Greetings from Phoenix, where unless you live here, it’s hard to imagine how hot it is outside. I’m coaching lawyers here and one topic we have been discussing is how each lawyer can become a “go to” lawyer in his or her field.

Do you remember a blog I posted: Lawyers: Being the Best in the World is Seriously Underrated ?

 The title is based on  Seth Godin’s quote: “Being the best in the world is seriously under rated.” The world in this case is being seen by your target market as being the best at something they need.

My first target market was commercial businesses, then I narrowed it to the construction industry. A few years later I further narrowed my target market to highway, heavy civil construction contractors.

At the time, that was a fast growing industry due to Interstate construction throughout the United States. Narrowing my focus was one of the most important things I ever did.

You might be thinking that focusing on an industry may not work for you. If you are, I urge you to reconsider, because the more narrow your focus, the more likely you can be “best in that world.”

Forbes recently published: The 10 Fastest-Growing Industries in The US. Take a look. Reading it almost made me return to my law practice and put my guides pictured below on social media.

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Which industries are growing fast, but are not over crowded with lawyers seeking to serve those businesses? If you find one with those characteristics and one you would be passionate about representing, you can become the “go to lawyer.”

This Sunday is Father’s Day. Each year I think about what my father taught me long ago.

It was Saturday, December 20, 1980. Nancy, Jill and I were getting ready to visit my family for Christmas. We got a call that day. My dad had died of a heart attack. I still miss him.

I thought of my dad when I did a program for associates based on my book Prepare to Win.


During the program, I asked for the characteristics of effective goals.  One associate said: “They need to be realistic.” I didn’t say it at the time, but the lawyers I know who set realistic goals do so because they are easy to achieve. Super stars set goals that challenge them, stretch them and inspire them. My dad taught me to set those kind of goals.

My father was a creative artist and used his talent in the sign business. When I was five years old he left one of the largest sign businesses in Chicago and started his own business with a young partner named Bob Clauss. The Parvin-Clauss Sign Company is still in business today.

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How can what I learned from my dad help you become extraordinary? My dad was an entrepreneur and a risk taker. He started the Parvin-Clauss Sign Company without any assurance of the volume of business he and his partner would generate, but with the confidence he could do it.

When he retired from the business, he decided to create wood carvings and make jewelry. Once again he had no assurance anyone would buy what he was making.

I believe more people fail who are content and unwilling to take risks than those who dream big dreams. It must have taken courage to start a business with a family. It takes courage to be responsible for your own success, the well being of your family and to dare to try something others may think is unrealistic.

I have been an entrepreneur and risk taker during my career. I have been in small law firms, started a law firm, became a partner in a large firm and left that firm when I was at the top of my game to help other lawyers enjoy the fun and success I have experienced.

Do you have confidence in your ability to generate clients and business? Are you willing to take risks to try to be extraordinary, or will you settle for just doing good work for someone else’s clients? Even in a large firm, you can become a “go to lawyer” if you dream big dreams and work every day to achieve them.

I leave you with this quote from Dr. Robert Schuller:

What would you attempt to do if you knew you would not fail?



Would you agree that little girls are encouraged to dream big dreams and be ambitious, but when women grow up, at least some of them,  hate to even talking about ambition?

When I was a busy lawyer, I didn’t really think much about how men and women view ambition differently. But, since I’ve been coaching,  I’ve discovered men and women speak differently when it comes to ambition.

A Child's Joy

As you likely know, I’m writing a novel. Actually I’ve finished it, and now my sister is proofreading and I’m editing the story.

My character, now named Gabriela,  is incredibly  ambitious. On the one hand, her ambition drives her to succeed. On the other hand, her ambition is her achilles heel.

I’ve done some research as part of my writing. I found a Harvard Business Review article: Do Women Lack Ambition? I urge each of you to read it. I’ll share this point here.

In nearly all of the childhood ambitions, two undisguised elements were joined together. One was mastery of a special skill: writing, dancing, acting, diplomacy. The other was recognition: attention from an appreciative audience.

These elements are true not just for children, but also adults, and true for both men and women. So, read on further in the article and you’ll find a section titled: What’s Dashing Women’s Dreams?

