Cordell Parvin Blog

Developing the Next Generation of Rainmakers

Law Firms: Is Your Second String Ready?

Posted in Client Development

I coached and mentored a young lawyer in my old firm who was the second chair for one of our most successful litigators. They had a great working relationship, but the clients all looked to him and not her.

When I asked if she had a written business plan with goals, I discovered she didn’t. I suspected her plan was to keep the senior lawyer for whom she worked happy.

I thought that was a good strategy, but she also needed some kind of plan just in case something happened to that lawyer. Thankfully, now 12 years later, nothing has happened to him and she still is his right hand person.

I thought about her again as I have been thinking about the Virginia Tech football season. In our first game against the national champion, Ohio State, we lost the heart and soul of our offense, our quarterback, Michael Brewer. More recently we lost for the season the heart and soul of our defense, cornerback, Kendall Fuller.

What started as a very hopeful season, now looks very challenging. Some even suggest, that the Hokies will not have a winning season for the first time in more than 20 years.

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What happens from here will all depend on how well the replacements of these two top players do. How well are they prepared? We’ll find out this Saturday in a game against Pittsburgh likely in the rain. Nancy and I will be in Blacksburg next Friday night October 9, for the nationally televised game against NC State.

I’ve written many times about business succession in law firms. Are your junior partners prepared to step in the shoes of your baby boomer rainmakers?


Career Success: Can You Take it to the Next Level Now?

Posted in Career Development

I like the ebook by Chris Guillebeau called “279 Days to Overnight Success.” I urge you to read the ebook.

While it is focused on writers, there is a great deal in it for lawyers.

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Chris describes his “World Domination Strategy” and lists six components in his strategy. The five listed below apply to lawyers.

  1. Create a Compelling Story and Be Remarkable
  2. Clearly Answer the “Reason Why”
  3. Prioritize Writing and Marketing Over Everything Else
  4. Be Bigger than I Really Am
  5. Build Long-Lasting Relationships

As lawyers your compelling story should focus on your clients. Think about what you are doing to help your clients achieve their goals or get over the hurdles that confront them.

If a potential client doesn’t know you, why should the client care about what you have to say? When you are writing or speaking always ask yourself, what is in this for the reader or audience.

Clearly you cannot prioritize writing and marketing over doing work for clients. But you can have a plan for your non-billable time and make time for writing and marketing. You can also find ways to hold yourself accountable.

I have always liked the phrase: “Think Big and Act Small.” For me thinking big means you can become more successful than you ever dreamed. Set goals that stretch you. Acting small means you are not on a crash diet. Make client development a lifestyle change.

Client development for lawyers is about relationships. Focus on the clients for whom you are working and making sure you are building long lasting relationships with them.

Law Firms: Some Keys to Successful Client Development Coaching

Posted in Client Development Coaching

Is your firm contemplating setting up a client development coaching program in 2016? I hope so.

I want to help you do it more successfully. When done well, a client development coaching program will be a tremendous return on investment and will increase revenue for many years to come.

When I was busy practicing law there came a point when I was so well known in my narrow transportation construction industry niche that I did not foresee generating new clients.

At that point I went to our firm leaders and offered to start a business development coaching program for our young partners. I told our firm leaders that I believed I could help younger lawyers develop their business.

When we began the firm coaching program, the young partners set a goal of doubling the group’s volume of business that we called “development credit” within two years.

Since the numbers were very low with some members of the group having no development credit, I thought we could easily exceed the goal. After one year the group had exceeded the goal and I had so much fun working with them that I left my law firm and starting working with lawyers full time.

Diverse team

What is the Client Development Coaching Program?

It is a partnership among your firm, your lawyers who are selected to be part of the Program, and the coach. Each has a contribution to make the program successful.

Who are the best candidates for coaching?

The lawyers in your firm who you think “need” coaching the least. The lawyers who strive each day to learn and become a more valuable lawyer.

What should the coach do?

First, make sure your coach doesn’t think “one size fits all.” It doesn’t. One of the most successful lawyers I coached became successful when she figured out she didn’t have to do it the way the senior lawyer in her group did it.

