Cordell Parvin Blog

Developing the Next Generation of Rainmakers

Goals: Here’s a tip

Posted in Career Development, Client Development

Are you setting goals for your career? I hope so.

How can you make your goals most meaningful and effective? I have written about it here before. Great Lawyers Don’t Just Settle for Realistic Goals. Lawyers who I have met who say they want their goals to be realistic, rarely stretch themselves.

But, on the other hand goals should not be impossible. I read a Seth Godin blog recently Do-able. He writes:

Aiming too high is just as fearful a tactic as aiming too low. Before you promise to change the world, it makes sense to do the hard work of changing your neighborhood.

Do what you say, then do it again, even better.

These thoughts are supported by Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson in her book: Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals. I recommend the book to lawyers I coach.

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Near the beginning Dr. Halvorson states:

Think back to the achievements in your own life—the ones you are most proud of. I’ll bet you needed to work hard, persist despite difficulty, and stay focused, when it would have been much easier for you to just relax and not bother.

How does this apply to practicing law and client development? Work on becoming valuable to one client at a time. When you land one, make sure and serve that client well and go after the next one.

If you have a couple of more minutes, here is another blog post you will find valuable: 7 Critical Keys to Goal Setting Success. When I was practicing law, I had not read this blog, but I actually did the 7 critical keys.

Client Development: Is your blog “a purple cow?”

Posted in Blogging, Client Development

In March 2010, I wrote: Make Your Blog Unique to Get Potential Clients to Read it. I wonder how many additional law blogs have been created in the last 5 plus years.

When I first started blogging, I read Seth Godin’s book Purple Cow, New Edition: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable.

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Take a moment and read what Seth Godin wrote in a 2003 Fast Company Magazine article: In Praise of the Purple Cow.

To borrow a quote from the book:

Your blog is either “a purple cow” or it is not. It is either “remarkable” or it is invisible.

I imagine that the first lawyer’s blog was remarkable. After all it was the first and it was in unchartered terrritory. Now there are thousands of blogs by lawyers. It is far more challenging to have a blog that is remarkable.

If you are blogging:

  • What makes your blog remarkable?
  • What makes you and your co-bloggers different or unique?
  • What sets your blog apart for the readers you and your firm want to discover your expertise?

If you cannot answer those questions, you are blogging for the sake of blogging and your blog is likely invisible.

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.

What’s Up with Me? 5 Things I’ve Discovered that Will Help You with Your Career

Posted in Client Development, Client Development Coaching

If you don’t have much time and want to just get the 5 things, scroll quickly to the bottom. This is a long one.

I was recently asked why I am back posting blogs Monday-Friday. In a sentence it is because my coaching business has essentially dried up and unless a firm, or two asks me to go office to office to help with client development in their firm 5 days or more a month, I will be closing it down soon.

I hate the word retirement. I have always said I would never retire. If I was still practicing construction law, I know business would be good and that would be true.

But, I gave that up because I loved being around young lawyers striving to become the kind of lawyer and person they wanted to be. I could give you many examples, but let me share just one from this week.

On Facebook I saw a post about a Vancouver Business interview of an awesome Vancouver, BC lawyer I had the chance to coach. Life Lessons: Miranda Lam, McCarthy Tetrault.

If you have a moment, read the article. Miranda has some great advice for young lawyers and I am confident you will understand what I am missing.

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Here is one great thought

In law, a lot of value is placed on past experience and judgment. But when it comes to leading teams, everyone – even the newest law school grads – has something to contribute, Lam said.

So, what am I doing with my time? I spend my days working on my novel, learning to be a better writer, and I play golf once or twice a week with the golfer in our family.


During my life, whatever I tried, I went “all-in.” I worked, and worked to get better, and never thought:

I just don’t have the talent to be very good at this.

But, I confess some things are getting more challenging now.

When I was young growing up in a Chicago suburb, I shot baskets in the winter outside when there was snow on the ground making it impossible to dribble the basketball. I became my favorite players Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. (I learned to shoot a jump shot watching Jerry West.)

In the summer, I painted a strike zone on my next door neighbor’s chicken house and pitched a rubber baseball. I became my favorite pitchers like Don Drysdale and Billy Pierce. (I can still show you a pretty good imitation of Drysdale on the mound, and his sweeping sidearm fastball.)

As a lawyer I studied and researched trial techniques, construction and design and other subjects that I thought would make myself better. I created cross-examinations based on examples I had seen. I practiced final arguments in front of a mirror and later in front of a Sony Betamax camera.

Nancy and Jill roll their eyes when they see me buy and read every book that had been written on whatever I want to learn. (Any of you who received a box or boxes of my books can attest to that.)

When I started writing fiction, I approached it the same way (and they rolled their eyes again). I took courses at a local college. I took on-line courses. I read and continue to read books on “how to.”

Nineteen Months ago I began writing a novel about a young ambitious women.  I was  a “panser.” I just winged it.  It was natural to me because, I could have easily been a “panser” in my career. See: Museful Monday- A Reformed Panser?- by Stephanie Haefner to get the idea.

A few weeks ago, I finally finished a draft. I finally got to the end. It was the 7th version on Scrivener. For my friends who have read previous versions, the 7th is better. I was excited, but still not satisfied. Maybe some of you would have read the book if I priced it right, or you could get it for free on Amazon Prime. But,…

Recently, I listened to the “Creative Penn”  podcast interview of Shawn Coyne. I learned that he created something called the Story Grid. After many years, he wrote a book about it: The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know.

I read Shawn’s book on my Kindle app and highlighted more than I had for any other book. I read every post on his website. I read my highlights. I began reading Silence of the Lambs, the book he uses as an example of how to create a story grid.

Then I went back and began the 8th version of my novel. I better understood my genre. I knew what conventions are required for that genre and what the readers’ expectations will be.

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All of a sudden my writing is flowing and I know I am telling a better and more interesting story. I am confident readers who never practiced law will like my character, want her to succeed and feel her pain along the way.

So, what does all of this have to do with you? I think there are some takeaways from my creative writing experience. Here are a few.

  1. You can be working hard at client development with no success, when all of a sudden something clicks.
  2. There is always some luck involved in finding what will work for you.
  3. Learn from other lawyers. See what they have done and figure out what might work for you.
  4. Be insatiable to become a better lawyer each and every day.
  5. When it comes to your career don’t be a “pantser.”

Ok, those are my thoughts and an update on what’s going on with me. Back to my writing the 8th and hopefully final first draft of my novel.

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.