Perhaps my novel will give you some of the answer.

My character is a young Mexican American lawyer who grew up in The Rio Grande Valley, known simply around these parts as “The Valley.” While growing up, her father,  a lawyer, encourages her to believe she can accomplish anything if she is passionate about it and willing to make the effort each and every day.

Young Woman2

After clerking for a Federal Court Judge in Dallas, and practicing law with her father in The Valley, my character is recruited by one of the big Dallas law firms, not known for its diversity. Partners in the firm refer to Gabriela as a “twofer” since the firm gets diversity statistical credit for having both a woman lawyer and an hispanic lawyer in one lawyer.

During orientation, the managing partner mistakenly refers to Gabriela as a secretary. Guess he didn’t get the memo stating the firm had hired its first Hispanic female lawyer. During her first deposition, the lawyer on the other side asks Gabriela if she is the interpreter.

Hopefully, you see why Gabriela  is ambitious. In her firm interview, when asked what she wants to accomplish, she replies, “I want to be on the cover of Texas Monthly, after being named the top litigator in Texas.” The partners laugh and snicker at her audacity.

I don’t want to give away my whole story. For now, let’s just say, while her male colleagues are praised for bing ambitious and setting stretch goals, Gabriela is chastised for doing the same. Some of the partners say Gabriela  is egotistical, full of herself, a narcissist, and those are just the characterizations I can write on a PG rated blog.

Some of her female colleagues, who also have worked very hard, shun the attention and give credit to others for their success, whether deserved or not. They don’t want to make waves.

Some of you have read or heard this story before. After coaching a group of women lawyers, I came home and told Nancy that group was my niche coaching group. Nancy gave me the jaundice eye look, but finally asked why. I replied,

Because women lawyers underestimate their ability to become rainmakers, while some of their male counterparts grossly overestimate their ability. When I coach motivated women, if I can just persuade them to believe and see themselves as rainmakers, they’ll achieve it.

I’ve coached many incredible women lawyers over the last twelve plus years. Many of those lawyers have become top rainmakers or top leaders in their firm. Many of you reading this post are those lawyers.

To those of you I have coached, both men and women, I can’t express how much I have appreciated getting to know you, and hopefully help you strive for more than you dreamed possible.

P.S. If this subject interests you, here are a couple additional articles you can read:


The 7 Most Effective Ways For Women To Own Their Ambition






Some of you who regularly read my Blog do not know that I am a Hokie, a Virginia Tech alum. 

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With Daughter Jill before the Independence Bowl 2015. We stayed home because of Tornadoes

This Sunday is Easter, but it also is the 10 year anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre. At the time, news reporters asked how such a tragedy could take place on a college campus, how such a tragedy could take place at Virginia Tech, how such a tragedy could take place in a small town, Blacksburg, Virginia.

At the time, many Virginia Tech grads felt numb, even if we had never known any of the people who were needlessly shot and killed or shot and injured that Monday. There was a lot of soul searching. If you want to learn more about those people, take a look at the We Remember Virginia Tech Website

As I thought about the terrible tragedy that occurred that Monday, I thought of Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankel‘s book “Man’s Search for Meaning.” In the book Frankel tells readers that we can find meaning by creating a work or doing a deed, by experiencing something or encountering someone, or by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.

Frankel asserts that this unavoidable suffering “can bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement.”

It was with those thoughts that I watched the convocation in Cassell Coliseum that followed on  Tuesday. It was a very somber and quiet group. One newspaper reported that when a minister asked for a moment of silence, there was already silence.

Then, after all others had spoken, including the President of Virginia Tech, the Governor of Virginia, and President Bush, University Distinguished Professor Nikki Giovanni came to the podium and presented a poem “We are Virginia Tech” that transformed the crowd and anyone who saw her deliver it, including me. If you haven’t heard it, I invite you to watch and listen.

Dr. Giovanni, was well known long before her moving and inspiring message: We are Virginia Tech. She is a living legend. I only wish I could have studied writing in one of her classes.