Each coach approaches the task differently, but I believe most will help with:

  1. Planning and goal setting.
  2. Encouraging and pushing each member and the group to attain group and individual goals.
  3. Role playing and experiential learning.
  4. Ideas for client development.
  5. Teaching and applying client development techniques.
  6. Presentation/communication/writing articles/blog posts skills coaching.
  7. Referral to sources on career and client development.
  8. Team coaching and team accountability.
  9. Create opportunities for teambuilding.
  10. Helping build self-confidence and helping overcome obstacles.
  11. Feedback and suggestions on efforts.
  12. Help with staying focused.
  13. Connections with other lawyers both in and outside the firm.
  14. Source to share ideas and brainstorm.
  15. Make firm leadership aware if any participant is not meeting his or her commitments.

What commitments should your lawyers make?

  1. Take responsibility for their own success and hold themselves accountable.
  2. Prepare for each coaching session and provide an agenda in advance to the coach.
  3. Notify the coach if any coaching sessions must be rescheduled.
  4. Prepare a business development plan with goals – for individual and group goals.
  5. Monitor client development activities and results and communicate them monthly to __________.
  6. Provide the coach with monthly/quarterly planned client development activities.
  7. Advise all members of the coaching group of successes and best practices.
  8. Keep an open mind to try new things.
  9. Engage wholeheartedly in group and individual agreed-upon coaching action items.
  10. Make efforts to find client opportunities for other members of the group and other members of the firm.
  11. Integrate client development into everyday habits.
  12. Commit to spend at least __ hours per month on client development and the coaching program.

What commitments should your firm make?

  1. Funding for the program.
  2. Firm leaders must demonstrate interest and involvement in the program by attending programs and providing encouragement and support.
  3. Work with the coach to schedule group and individual coaching sessions.
  4. Share organizational changes with the coach to help him have a context for the program.
  5. Provide ongoing feedback to the coach and program participants.
  6. Make professional development and marketing departments available for support.
  7. Help program participants to define and implement success measures.
  8. Provide opportunities for participants to share what they have learned with other members of the firm.

Think about 15 self-motivated junior partners and senior associate lawyers in your firm. What impact would they have on the firm if they were able to double their collective volume of business over a two-year period?

I have seen it happen many times and the energy surrounding their success is contagious.

Why not give it a try in 2016?


Client Development: Repurpose Your Articles and Presentations

Posted in Career Development, Client Development

If you are a lawyer I have coached, you could have written this blog post. You likely remember, we talked about repurposing the content you create.

As we talk about repurposing what you create, keep these four points in mind:

  1. More often than not, clients hire lawyers rather than law firms.
  2. Client development is about relationship building.
  3. You will be considered by a new client based on recommendations or based on something you have written or presented.
  4. The recommendations more often than not will come from weak ties.

Have you handled a complex matter recently? If so, how can you reuse materials you created to educate other potential clients, referral sources and weak ties?

Take something that was created in your billable work that your client would give you the ok to share.

Create an article or blog post. From the article or blog post create a presentation or a webinar. From the handout for the presentation, create a guide.  You get the idea.

I always did that. Let me share an example.

In the early 90s, the Federal Highway Administration received permission from Congress to “experiment” with Design-Build construction of complex bridges and highways.

I knew the experiment would lead to states wanting to construct more and more projects by design-build contracts. I also knew contractors were unprepared for this change.

I decided to do workshops across the country to educate contractors. About 100 contractors attended. I had taken many hours to prepare the detailed handout materials. I wanted to get the materials in the hands 100s of other contractors .

When it became possible, I had our marketing department put the materials on my website where they could be easily downloaded. Here is a link to my Design-Build Guide.


Next, I broke out sections of the guide and created several articles that were published. The net effect was I reached a much wider audience by repackaging the materials I had worked so hard to create. In some cases I put materials in front of potential clients I had never met.

First, I was hired by a state in New England to help draft their first design-build contact.

A couple of years after that, I was hired by the contractor to help put together a proposal to install a very complex electronic toll collection system in the Northeast.

