Cordell Parvin Blog

Developing the Next Generation of Rainmakers

Lawyers: Life and Career Purpose-Look Back, Look Forward, Look Inward

Posted in Career Development

If you don’t like touchy-feely stuff, then you might want to pass on reading this post.

My career changed in a very positive way when I started thinking about my life and career purpose. All of a sudden, I had a stronger sense of direction and it was easier to plan my future.

What is your life purpose? What is your career purpose?

What do you really want in your life and in your career?

Very few young lawyers I meet have answers to those questions. In fact, I know of very few who have even pondered the questions and looked introspectively within for the answers.

Perhaps in the course of dealing with day to day work and family events, young lawyers do not take time to focus on the soul searching exercise of looking within and searching for the meaning of what they are doing.

Your life purpose or work purpose is like your calling.

As theologian, Frederick Buechner describes it:

The place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

As a lawyer who focused on construction I tended to think of building my career in the same terms as constructing a building project. Before an architect or an engineer begins to design a project, the ultimate user of the project provides a detailed description of its intended purpose.

A few years ago, Nancy and I toured the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

It illustrates my point about purpose. In the narrative about the hall I learned how the famed architect, Frank Gehry, spent hours with Lillian Disney to understand her vision of the hall.

Mrs. Disney made clear that she wanted the concert hall building to reflect the culture and character of Southern California, remain accessible to the entire community, boast lovely and inviting garden areas, and offer acoustical perfection for the enjoyment of music.

It is one of the most visually and acoustically sophisticated concert halls in the world. The stainless steel panels on the outside and the hardwood paneled interior are truly unique.

I ask young lawyers to think back to that day they decided they really wanted to become a lawyer and think about what prompted them to consider law for a career.

I remember what it was for me. When I was in about 8th grade I read an autobiography of Clarence Darrow titled: The Story of My Life.


I was immediately inspired by his description of a case less famous than most. It was the Sweet trials in Detroit. It was the real life version of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Dr. Sweet and his family had moved into a white neighborhood, in part because there were no homes available int the black part of the city due to the auto industry creating the migration from the south. Each night when the family came home, there was a mob taunting them outside their house. One night a shot rang out and a man was killed.

Darrow just back from the Scopes trial in Tennessee was exhausted and wanted to rest. But, when the NAACP pleaded with him, he came to Detroit. If you want some inspiration, I urge you to read Douglas Linder’s account of the trial and Clarence Darrow’s final argument in the second trial.

Another approach to discovering your life and career purpose is to look forward.

Visualize that your firm or company is giving you a retirement party. Several people will speak about you. They include a partner, your assistant, a client, your spouse and one of your children.

What do you want each of these people to say about you? If you can visualize what each person will say about you, I think you will have a pretty clear idea of what your life purpose and career purpose are.


Lawyers: Tell Me About A Time You…

Posted in Career Development

I was looking at some of my old coaching files. In 2010, I coached 125 lawyers located in Canada, and from New York to California in the United States. In 2017, I’m coaching far fewer.

I was wondering, have firms developed their next generation of rainmakers? With more baby boomers retiring each year, business succession has never been more important.

I have always thought that business succession for law firms starts with making good hiring decisions.

A few years ago I posted what turned out to be a controversial post: Are You Hiring Law Students Who Will Succeed? I was trying to make the point that it takes more than good grades to be a successful lawyer. I received several comments from readers.

More recently I read an ABA Journal on-line article Why Law Firm Interviewers Are Asking ‘Tell Me About a Time’ Questions. As I said above, the  answer is really simple: It takes more than good grades to be a successful lawyer.

Another 2 Women

According to the article law firms are looking at these four behavioral patterns:

  1. Decision-making and problem-solving skills
  2. Motivation
  3. Communication and interpersonal skills
  4. Planning and organization

I like questions looking at those behavioral patterns, but I would add two more:

  1. Integrity
  2. Cooperation, collaboration and teamwork

I would love to hear from you. Tell me about a time you….

Lawyers: What does it take to reach the top?

Posted in Career Development, Motivation

In my 38 years practicing law, and 11 years coaching lawyers, I’ve been around incredibly smart lawyers. You know that type of lawyer. They finished near the top of their law school class without even trying.