If you have a few minutes, you might enjoy her Muhammad Ali interview:

If you have more time and interest, watch her presentation at the Point Loma Writer’s Symposium by the Sea 2016. Her story of meeting Rosa Parks and her poem about Rosa Parks are inspiring.


As lawyers, I hope we do not have to wait for unavoidable suffering to find meaning in our careers and our lives. Can’t we find meaning by creating a work or doing a deed, or by experiencing something or encountering someone? I have learned that while I may be inspired by the words of someone like Dr. Giovanni, my real inspiration and meaning in my life must come from within. So must yours.

In January, many firms announced promotions to partner.

Did you just make partner in your firm? Do you know someone who just made partner in your firm or another firm?

Suppose you made partner or one of your friends made partner, now what?

Dating back to when I was practicing law in my old firm, I have given several presentations to new partners at their orientation and to senior associates who are being considered for partnership.

Justice Blackmun once said:

A Wedding is an Event; a Marriage is an Achievement.

Making partner is an Event; Becoming a successful partner is an Achievement.

There are a variety of important steps to become a successful partner. Clearly, one of the most important is to develop a team that will enable you to provide the highest quality work and extraordinary service for your firm’s clients. Developing the team and retaining associates has always been a challenge.

As you may know, I wrote a book: It Takes a Team. (The Kindle version is available for $2.99.)

I recently told someone that the book is about every ______ partner I have ever met who treats associates and staff like ____. You may have worked for lawyers like David.

David has a fixed mindset. He is bright, hard working and has developed a big ego. He acts as if he has never made a mistake. He is sure that successful partners are born not made. His superior attitude is insufferable because he projects that everyone else is out of step. Behind their backs, he describes lawyers others think are very talented, as dumb or lazy.

It Takes a Team

On your path to partnership, you surely received mentoring and you personally responded to these challenges yourself.

As a first step, I suggest that you revisit what you learned from your mentors and how you focused on establishing and achieving your goals. Your ability to lead and supervise younger lawyers will pay a large role in your success as a partner.

I was coaching a group of lawyers for the last time recently. At the end of our group meeting, the group’s leader asked for a good summary of what we had covered. I shared this blog post with the group and thought you might find it valuable.

I read a recent survey report of large (big law) firms. There was one survey question that really got my attention:

How important is business development to success in a law firm?

Here was the answer:

 A lawyer’s ability to generate business is the single most determinative factor in whether a lawyer will become an equity partner.

That certainly was no surprise. In fact, I thought that was kind of a Duh question and it certainly does not just apply to lawyers in large law firms.

I know how to develop business. I did it and many lawyers I have coached or who worked for me are doing it. If you want to learn, I want to help you. I urge you to learn how to:

  1. Motivate yourself to learn and attract clients
  2. Figure out and adopt attributes of successful lawyers/people that will work best for you
  3. Define what success means to you by figuring out what you want to achieve in your career and life
  4. Set stretch goals
  5. Prepare a detailed action plan to achieve goals
  6. Determine what learning will provide you with the greatest return on your time
  7. Determine what kind of client development efforts will best work for you
  8. Make time for client development when you are busy with billable work and have a family
  9. Get organized for a more productive day
  10. Hold yourself accountable for client development activities
  11. Best get outside your comfort zone to take your practice up a notch
  12. Be patient and persist when you are not seeing results
  13. Raise your visibility and credibility-Building Profile
  14. What organizations will be best for you
  15. Write an article, or blog post: picking the topic, how long, title, opening, closing
  16. Give a presentation: picking the topic, getting the opportunity, homework before the presentation, PowerPoint, opening, format, speaking skills, handout
  17. Use social media: blogging for business, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter,
  18. Build relationships with referral sources so they recommend you
  19. Network at events
  20. Determine what are your best sources of business
  21. Focus on Contacts (Client relationship management)
  22. Make pitches to clients who consider hiring you
  23. Make great first Impressions
  24. Clients Select: importance of website bio, relationships, recommendations, strength of weak ties, building trust and rapport, developing questions, listening skills and how to ask for business
  25. Provide extraordinary client service and cross-sell: what clients want, how to deliver it, ways to add value, cross-selling planning
  26. Develop your the team: leadership, team building, motivating younger lawyers, supervision and feedback

What else can I do to help you?