Because of my design-build articles and presentations, I was hired by several contractors to handle disputes arising from design-build contracts. All of these opportunities and engagements came as a result of creating content and reusing it.

Think about how you can repurpose materials you create.

Your Career: What Really Matters is What You Do With It

Posted in Career Development

I practiced law a long time. I’ve been around thousands of lawyers in the US and Canada.

The lawyers I’ve met who feel most fulfilled in their careers are not necessarily the top rainmakers in their firms and not necessarily those lawyers who have achieved fame. They are the lawyers who feel fulfilled because they are serving clients and making some kind of meaningful contribution to something greater than themselves.

I thought about this all week and especially Saturday as I watched Pope Francis stopping his motorcade to bless a young boy suffering from cerebral palsy.

I thought about it again yesterday, when Patrick, our Prosper United Methodist Church Director of Youth Ministries delivered the message. He began with a Yogi Berra quote (very appropriate for this week):

It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility.

I think many lawyers would argue that you can’t be a successful lawyer and be humble or show humility. I understand, but I believe they may be misinterpreting what it means.

Maybe this will help. C.S. Lewis described humility this way:

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So, as a lawyer, humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking more about the clients you serve.

Later in his message, our youth director shared with us a specific example: Mr. Rogers.

He played a video clip from Fred Rogers Induction into the TV Hall of Fame. If you want some inspiration for the week, I invite you to watch just 6 minutes, which is in this YouTube clip. When you watch simply substitute lawyer for the TV professionals.

Fred Rogers begins his Hall of Fame induction speech by reminding us that “Fame” is just a four letter word, like many other four letter words.

What ultimately matters is what we do with it. Those of us in television (law) are chosen to be servants….We are chosen to meet the deeper needs of those who watch and listen (those who need our help.)

I believe the greatest joy I experienced practicing law was not when I landed a big client, not when I had a great year, not when I won a big case. Instead, it was those times when I helped someone who desperately needed my help and who I knew would never be able to pay me.

A couple of years ago, I wrote about one client named Rachel: Why is “Pro Bono” so fulfilling?

It’s been well over 20 years ago now, but I still remember the look on Rachel’s face, and the hug she gave me, when we successfully dealt with the issue she was facing.

I think Yogi was on to something. If you have a moment and wish to do so, please offer a comment and share a time when what you did as a lawyer made an impact on someone’s life.



To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink: One Lawyer’s Thoughts

Posted in Book Reviews, Client Development

If you are a regular reader, you likely know that I organize book groups for lawyers across North America where the group picks a book from a set of my recommendations that is relevant to professional, business and personal development.

The lawyers in the club exchange their thoughts on each chapter of the chosen book every second Friday with ideas on how they may implement what they have read.

One group recently finished Daniel Pink’s book: To Sell is Human. McCarthy Tetrault Toronto partner Leila Rafi volunteered to share her top takeaways from each chapter.

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Chapter 1: 

I found this quote to be right on target: “One of the most effective ways of moving others is to uncover challenges they may not now they have. (I can practically hear Cordell saying this.).”

Chapter 2:

The best way to make change is to motivate individuals to develop their best potential – this can only only happens when an individual is passionate about what’s at hand (recognizing that everyone is motivated differently). It’s important to connect individual goals to the larger picture in evaluating one’s potential.

Chapter 3:

I think that the changing role of sellers to having to clarify information as compared (pre-Internet age) as the sole source of information puts the onus on the seller (in our case, the lawyer) to know their product. Knowledge and passion are what distinguishes sellers nowadays. Typically those who know their product (industry and their clients’ businesses) and are passionate about the outcome, deliver the best results

Chapter 4:

I agree that getting into people’s heads is what fosters the ability to move people and in order to do that, one must be open to understanding other’s perspectives. As a lawyer who actively listens can accomplish this.

I have seen humility win the day at work – the most successful partners are those that lead the clients to the answer without telling them (or making them feel) that they have been led, allowing the client to ‘sit in the big chair’ of recognition.

