Cordell Parvin Blog

Developing the Next Generation of Rainmakers

Entrepreneurs: Thoughts from an Entrepreneurial Law Firm Leader

Posted in Client Development

I spent my career in entrepreneurial law firms. I don’t believe I would have lasted in a firm with so-called institutional clients.

In 2015, I had the pleasure of  working with Simmons Olsen Law Firm located in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. The firm has a senior group of lawyers and is working to develop their next generation of lawyers. It was a great experience for me because even the most senior lawyers in the firm were open to new ideas.

I asked Steve Olsen to share with you what his firm is doing.

Cordell Parvin advises law firms, including ours to critically assess:

  • What they are doing,
  • Why they are doing it,
  • How they are doing it,
  • How they are preparing for the future, and
  • How they are reacting to a changing market?

Our firm had discussed those issues for years.  It was not until we had the chance to work with Cordell in late 2015, that we really understood how to analyze these matters.  It is one thing to strategically plan, it is another to work that plan.


Cordell persuaded our attorneys to create a strategic plan for the firm and individual business plans that were consistent with the firm’s strategic plan. He also helped us go from a shot gun approach to a laser focused approach.

In 2016, we started our firm strategic planning.  In addition, all of our lawyers created their own business plans.

Once that was done, it was up to us to work our plans and hold each other accountable.  We’re a full year into the process and our senior mentors are encouraging and supporting our junior lawyers. Additionally, our attorneys have all created their business 2017 plans expanding and stretching on what each lawyer accomplished last year.

My take-aways from our work with Cordell, include:

  1. We better understand the demographics of our firm.
  2. We understand our efficiencies in providing excellent service to clients.
  3. We have plans in place to help us expand.
  4. We have a strategy that will emphasize client retention.
  5. We are more aware of the importance of maximizing our profiles and presence as it relates to marketing.

Does your entrepreneurial firm have a plan? Do your lawyers? If you have plans are you working the plans or just keeping them in desk drawers.


What Are You Working On?

Posted in Career Development

What are you working on:

  1. That you are passionate about?
  2. That will make you a better lawyer?
  3. That will enable you to understand your clients business?
  4. That will improve your law firm?
  5. That will make a difference in your community?
  6. That will make you a better father/mother and husband/wife?
  7. That will make you a better friend?
  8. That will  make you more healthy?
  9. That is for your long term success?
  10. That is just for the fun of doing it?

Client Development: Stop Selling and Start Helping

Posted in Career Development, Client Development

I hate to be sold anything and I know clients do not want to be sold. Many marketing consultants treat client development and marketing as if it were selling a product or service.

Perhaps that approach is based on their experiences outside of the legal field. When lawyers hear that approach they cringe each thinking about the cold calls they have received from boiler room stockbrokers.

Your clients are like you. They cringe at that thought of being sold anything by a lawyer. They know when they are about to receive a sales pitch from a lawyer and they resent it (and that lawyer.)

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If you are like me, cold calls are very difficult. How can you avoid it? Give something away without any expectation of getting anything in return. 

I did that throughout my career. Back several years ago the federal regulations on a topic of particular interest to the highway construction industry changed. Before the ink was dry on the revised regulations, I had written a summary in simple non-legal language with bullet points on what to do and what not to do. I sent my summary to as many potential clients as possible, as well as contractor associations who published my summary and suggestions in their newsletters.

You might say that was a cold call, but I looked at it as simply trying to help them understand something that was vague and confusing.  I did not include a firm brochure or any other sales materials. All I did was put my contact information on the cover sheet of the memorandum underneath the title. 

What is changing in your client’s world that you can identify, educate and expect nothing in return?



Lawyers: Good News and Bad News about Client Development

Posted in Client Development

A few years ago I spoke at a firm’s associate retreat on client development. I began by saying I had good news and bad news and I asked which they wanted to hear first.

The associates picked the bad news. The bad news is that client development has never been more complicated. In 2017, it is at least as important to figure out what not to do as it is to figure out what to do.

The good news is that a very small percentage of lawyers will actually do the activities that will enable them to build their client base. And second, blogging and social media has made it easier for clients to find you.

Some lawyers will never start developing business and others may start and then quit when they hit a dip or simply get bogged down doing billable work.

How can you increase your chances of doing the activities that will ultimately develop business? Here is my suggestion:

If you know what you want (not need) to do and have a good answer to the why question (why it is important to you) you will far more likely have the commitment and discipline to do it, even when you hit a dip.

There is one other really important thing that will make you far more likely to do something. Many studies have shown that people are far more likely to do something if they in advance identify specifically what they intend to do and WHEN they intend to do it. Columbia professor, Heidi Grant Halvorson calls that “If, Then Planning.”

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So, anything you decide you want to do, you will far more likely do it if you also identify when you will do it rather than leaving that ambiguous. If you have about 25 minutes, watch Heidi Grant Halvorson’s Ted Talk: The Incredible Benefits of a “Get Better” Mindset


Practicing Law: The Will to Prepare to Win

Posted in Book Reviews, Career Development, Client Development

I recently received a copy of an email from a lawyer I am coaching to the others in her coaching group. She said:

I am not sure how many of you are reading Cordell’s book, but I just read a great tip in there that I thought that I would share with you.  It is not one that I had heard before.

Determine who 5 leading lawyers are in your field.  Print out their biographies.  Study their biographies to determine what has made them successful (e.g. speaking engagements, leadership roles, pro bono, memberships).  Emulate their success.

A few years ago I read a quote attributed to Bobby Knight and also to Paul (Bear) Bryant. It was:

“Many have the will to win, but few have the will to prepare to win.”

