Cordell Parvin Blog

Developing the Next Generation of Rainmakers

Client Development: Case Studies for Discussion

Posted in Client Development, Client Development Coaching

Have you and your colleagues ever brainstormed how to handle a particular client development situation?

When I am coaching lawyers, we frequently create scenarios and then discuss how best to handle a situation. Here’s a sample of case studies we have discussed.


A major manufacturer is planning to build an industrial plant in your area. You foresee there is a great opportunity for legal work in your practice.

  1. What would you do to go after that work?
  2. How would you learn more about the company?
  3. How would you use this information?


You have identified potential target clients. You have identified the potential client contact in each company. You would really like the opportunity to get in front of the client contacts and persuade them you and the firm can provide them what they need.

  1. What would you do?


The general counsel of potential client has called you. He has heard of you by a referral and read articles you have written. He wants to meet you at his office two days from now.

  1. Describe what you plan to do before the meeting? After the meeting?
  2. What do you think caused him to call you, rather than your competitors?
  3. What do you believe will be the most important factors in his decision of which lawyer to hire?
  4. Suppose at the end of the meeting he says: “Let me think about it” or “Let me talk to the President” How would you respond?


You learn that a classmate, with whom you have not spoken in over two years has just gone in-house with ABC company.

  1. How would you reconnect with the classmate?
  2. How can you reconnect in a way that doesn’t cause him/her to believe you only connected because of his/her new position?


You are invited to lunch by a college classmate. You learn she and three others have started their own business. You are not a corporate lawyer and the business is not in your field either. She reports her colleagues have an idea of who they want to hire to do the legal work. You would like for the firm to get the business.

  1. Describe what you would ask during the lunch.
  2. How would you end the lunch meeting?
  3. How would you follow up after the lunch


You have gotten your first assignment from a new client.

  1. What do you plan to do to make this a successful assignment and to build your relationship with the general counsel?
  2. How can you build trust with the new client?
  3. How can you build rapport with the new client representative?
  4. How would you make sure there are no surprises in your monthly billing?



The former chairman of a large company once said: “Some of the outside professionals I have used focus on adding value the whole time they are working with us; the others are in there aggressively trying to sell the next project, which is just irritating.”

  1. What is the difference?
  2. Describe some ways you can add value without appearing to be selling the next project?


You have completed your first assignment. The client has promptly paid the bill. It’s been a couple of months and you haven’t heard anything.

  1. What would you do now?


Your have completed your first assignment and sent out the last bill. It’s been over 90 days and the bill has not been paid.

  1. What would you do now?
  2. If the client complained about the amount of the last bill, what would you do?



Major Question: Why should a client pick you?

Posted in Client Development

Why Should I Recommend You?

I want you to pretend for the moment that I can refer business to you. I want you to provide me with the information I need to recommend you to a potential client.

In 25 words or less tell me about you, your practice, what makes you unique and why a client should hire you.

How to Stand Out in Any Crowd

A few years ago I read Selling Power article: How to Stand Out in Any Crowd. Seth Godin talks about marketing, change and work. I was fascinated by the article and applied some of Godin’s points myself.

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Godin talks about three kinds of people. I will put it in the context of clients:

  1. Clients who don’t need the services you or your firm offer.
  2. Clients who need the services you or your firm offer, but are using another lawyer or firm.
  3. Clients who are ignoring you.

Godin says you can’t market directly to the second and third group. “Instead, have them come to you.” How do you suppose you can get them to come to you? Godin suggests you have to create something “remarkable.”

I tell young lawyers that I owe a great deal of my success to one sales principle. I frequently created something remarkable, was first to market and I gave it away.

I urge you to implement some of the ideas and let me know how they work for you. I also urge you to subscribe to Seth Godin’s blog and Selling Power magazine. I believe both will help you become more valuable and connect with current and potential clients.


Your Writing: Do these novel writing suggestions apply?

Posted in Client Development

As you know, I’ve been working on writing a novel for two years.

Having spent a lifetime reading non-fiction and writing briefs and other legal writing, I was not surprised when I discovered how very little I knew about writing fiction.

I want to give you an example and ask that you consider whether it applies to your legal writing.

I have read a couple of times a short book by Jill Elizabeth Nelson titled: Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View. Chapter 3 is Never Say He Thought/She Thought.

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The short book is worth reading, but if you want to get the points from Chapter 3, check out the blog: Never Say He Thought/She Thought.

As you will see, it’s more than never say he thought/she thought. In addition, there’s felt, knew, wondered, wished, realized, speculated, decided.

According to Nelson:

These phrases are death to Deep POV, because they create narrative distance. Readers are now at arm’s length from the character, not in the POVC’s head where they belong

I went through my 8th draft of my story and was surprised how many times I had used those words.

Do you think using those phrases weaken your legal arguments?

Client Development: Building Your Brand

Posted in Blogging, Client Development

You have heard me talk about building your brand.

What does that mean?

In 2016, it’s not what you know, it’s not who you know. It’s who knows what you know. The goal of client development is to increase the number of influencers who know what you know and recommend you to potential clients.