Chapter 5:

I truly believe that emotions can be contagious as I have seen the effect positivity has on people, regardless of their initial state of being (being positive opens doors, and removes dread). Being authentic and genuine can only occur when you embrace the negative things that happen in your life and try to learn from them (instead of not self-aware and/or artificial).

I believe that one of the most effective traits of a negotiator is understanding what is important to the other side and being able to negotiate a deal whereby each side leaves the table satisfied (and doesn’t feel ripped off). This helps pave the road for a long-lasting relationship that is not fraught with resentment.

I believe in the power of asking and receiving. This includes asking management in one’s own law firm or asking a potential client for his/her business.

Chapter 6: 

I found the reference to ‘clarity’ eye opening (no pun intended) – the capacity to help others see their situations in fresh and more revealing ways leading to the identification of  problems they didn’t realize they had

I found it interesting that most people who create breakthroughs in art, science or life tend to be problem finders and take more time with their work than others.

I liked reading about the VP of sales at the Italian company that makes Mentos mints and how he thinks of his best salespeople as those that think of their jobs not so much as selling candy but as selling insights about the confectionary business. We aren’t selling legal services and much as selling our ability to help clients achieve their goals in specific industry areas.

I agree with the author’s thought about it being important to “step out of our bubble” to better understand what we value in it. Traveling outside of North America (or at the very least, off Wall Street or Bay Street) is a good way to do that.


Chapter 7: 

I learned about three key abilities in this chapter: 1) to pitch, 2) to improvise and 3) to serve. A successful pitch does is not necessarily to move others to immediately adopt your idea but rather, is one that engages the audience for the purposes of collaboration – Be Compelling!

I believe the following three items Pink describes are crucial questions the pitch delivery person must answer before a successful pitch can be delivered:

  • What do you want the audience to know;
  • What do you want the audience to feel; and,
  • What do you want the audience to do?

Most lawyers fail on the last question one as they don’t follow-up after a pitch or provide the audience with links to additional information. Also, many lawyers make (potential) clients feel ‘less smart’ as opposed to feeling engaged or brighter as a result of the pitch.


Chapter 8:

Was surprised to learn that little to no effort is made in the educational process (including law school) to teach people how to listen more effectively. It is a client development skill that could differentiate one talented lawyer from another.

Believe the following statement is is true for a law firm: Making your partner look good, does not make you look worse – iIt actually makes you look better.

Word of mouth marketing has increased 10 fold by social media. Are law firms, and lawyers taking advantage of this? Generally, I think the answer across North American firms, is no.


Chapter 9:

I learned that sales and non-sales selling are ultimately about service and improving others’ lives, and in turn, improving the world. So I want to remember to make my selling activities it ‘personal and purposeful.’

I think that many times, people just need a bit of encouragement. An encouraged individual feels relevant and as though what they think actually matters in achieving the larger goal – this also helps strengthen the relationship between team members.

I liked the quote: “Really good salespeople want to solve problems and serve customers. They want to be part of something larger than themselves.” I think that is true of great lawyers I have known. They take joy in helping their clients and their law firm succeed.


Your Thoughts:

Have you read the book? If so please send a comment if you have anything you want to add.

Client Development: Self Sabotage

Posted in Client Development

Why are you afraid of attempting to attract new clients?

If you are like me, it is because of the pain you feel when you don’t win the client. Sometimes it is just easier to not try rather than to try and lose.

Seth Godin talks about the “Lizard Brain” (Click for a blog)in his book Linchpin. Here he talks about it. He says:

It’s safer to fail small.


I have been trying to place what happened to me that created my “Lizard Brain.” It could have been falling off my bicycle when I was learning, but I don’t think so. It could have been missing a fast break lay up in a close game in high school, but again I don’t think so.

I believe I was cruising along really well, feeling confident, when all of a sudden I was rejected by one of the most beautiful and cool girls I met while in high school.

We lived in Lombard, a Chicago suburb and I went to Glenbard East High School. She was the daughter of my mother’s Longwood college (Farmville, VA) classmate and lived in Glen Ellyn, where she attended Glenbard West High School.