I believe  successful lawyers are not successful by accident.

Most I know prepare to win by figuring out what is important to them, setting career and life priorities, developing a plan with goals and taking action to achieve them.

I also know now that attracting new clients and building a lasting relationship with them is not an accident. The successful lawyers I know prepare to win with clients and potential clients by taking time to understand their needs and making sure they effectively address those needs.

In your career, “the will to prepare to win” will be way more important than the “will to win.”

So, I chose “Prepare to Win: A Lawyer’s Guide to Rainmaking, Career Success and Life Fulfillment” as the title for my  book. If you click, you’ll see you can order it for your Kindle for only $2.99.

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This book is not about winning in court or on appeal. Instead, it is a workbook designed to help you define your own success and then achieve it.

I hope you will find it a helpful tool as you focus on your career, client development, and living the kind of life that is important to you. I hope you find some valuable nuggets in the book that will help you think through what your career and life priorities are and how you can achieve them.

Here are the Chapter titles:

Chapter One:  How Do Rainmakers Do It?

Chapter Two:  Living and Practicing Law with a Purpose: You Have to Answer the “Why” Question

Chapter Three:  Your Vision of Success: How Do Rainmakers Do It?

Chapter Four:  Core Values: How Do You Want to Live?

Chapter Five:  The Importance of Role Models and Mentors

Chapter Six:  Setting Yearly Goals and Developing Your Career Plan

Chapter Seven:  A Call to Action: Executing Your Plan

Chapter Eight:  Mind Games: Getting and Staying “In the Zone”

Chapter Nine:  Building Your Profile: The Power of Writing and Speaking

Chapter Ten:  Community Service and Networking

Chapter Eleven:  Connecting with Contacts

Chapter Twelve:  Top Ten Client Development Mistakes

Chapter Thirteen:  Improving Client Service

Chapter Fourteen:  From Niches to Riches

Chapter Fifteen:  Important Extras: The Value of Extraordinary Client Service

Chapter Sixteen:  The Business Case for Better Balance

Chapter Seventeen:  Building the Next Generation of Rainmakers

If you get a chance to read Prepare to Win, let me know what ideas you took away and implemented.

Still More Additional Tips from Inside Counsel

Posted in Uncategorized

If you have been a long time reader, you likely remember that a lawyer I coached a few years ago has gone in-house. Starting in 2015, he has shared tips for me to pass on to those of you still practicing in law firms.

You might recall reading:

2016 Tips from My In-House Lawyer Friend

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

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

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

Business PeopleCordell, I’ve got some new ones. These focus on communication which seems to be lacking by firms. It is so frustrating.

  1. It shouldn’t take longer than a day to respond to my e-mail or that of someone at my company. If you can’t check your e-mails each day (such as you being on vacation), have someone do that for you.
  2.  A congratulatory e-mail to me when we announce a new product or have a significant development tells me you are paying attention to my company.
  3. When I send you an email inquiry asking for assistance, acknowledge the email so that I am aware you received it. If you can’t respond substantively immediately (which is fine), let me know when you can get to it so I can assess if I need to call someone else.
  4. If you get a call or email from someone other than me and I am your usual contact, you should inquire if I am aware of the inquiry. If one the departments I support reaches out to you, I would like you to tell me before you get started.

Lawyers: What is the Most Important Word in Law?

Posted in Career Development, Client Development

Greetings from Phoenix, where I will be starting a coaching program with a new group of firm lawyers.

I frequently invite lawyers I coach to write guest posts for my blog. I find I learn something from each guest post.

Carlos Kelly is a Henderson Franklin shareholder in the firm’s Fort Myers office. Just a couple of weeks ago, his coaching group finished a 13 months coaching program.

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During our last one-on-one coaching session, Carlos showed me a book he was reading. I thought the book was interesting and I asked him to share he takeaways with you.

According to The American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition, “system” is a noun with ten definitions. Definition No. 9 says “[a] method; procedure” and it’s this definition that, in my view, makes “system” the most important word in the law.

Why? For starters, the justice system is the method, the procedure that we, as a society, use to resolve legal disputes, whether civil, criminal, administrative, or otherwise.

The concept of a system came to mind recently when I read a book entitled The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian. If you haven’t read this book, you should, especially if you’re a college football fan, like me (Go Noles)—you’ll definitely learn things about the game as it’s been played over the last few years at the highest levels.

To me, the most fascinating chapters discussed how the most successful athletic directors, coaches, players, and commentators maximized their chances to achieve peak performance: use of a system. What was the system? Identify a goal, come up with a plan to achieve the goal, execute the plan, measure, repeat. Alabama’s head football coach, Nick Saban, is the prime example discussed.

The best of the best try to make the remarkable the routine. The more something is routine, the more likely the outcome will be successful.

And what happens when you make the remarkable the routine, apart from increasing the likelihood of successful outcomes? You build your brand—another lesson from “The System.” In today’s hyper-saturated, hyper-competitive world—no matter your line of work—building your brand is a must.

Beyond achieving peak performance and building brand recognition, a “take-away” for my practice area is that when a young lawyer comes to work with me, after he or she settles in, I ask:  “Do you have a system? What is it?” If the answer is no, I sit down with the young lawyer and we work on creating one.

A number of years ago, I wrote a “how to” article on filing an eminent domain lawsuit, which The Florida Bar Journal published. I still use elements of that system today to make my condemnation lawsuit filings routine.

So, like Carlos, I might ask you: Do you have a system for your client development efforts? What is it?

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.