How are dentists like lawyers? Read on, you’ll get my take on the question.

As you are reading this blog, I will be sitting in the chair at my favorite periodontist getting my second surgical implant done, and hoping I won’t need the pain pills he prescribed that I declined.

A few years ago, a young lawyer I was coaching at the time and I met with Tyler, an associate who had worked for me. When Tyler’s wife became a permanent federal appeals court clerk in Kansas City, Tyler left our firm and went in house with a large construction company.

During the conversation the associate asked Tyler a very interesting question:

What do you know now that you wished you had known when you were practicing law with Cordell?

Tyler’s answer took me by surprise. He replied:

Even when you do a really great job handling a litigation matter, your in-house counsel will still not be happy. It is just the nature of litigation.

I’ve spent more time in my life than I would have ever wanted seated in dental chairs.

It all started with braces, then getting two of my teeth loosened beyond repair in a football practice, without pads or helmets. Our fullback went the wrong way and the crown of his head found my mouth.

That, of course, made them look dark when the braces came off and that’s when the serious dental work started. I like to tell my friends that I could own at least one Mercedes Benz or BMW car for the amount of money I’ve paid to dentists.

I believe dentists, thankfully not mine, can give you a greater understanding of Tyler’s point. No one get’s up in the morning and says:

Oh boy, I get to visit my dentist this morning.

I know I didn’t say that this morning. Even when they do a great job with your teeth, you hate paying them.

Some dentists, again thankfully not mine, want feedback. I saw a question one time, with ratings from 1-10.

How happy are you with your smile and the whiteness of your teeth?

I don’t know about you, but if I had responded with anything other than “damn happy,” I’d probably not return to that dentist.



  • Does your dental hygienist tell you that you are not flossing enough, or you aren’t doing it right?
  • Does your dentist discuss your “treatment plan” without ever telling you the cost of the treatment plan?
  • Instead, when you are taken aback by the extent of your “treatment plan” are you then turned over to a “treatment coordinator?” Yes, she’s the one who shields the dentist from telling you the bad news that your treatment plan will cost more than you ever dreamed possible.

If you need substantial treatment, do you feel like you are giving up control of your mouth and pocketbook to professionals you may not really know? (I’ve had work done by a dentist who was not very good. It cost even more to fix his mistakes.)

Aren’t there about 1oo other ways you’d rather be spending the money?

The truth is your clients feel the same way, only for you it is likely worse. You are like the dental hygienist telling your client they didn’t do something right. You are like the dentist telling your client how you can fix the problem. Then, you are like the “treatment coordinator” telling the client it will cost an arm and a leg and be money they would rather spend on at least 1oo other things.

No one gets up in the morning and says:

Oh boy, I get to see my lawyer today.”

Tyler was right. Your clients hate the cost, hate the time it takes, hate the uncertainty and fear they may not have the best lawyer for the job.

One final thought: I recommend that you never tell a client: “If only you had not…” 

My great grandmother died in 1978, when she was 106. She was a Civil War widow who received a check for $70 a month. She frequently marveled that she had lived to see us go from horses and buggies to rockets putting a man on the moon.Parvin Grandma 2

I can’t top that. But, I have lived to see  innocence first lost in 1963. That was the year I realized we weren’t living in a Father Knows Best and Ozzie and Harriet world any longer.

Prior to 1963, I was only interested in sports, music and girls. I wanted to be a major league baseball player, or a rock star depending on the day of the week. In those days being one or the other meant you would be idolized by girls and that was just possibly my major motivation.

I grew up in Lombard, Illinois, a Chicago suburb in Du Page County, a heavily republican county. In Lombard, our only diversity  consisted of families who were either Catholic or Protestant. Not one black family lived in Lombard.

I started playing baseball, basketball and football in earnest when I was 9 years old. Our neighborhood included enough boys to field two baseball teams in the summer and the baseball park where we played was only one block away. In the summer our mothers made a bag lunch for us and we rode our bikes to the park where we played baseball from sun up to dinner.