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Photo of Glen Ellyn

It seems our mothers thought it would be really neat for us to go on a blind date. I thought the idea was awful, and looking back I bet she thought the same. But, our mothers insisted.

I remember driving to her house fully expecting to meet someone I would immediately not like. Then I expected we would make the date a short one, make a report to our mothers and go on our merry way.

I was 17, at the time, but I still remember standing near the stairs in her house and watching this beautiful, sophisticated high school junior walk down the stairs. If someone had taken a photo of me, I am sure I looked like I had never seen a pretty girl before.

I can’t remember ever being nervous while dating in high school, but that night I was. I had not expected the date to matter, but all of a sudden it did. I REALLY wanted to make a good first impression.

You know how this story ends, right? After that first date, I called and tried to get a second one. It took some time, but eventually I figured out she wasn’t interested.

Well, that’s my story. I’ve confessed. I think that one rejection created my “Lizard Brain,” that made me fear being turned down.

Want to learn more about your Lizard Brain? Do a search on Google for quotes from Linchpin, or just read the book. I like this quote:

The secret to being wrong isn’t to avoid being wrong! The secret is being willing to be wrong. The secret is realizing that wrong isn’t fatal.

What’s your story? When did your “Lizard Brain” stop you from taking chances?


How the “Super Lawyers” Keep Getting Better

Posted in Career Development, Client Development

Every year there are various lists of “Super Lawyers.” Here is the link to the TOP 50: 2014 WOMEN TEXAS SUPER LAWYERS – TOP LIST.


In my career I have been blessed to work with some really outstanding lawyers. So, I have ideas you can implement to keep getting better and take it to the next level.

Here is a list of what outstanding lawyers do to keep getting better:

  1. They are never content with their achievements and are always striving to get better.
  2. They focus on what they do not know and are willing to reinvent themselves if the situation requires it.
  3. They regularly do things that others do not enjoy doing.
  4. They are focused on the long term.
  5. They persist until they succeed.
  6. They are intrinsically motivated and do not get caught up in comparing themselves to others.
  7. They strive to become comfortable outside their comfort zone.
  8. They are comfortable under pressure.
  9. They have set and achieved hundreds of goals and have confidence they will achieve more.
  10. They focus on the process that produce the end results rather than the end results themselves.
  11. They know their health is essential to their success and make time to stay healthy.
  12. They are focused on their priorities (especially family) and do the most important things each and every day without getting distracted.
  13. They genuinely enjoy their clients and their work.
  14. They anticipate their clients’ and potential clients’ legal problems, create a solution and call them.
  15. They work at becoming both an outstanding lawyer and trusted advisor.
  16. They think optimistically and plan their non-billable time purposely.
  17. They have healthy paranoia, which causes them to focus more intently on adding value for their clients.
  18. They view everyone they meet as a potential client.
  19. They are always playing to win.
  20. They share credit and build their team as a result.
  21. They look for other work the firm can do that their clients will value.
  22. They help their associates succeed in their own right and are constantly rebuilding their team.
  23. They are willing to fail and they rebound from disappointments or setbacks.
  24. They are on the cutting edge of change, including technology changes.
  25. They are always seeking new ideas and feedback from coaches and mentors.

If you have more time and want to better understand the strengths of top women lawyers, take a look at Patricia Snyder‘s University of Pennsylvania article: Super Women Lawyers: A Study of Character Strengths.

Career Satisfaction: Move from “Is That All There Is” to a “Rocky Mountain High”

Posted in Career Development

It is so easy to get discouraged. At one time or another you may get discouraged and question whether you want to be a lawyer. I questioned my career path as early as my first year in law school when I was both bored and intimidated.

Nine years after I finished law school, in 1980, I questioned whether I wanted to ever litigate another case. In that year, I lost a jury case. I was so devastated by the loss, that I wondered if I was cut out for a lawyer’s life.

I learned from that experience that even though losing was very painful, it also caused me to think and reflect about many things. At that point, I really wasn’t having fun and I was growing restless.