In my career, I wanted to be known as the go-to lawyer for highway and bridge contractors. Every major new client/matter came to me because an influencer recommended me. I worked hard to become known by those influencers.

I coached Shawn Tuma several years ago and continue to work with him and share ideas. Recently he sent me a video from a presentation he recently gave that captured what I have been suggesting in my coaching.

Take 5 minutes and watch.

Career and Client Development: Are You Taking Advantage of Your Lunch Time?

Posted in Career Development, Client Development

I confess. I never really took advantage of my lunch time.

At one point I went to work out at lunch. I hated the idea because it took about double the time compared to working out in the early morning.

My clients were for the most part out of town. So, I very rarely took a client or even a contact to lunch.

I remember when I was a young lawyer in Roanoke, Virginia. My mentor told me I “needed” to be a member of the Shenandoah Club and eat lunch at the long table with the Roanoke Valley movers and shakers.

I joined (as told) and I sat at the long table (as told). I really didn’t enjoy it very much.

The Shenandoah Club was a nice place with a great staff, but for the most part the lunch served at the time was more food and more expensive than I cared to eat.

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I was just a blue plate cafe kind of guy having grown up that way. There were a few of those in Roanoke in that day. Plus, I discovered the presidents of the local banks didn’t have much they wanted to share with a young lawyer.

So, how did I spend my lunch? I did the opposite of what I would recommend to young lawyers. I dined with my best friends from the office and we rarely went to a restaurant where we would run into movers and shakers.

Since I have let you know I rarely used my lunch time to any advantage, why am I writing about it?

Turns out I found a blog titled: Things Successful People Do on Lunch Breaks. If you want to use your lunch break wisely, check it out.

Client Development: Why Healthy Paranoia Helps

Posted in Client Development, Client Development Coaching

Greetings from Chicago. Having grown up in Lombard, IL, I always enjoy coming back to visit (even in February).

Enough of my fond memories, let’s get to healthy paranoia.

I remember in 1983 when my friend and partner and I started our own firm. It was at that moment I realized how important it was for me to have healthy paranoia.

I was always just a little worried I would not generate enough revenue to feed my family. So, even when I was incredibly busy I was planting seeds.

If I was busy practicing law right now, unless there was a big trial scheduled I would have no idea what I would be working on six months from now. The thought of showing up for work one day with nothing to do would still scare me enough to continue planting those seeds.

I have coached many lawyers who have shared my healthy paranoia. Let me tell you the story of one of those lawyers. She actually served as the role model for my book Rising Star.

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A few years ago I received an email from a young partner I was coaching. She was experiencing the same thing I had felt. She had projects in the works, but her billable hours were lower than normal and that was a source of great stress.

My friend had created a really great business plan, and she was continuing to meet with industry contacts, governmental, consultants as well as a number of clients and potential clients. While her reputation was continuing to grow, it just was not translating into immediate work.

Part of her concern and stress was because she had such a great the previous year, and she feared the firm’s leaders would be disappointed with her. While she felt the leadership would think “long term,” the “associate” in her still worried about meeting and exceeding hourly targets.

My friend ended her email:

We are either moving so fast we fear we might careen off the highway, or we are not moving fast enough and we worry that the 18-wheeler behind us is going to run us over.

I could relate. I had been there. In the past I worried about having enough work for me and my practice group members. I also experienced feeling I was either moving too fast or not fast enough. Her highway analogy was very appropriate.

I told my friend she had what I call “healthy paranoia.” I believe most super successful people have it.

They are successful in part because they feel the strong need inside to be successful and they worry when things are not going just the way they want them. Because of their worry, they are the first to take action to improve their situation.

What do I mean? I always felt I could become a better lawyer, a more valuable counselor, and a better communicator. I worked at it every day because I loved the feeling I got from making progress.

Great athletes work at it every day. If you have a moment take a look at this New Yorker article from 2014:

Better All the Time How the “performance revolution” came to athletics—and beyond.

When I read the article I was reminded of the managing partner of a large US law firm who said to me:

Client Development Coaching Cordell? What good is it? Lawyers either have it or they don’t.


That was the way we started the coaching program in his firm. Needless to say he was the firm’s biggest skeptic.

In the article the writer describes a change in how athletes view getting better.

Today, in sports, what you are is what you make yourself into. Innate athletic ability matters, but it’s taken to be the base from which you have to ascend.

As a lawyer seeking to attract, retain and expand relationships with clients, innate legal and communication ability matters, but it is the base from which your hard work striving to get better helps you ascend.

I have coached lawyers now for 11 years and mentored and coached lawyers in my own firm before that. Many of you who read this blog are one of those lawyers. The joy I had working with you was seeing that healthy paranoia and your great efforts to get better.

2016 Tips from My In-House Lawyer Friend

Posted in Client Development, Client Service

As many of you know, a law firm partner I coached went in-house in 2015 and shared with me ideas he wished he had thought of when he was with his law firm.

Last year I posted:

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

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

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

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Well, my friend is back again with some new ideas for 2016. All three of the posts above and the one today are focused on improving client service.

I invite any of you who are interested to take a look at the four posts, pick out the top ideas from each and share with me how you might implement the ideas in 2016.