Some summer days, I went with my father to his place of business on 17th Avenue in Maywood, where the vast majority of residents were black. I was the only white player on the baseball field or the basketball court at the park behind his business. I became a better player from that experience.

Screen Shot 2013-12-31 at 7.46.45 PMMy interest in music started about the same time. I may have inherited my love from my father, who was a self-taught pianist. At an early age, he shared with me that Eddy Duchin was the greatest pianist of all time.

When he bought the piano and signed me up for weekly lessons, he expected me to become the next Eddy Duchin. There was only one slight problem, my piano idol was Killer, Jerry Lee Lewis, and my piano teacher didn’t have any sheet music for Whole Lot of Shakin Going On.

When I was in junior high I got the chance to go see my first live concert at McCormick Place in downtown Chicago.

My friend John’s brother who was 16 and had recently gotten his driver’s license had tickets. When his friends couldn’t go he reluctantly invited his younger brother and me to join him. He told us the WLS DJ Dick Biondi would be the MC for what was being called the greatest rock and roll show of all time in the newly opened Arie Crown Theater at McCormick Place.

What he didn’t tell us was that Dick Biondi would be the only white person on stage that day. We spent literally hours listening to what was then called rhythm and blues, and later called soul music. I still have many of the songs I heard that day on my iTunes.

I still don’t remember all of the entertainers who performed that day. Essentially it was every black star that wasn’t a part of Motown records. As Dick Biondi said the show seemed to go on forever. The black entertainers I remember included, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry who passed away Saturday at age 90, Chubby Checker, The Platters, The Shirelles, and many others who you would have to be my age to recognize their names.

It was about the same time that I noticed girls. To be more accurate, I first noticed an actress, not a girl. Her name was Kim Novak and she played a teenage girl Madge in a movie called Picnic.

At the picnic, which takes place over Labor Day weekend, there is scene when Kim Novak and William Holden dance to the theme music “Moonglow, and Theme from Picnic.” It was clearly dirty dancing 50s style. Watch them on YouTube, you’ll get the idea.

We went off to high school with great optimism about our futures and the future of America, not knowing that in 1963 America would be forever changed and our innocence would be lost.

Each of us knows exactly where we were on November 22, when we first learned President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. I was sitting in Chemistry class, when our principal made the announcement over the intercom. We were all stunned by the news.

I spent the entire weekend numb, but glued to the television set. On Sunday morning, we skipped church which enabled me to watch Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald on live television.

But, President Kennedy’s assassination was the culmination of the year our country was changed forever. A great deal of change had taken place before that November day. On the music front, Beatlemania started. At the time, like many others, I was a fan of the Beach Boys.

I recently found this interesting article: Beach Boys were not the ‘American Beatles’ Read what happened after Brian Wilson wrote songs for Pet Sounds album to compete with the Beatles sound.

In 1963 our country expanded its role in Viet Nam and the events in Birmingham, Alabama would no longer allow us to ignore inequality in our country. I think those events are what changed my outlook on life in America.

Growing up in my all-white Chicago suburb, I had never given much thought to the civil rights movement. That all changed in 1963 because we could actually see what was happening on television.

I watched in horror scenes from Birmingham where peaceful men, women and children demonstrators were met with violent attacks using high-pressure fire hoses and police dogs.

Later that year, after the white only restroom and drinking fountain signs were removed in Birmingham, the 16th street Baptist Church was bombed, killing four little girls.

During the summer, I watched scenes from the historical march on Washington and Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream Speech. The Civil Rights movement had become a national cause, and before his death President Kennedy proposed the Civil Rights Bill.

By the end of 1963, my taste in music had changed. I still enjoyed the Beach Boys, but I started listening to singers and songwriters, like Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary. Many an argument took place in our house when I started playing Pete Seeger singing We Shall Overcome or I Ain’t a Scared of Your Jail, Bob Dylan singing Blowin in the Wind, and Peter, Paul and Mary singing If I Had a Hammer, written by Pete Seeger.

Looking back now, I’m sure my father thought I had become what today would in polite circles be called a liberal, and less polite some other names. If he thought that in 1963, I can only imagine what he thought in 1968, likely the most turbulent year in American history.





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?

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?