Several years later, when I was really on a roll, the general counsel of my largest client decided he did not want me doing work for the company. The irony was that this occurred shortly after I had put together a presentation on a matter that resulted in a settlement proposal about five times more than the company management expected.

I had become a hero to company management who started calling me directly. The general counsel got upset and was able to convince the CEO that he was the person who should select outside counsel.

Since he was upset about management calling me, the general counsel purposely excluded me from getting work. Needless to say I was extremely discouraged.

When I look back on those years, I am always reminded of the Peggy Lee song: “Is That All There Is?”


The lyrics include the following:
“Is that all there is, is that all there is? If that’s all there is, my friends, then let’s keep dancing, Let’s break out the booze and have a ball, If that’s all there is.”

There have been times in my career when I wondered if that’s all there was…

How did I move out of my Peggy Lee discouragement? I actually did two things:

  1. I started by keeping written track of work I enjoyed and which clients I liked best.
  2. I developed a plan based on my own definition of success and my goals.

I discovered through this process that I really liked serving contractors and started focusing my client development efforts on obtaining more work from them.

So, my major definite purpose was to become the “go to lawyer” for highway/civil contractors. I wrote a law review article to build my reputation. In 1981 I made my first presentation to a group of contractors at their annual convention.

That led to many other speaking opportunities. Because of the speaking I did, in 1984 I was asked to write a monthly column for contractors in a trade publication. When I gave up my law practice to coach lawyers, I finally passed my column on to a former colleague.

I also changed how I was looking at things. I had previously focused on what I did as a lawyer and my success. I realized that for me the real pleasure was focusing on making a difference for clients.

As a result, I redefined my career success around understanding and providing what construction contractor clients needed in a more effective way than my competitors. I discovered contractor clients were less interested in what I did than they were in whether I was providing what they needed.

Very few of my contractor clients wanted to litigate their disputes. They wanted to resolve them.

So, I focused on negotiation and alternative dispute resolution. Later I focused on preparing requests for additional compensation in a manner that would most likely result in a positive resolution.

As a result of all of those changes I had made in my life and career, those haunting words: “Is that all there is?” were no longer in my mind. Instead, I was on a “Colorado Rocky Mountain High.”

As John Denver aptly sung: “He was born in the summer of his twenty-seventh year.” When I listen to “Colorado Rocky Mountain High,” I can’t help but feel upbeat about my future.

Law Firms: Don’t Cut Costs, Increase Revenue Instead

Posted in Client Development, Law Firm Leadership

In 2015, after seven years of the “new normal” for law firms is your firm still reducing expenses to maintain “profits per partner?”

I remember the law firm recession in 2001. The leaders of my old firm spent hours in meetings focusing on where we could cut costs. Then, they took bold action:

  • They cut our client development/ marketing budget by more than half,
  • They cut our development and training budget, and
  • They laid off over 30 lawyers and more of our staff.

I disagreed with that approach then, and I don’t think it makes sense now. The simple truth is that there is only a small percentage of costs that can be cut, and unfortunately the very areas (marketing and training/development) that are most likely to be cut are those that can help increase revenue.

Suppose your firm focused on how to increase revenue rather than how to cut costs. I believe that would be a more successful exercise.

Planning Strategy

How would you do it? You might use a couple of the exercises I use with my coaching groups.

Gather your Top 10, 20 or 25 business producers for a summit. These are the lawyers in your firm with a proven track record.

Divide them into three groups. Have the first group brainstorm ideas that will increase revenue during the last three months of this year and in 2016.

Have the second group brainstorm ideas that will increase revenue from 2016-2018.

Have the third group brainstorm ideas that will increase revenue long term (2019 and beyond). I think you will be surprised by some of the creative ideas your best producers generate.

Then, develop 25 actions to take to increase revenue.Those might include:

  • Identify the firm’s top 50 clients and have the lawyer responsible for the client, visit them.
  • Have all the firm’s partners prepare a business plan with goals and a minimum of 240 non-billable hours devoted to client development.
  • Create industry teams.
  • Have a group study what is going on in the world and how that is creating and will create new legal work.

What you come up with is less important than the brainstorming that develops the ideas.