to spend time with the mentor. As explained above, I met with my first mentor (we never used that term) the first thing in the morning over coffee. I learned early on that he spent some time early getting ready for his day and he was open to meeting with me then. If I had walked into his office at 10:00 AM, he would have been very busy.
  3. The way to get a grumpy old partner to be a mentor is to ask good questions. Experienced lawyers generally like to tell younger lawyers about their experiences. I believe a young lawyer can learn about the firm and about the practical side of practicing law from those conversations. When I met with the partner who took me under his wing, I frequently began the discussion with: “Have you ever…?”

Blog: Is Yours SEO and Reader Friendly?

Posted in Blogging, Client Development

Is your blog search engine and reader friendly?

I ask because I was looking at a well known firm’s blog posts. I thought the headlines were extraordinarily too long for search engines and social media, the font was too small and the paragraphs too long.



How long should your headline be? For an idea, read: What Really Is The Best Headline Length?

  • Twitter: 71–100 characters
  • Facebook: 40 characters
  • Google+: 60 characters
  • LinkedIn: 80–120 characters

Check also: The Anatomy of a Perfect Blog Post. There you will see:

In terms of SEO, the headline (or title tag) will need to be around 55 characters or fewer in order to fit the entire title on a search results page and avoided being abbreviated with an ellipse.


What size should your font be? Some say:

  • 16, or even 18 is the new 12.

My blog font size has been 14 for many years. Recently I changed it to Helvetica 15. What do you think?

White Space

That post also discusses white space. The blog posts I read on the well known firm’s blog, included lengthly, dense paragraphs that gave me a headache when I tried to read them.

It’s not just about font size – though it’s important. But white space is just as important. Your content is like a fine wine – it needs room to breathe.


How about line width? Check out: 5 Simple Font Changes to Boost Readers, Comments, and Shares on Your Blog:

Here’s another little-known rule that a lot of blogs break. In order for your eye to easily follow one line to the next, you want no more than 75 characters in each line. This is called the line measure. Beyond a measure of 75 characters, it’s hard to track the end of one line to the beginning of the next without getting lost.

So, go back and look at your blog.

  1. Is your headline SEO friendly?
  2. Is your font easy to read on line for old guys like me?
  3. Are your paragraphs short?
  4. Do you include a visual to break up text?
  5. Is the line measure short enough to be easy to follow?

Short Marketing Tip: Earn Trust by Focusing

Posted in Career Development, Client Development

A few years ago, Seth Godin posted a blog titled: “The Law of the Little Shovel.” It is short and well worth reading. He begins by saying:

If you want to dig a big hole, you need to stay in one place.

That means it is important to focus on one group, or one event to earn trust.

What are the main points for lawyers?

  1. If you are marketing to everyone, you are marketing to no one. Identify your target market and become visible and credible to that market.
  2. Focus attention on existing clients before going after new ones.

Key to Your Success: Get Comfortable Outside Your Comfort Zone

Posted in Career Development

Racecar driver Mario Andretti reportedly once said: “If everything feels under control you’re just not going fast enough.”

I love the quote. Why is it that when we were children we were willing to take risks and we are not willing to do so today? It is fear, mostly the fear of rejection. I have been there and the best lawyers I know have also (although not all will admit it).

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To be truly successful as lawyers and rainmakers, you have to get comfortable outside your comfort zone. You have to have courage and believe in yourself.

Over the years, the lawyers I have coached who have gained the most from the coaching experience are those who did things they were uncomfortable doing-like public speaking-before they met me.

Are you wondering what you can do to get comfortable outside your comfort zone?  Read: How to Grow Outside Your Comfort Zone by Ali Hale. She focuses on having readers answer these three questions and gives a step-by-step approach:

  1. Where are you too comfortable?
  2. What makes you feel nervous?
  3. How can you jump outside your comfort zone?

Ok, if you have read Ali Hale’s blog post you now have an approach that works. So what do you plan to do in the last quarter of 2015 that is outside your comfort zone?

P.S. Are you a lawyer I coached? If so, I invite you to do a guest post on my blog. Send me your draft on some aspect of client or career development, leadership, mentoring, motivation or another topic.

Your Career: What Can You Learn from a Special Education Teacher?

Posted in Career Development, Client Development

Our daughter Jill starts a new school year teaching today.

Years ago when Jill was in college we were taking a father-daughter trip to a Virginia Tech football game. While on the plane, Jill said:

Dad, there is something I have to tell you.

With fear of what it might be, (I don’t think any dad wants to hear something his child has to tell him). I asked:

What’s that Jill?

She said:

Dad, I don’t want to be a lawyer. I want to teach.

I was quite relieved and I told Jill I admired her for following her passion.

Several years later when she and I were preparing for a high school youth group program at our church, Jill showed me her journal from high school which included her life goals at the time. One of her primary goals was to teach special education.

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 1.51.42 PMOn Sunday, we met Jill and her husband for brunch after church. She described her experience at the “back to school” night last week. She enthusiastically told us about children she had taught who are now in high school and made a special trip back to the elementary school to see her and thank her.

Jill has been teaching now for 15 years. She first taught middle school, so those first students are now in their late 20s. Some of them regularly contact her.

What can you learn from Jill? First, follow your passion. She has a clear idea of what she wants to do. She is very focused on serving the needs of her kids.

Second, the real joy of practicing law comes when we know what we did made a difference for our clients and they appreciate us for it.

Third, help someone in need who will never be able to pay you. If you’ve done that, you know the feeling you get from it.

While it may not be easy for you, if you can find the same things in your law practice, you will have the same kind of satisfaction.