Here are some additional client relationship/client development tips:

If you get an RFP from me, look at value added (i.e. no or minimal cost to me) items you can bundle with your RFP response. This can help make your proposal stand out from the crowd. Plus, you may have thought of something that I haven’t thought of which makes real sense. When I am evaluating a proposal, I’m looking at total value to my company.

One way for me to get to know your firm better is to include me on your e-mail / webinar / seminar lists. I might not be able to attend your seminar, but someone in my organization likely will. This is true even if the seminar doesn’t directly impact the area I support.

Understand that in our view, there is no single law firm that can do all of our work. Law firms frequently do not see themselves in the way that in-house counsel see them. For example, if you see that we have been sued and you are tempted to send it to me in the hopes that you get the work, ask if you truly have expertise in the area. Do you have additional knowledge that would make your hiring make sense? Do you know the Plaintiff’s counsel? Do you have (or have you had) a similar case recently? Ultimately, I have to be prepared to defend my choice of counsel.

When I was outside counsel, I used to ask my clients, “What keeps you up at night?” While on the surface that seems like a reasonable question, it’s too easy to respond “nothing” or “not much.” For me, better questions to ask me are: “What kind of projects are you working on?” “Do you have anything you are working on that we could give you a quick – no charge – review?” “Do you have any recurring issues that we could help you brainstorm ?” “When was the last time you had your severance agreements reviewed?” Look for an opportunity to showcase your talents. You may have to do as unpaid, but I might be able to pay you for it.

One way to assist me – and help you in getting your name before others in my company – is to look where we operate. If we operate in Florida, think about whether you have a desk guide on operating in Florida. Do you have a 50-state guide – or multi-state guide – on a particular issue relevant to me or those who I support?

If you are going to have someone speak at a presentation at my company, make sure they are a good speaker. Nothing hurts you like having a poor speaker who reads their slides, seems nervous, or uncomfortable. Believe me, we talk later about what we saw – good and bad.

I especially appreciated the ideas suggested instead of asking what is keeping you up at night. I always felt that was a trite marketing question that came from a book on sales. My friends questions are far more effective.

Client Development: What if I don’t like marketing?

Posted in Career Development, Client Development

I am frequently asked that question.

What if I don’t like marketing?

My response is usually to say:

Tell me what you consider to be marketing.

You see, I didn’t like marketing either, if marketing was:

  1. Going to networking events
  2. Participating in Rotary Club (I was voluntold I had to to that)
  3. Being active in the Bar Association
  4. Taking relative strangers to lunch, or worse to dinner (when I far preferred to be home with my family)
  5. Going to pro sports games with people I barely knew
  6. Playing golf with people I barely knew

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So, to the extent possible I did as little of those things as possible. What marketing did I do?

  1. I wrote articles
  2. I gave presentations
  3. I did in-house workshops for clients
  4. I spent quality time including vacations with clients who were also friends

So, what’s my point? Many lawyers who tell me they do not like marketing are really saying they don’t like the marketing they have been told to do.

What do you enjoy doing that just may bring in business as well.

Blogging and Social Media: Proof it works

Posted in Blogging, Social Media

I hear it all the time.

No one has ever hired be from reading a blog post.

I wrote a column for Roads and Bridges Magazine for 25 years. I’m not sure anyone ever said:

Read your column on… and I want to hire you.

Yesterday, Shawn Tuma and I gave a presentation on Blogging and Social Media to the Collin County Bar Association.

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I started coaching Shawn over five years ago, after he met me first on Twitter. I invite you to fast forward in Prezi to his part of the presentation.

Why? Because Shawn actually has had new clients find him because of his blogging and social media. Shawn has actually written for some top publications after the editors found his blog through social media.

While, I don’t think blogging is for everyone or every type of law practice, Shawn is living proof that at least for the Computer Fraud Act and Data Privacy, blogging and social media can be amazing tools.

You may know Shawn did a three part series on how to blog and use social media in an hour. Here is the Link to Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Long Range (5 Years) Career Planning Made Simple

Posted in Career Development, Client Development

Want a fairly concise idea on how to set goals you will actually achieve? Here goes.

When I teach or coach lawyers, I like to play the Curly video from City Slickers. It’s the One Thing video.

Figuring out your “one thing” is the beginning point of long range planning. But, that is not enough.

You won’t stick with it unless you also identify the benefits of achieving that “one thing.” I call it the answer to the “Why” question. Why is achieving it important to you.

I suspect every reader knows that as an associate handling litigation for the partners in my small law firm, I decided I wanted to focus on and represent construction contractors building highways, bridges, airports and rail.

I clearly understood the benefit to me.

  • First, I am far more comfortable knowing a lot about a little rather than a little about a lot.
  • Second, at the time, the highway construction program across the US was growing leaps and bounds. So, I would be working with a growing industry.
  • Third, I knew of no construction lawyers who were focused that narrowly on transportation construction. So, I could become known as the “go-to” lawyer in that narrow field.
  • Finally, I loved being out on construction projects and working with construction contractors on those projects.

What is the one thing you want to achieve or become in five years? More importantly, what will be the benefit to you of achieving that one thing?