Client Development: You’ve Done Your Best and No Results

Posted in Client Development

I’ve coached well over 1000 lawyers since I quit practicing law. Over that time I have witnessed several lawyers starting a blog with great enthusiasm and fanfare, only to stop regularly posting after just a few months.

Many have gotten discouraged when they have worked really hard and done all that we talked about and have not attracted one new client.

Believe me I understand. I’ve been there. I’m there again right now.

When I decided to create a niche practice representing highway contractors, I wrote a law review article and distributed it and got no results. I gave presentations and got no results.

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It took well over two years before, a highway contractor called and hired me. Shortly thereafter I gave one more presentation and everything took off.

In 2015, I think it may even take more time for your potential clients to see your value. But, don’t get discouraged. Keep plugging away. Keep putting out the blog posts, keep writing the articles. Keep speaking at industry meetings.

Seth Godin posted a blog recently: After you’ve done your best work. It’s short and worth reading. At the end he says:

It compounds over time. Best work followed by best work followed by more best work is far more useful and generous than merely doing your best work once and insisting we understand you.

If you are a regular reader, you know my coaching business has never been slower than right now. I could write a few blog posts and insist that law firms and lawyers understand me.

I chose to take Seth Godin’s advice and keep putting out my best work. You should also.

Client Development: One Tip to Attract Clients

Posted in Client Development

You have heard the expression:

All other things being equal, people (clients) want to do business with people (lawyers), they know, like and trust.

Likeability: What is it? What are the elements?

In his book “The Likeability Factor,” Tim Sanders includes a chapter on “The Four Elements of Likeability.” Those elements are:

• Friendliness
• Relevance
• Empathy
• Realness (authenticity)

When I coach young lawyers I share with them that I believe that about 10% of legal work is “bet the company.” Clients will hire the best-known senior “go to” lawyer to handle that work.

At the other end, I believe that about 20% to 30% of legal work is commodity work. Clients will hire whoever is willing to do that work for the lowest price. If you are in a firm of any size, you will not be able to compete on price and frankly you would not want to compete on price.

Finally, I believe that at least 60% of legal work is neither bet the company or commodity work. Clients will hire lawyers they like and trust and with whom they feel some connection.

Business man woman SS 9316663

How can you position yourself to have the best opportunity to be hired by clients for that work? First, you have to be a capable lawyer. But, that will not be enough.

You need to also be likeable with the elements Tim Sanders describes. You need to be friendly. Tim Sanders uses a quote from Bert Drecker, a communication expert:

If you want to get your message across . . .., You must first persuade the listeners… that you represent warmth, comfort and safety.

Next, you must be relevant. As a lawyer that means understanding your client’s industry and company and understanding your client contact’s needs.

Next, you need to be empathetic. You must be able to see things from your client’s point of view. To do that you need to be able to ask relevant questions and then listen, listen, listen.

Finally, you need to be real and authentic.

If you don’t have time to read the entire book, I think you will find this summary helpful.

Client Development: Really Important Tips on Writing Articles

Posted in Client Development

As you likely know, I wrote a column for Roads and Bridges magazine for 25 years. I have told the story here many times.

I was speaking at an industry event and when I walked off the stage I was approached by a man who said he was the editor of Roads and Bridges magazine and he asked if he could interview me.

In possibly the fastest and most important thinking I ever did, I responded:

Instead of interviewing me once, why don’t you have me write a monthly column for your magazine.

Thankfully he agreed and within a month or so I published my first Law: The Contractor’s Side column. I have no idea how long they will still be available on line, but I can search my name on the Roads and Bridges website and still find some of my columns.

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Every quarter the magazine did a survey of the most read articles/columns and every quarter my Law: The Contractor’s Side was the most read. I think the contractors were interested in legal issues that might impact their business.

If you ever get a chance, write a column or article for an industry publication. I think you will find it to be the best return for the least investment of time. But, there are some really important tips when you write.

  1. Do not try to overtly sell your services in the article. If readers think you are trying to market yourself or your firm, they will turn you off. Instead try to educate readers.
  2. Don’t write in lawyer speak. Write for businessmen and women.
  3. Don’t make the article too long. Business readers don’t want to know the history of Swiss Watch Making. They just want to know the time. My columns were around 675 words all on one page in two columns.
  4. Demonstrate your industry knowledge. Only a few readers will be able to judge your legal skills, but almost all readers will be able to judge your industry knowledge.
  5. Pick a title for the article that someone in the industry doing a Google search would find.
  6. If you are writing about litigation, your business readers are more interested in how to avoid the litigation.
  7. If you write about a case, explain what might have been done differently, either how the dispute could have been avoided, or how the side you care about might have done better.
  8. If the article will both be in hard print and on-line make sure the on-line version is easy to read on a computer, tablet or even a phone.
  9. Put a link to the article on LinkedIn, Twitter, Google Plus and other social media sites.
  10. If you write a column like I did, consider printing a yearly review with your 12 columns.

Client Development: Are You Collecting Best Practices ?

Posted in Client Development

When I was a young lawyer, I learned about client relationship building by shadowing more senior lawyers. If one of the partners in my firm was going out to meet with a client, an associate would be invited to tag along.

Before I left, I participated in a client service panel at my old firm. Five of us were asked to share our experiences with associates. I learned a great deal from my partners and suggested that we find a way to capture the best practices.

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Most, if not all, the partners in your firm have experience in developing and strengthening relationships with clients. How are you capturing those best practices?

Consider establishing categories of “best practices” and encourage your lawyers to contribute examples. Also consider including a breakout session at your next retreat to identify and brainstorm “best practices” in client service and client relations.

What are your “best practices”? Your comments and questions are welcomed.