Years ago, my last law firm was hiring law students who were in the Top 10% of their class. If a lawyer was in the 11 or 12 % of his or her class, he or she didn’t get an interview.

I railed against being so focused on class rank. Finally, our head of HR came to me and asked:

What are you looking for when you hire an associate?

If you are a long time reader, you may remember my response:

Give me the Young Lawyer

Recently I read a short piece by Michael Pietrzak from Success Magazine. The title hit home with me: How to Develop an Insatiable Hunger. Without looking at the article, how do you suppose you can develop an insatiable hunger?

Now look at the five tips. For me they are right on target. It begins with having clarity on what you want to achieve.

Going all the way back to when I was a kid playing sports, I set some kind of clear goal and visualized achieving it. I also knew why I wanted whatever it was.

I invite you to check out the other four suggestions.

Client Development: 10 Important Lessons I Learned

Posted in Client Development

  1. Just doing good work, getting a Martindale A-V rating and waiting for the telephone to ring was not a viable client development strategy. That was just the price to have a chance to potentially attract clients.
  2. I had to decide what I wanted to become and which clients I wanted to target. If I was marketing to everyone, I was marketing to no one.
  3. I had to develop a plan that would enable me to be more focused on my efforts. The plan itself was not that important, but the thoughts that went into the plan were invaluable.
  4. I had to find a way to be accountable for my non-billable client development efforts. It was too easy to blow off client development.
  5. I actually did more client development activities when I was busy. I believe this was because I was afraid of waking up one day with nothing to do.
  6. Writing was a great way to build my profile and become visible to my clients. I enjoyed writing articles that my clients and potential clients found valuable.
  7. Writing led to speaking opportunities at industry meetings and speaking led to clients contacting me. I could take an article I had written and send it to an association executive and mention I would be happy to speak to the association members on the topic in the article.
  8. I had to be patient, persistent and persevere as it took some time for my efforts to build traction. When I first focused on transportation construction it took two years of hard work before my first client called me.
  9. Clients did not care about what I did. They only cared about how what I did would help them solve a problem or deal with a change. I wish I could share with you how this revelation came to me because it was one of the most important lessons I learned.
  10. My best efforts were to focus on becoming a trusted advisor for my clients and keeping them happy with my work. Getting a new client is exciting. But, the lesson was to spend most of my time and energy on the clients I already had and know they would recommend me to others in the industry.

I learned these lessons by the seat of my pants and by making mistakes. I am hopeful that you will learn these lessons from me and not by making mistakes.

If you are interested, I have a video coaching program, you can preview here.

Answer this Question to Become a Better Lawyer

Posted in Career Development

A few years ago, I was looking at my RSS feeds  and saw a post by Patrick Mathieu titled How To Be A Better Person.

The title intrigued me so I clicked on it. Patrick mentions seeing a book Being, Nothingness, and Fly Fishing: How One Man Gave Up Everything to Fish the Fabled Waters of the West. The author mentions a particular river that makes him want to be a better fly fisherman.

I liked this question raised by Patrick Mathieu in the blog:

Is there anything in your life that would make you say: “I owe this the very best that I have to offer!”

What makes you want to be a better lawyer? What makes you say: “I owe this client the very best I have to offer?” When you figure that out, you will be on the road to discovering what motivates you and you will likely become a better lawyer.

Why Clients Aren’t Hiring You and Why Your Firm is Not Hiring Me

Posted in Law as a Business

When I practiced law I often wondered why the client who had hired me to get them out of a tough jam at great expense, had not hired me to help them avoid getting into the jam at far less expense.

Today, I wonder why law firms do not hire me, or anyone else to do client development coaching for their lawyers to make sure they get it.

Screen Shot 2016-12-17 at 8.58.05 AM

Some time ago, I found the answer to my questions in a Fast Company article by Dan and Chip Heath titled: Turning Vitamins Into Aspirin: Consumers and the “Felt Need” As the Heaths point out:

If entrepreneurs want to succeed, as venture capitalists like to say, they’d better be selling aspirin rather than vitamins. Vitamins are nice; they’re healthy. But aspirin cures your pain; it’s not a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have.

I know that when I practiced law, clients were more willing to pay for the “must haves’ than they were to pay for the “nice-to-haves.”

The same is true in my current work with lawyers and law firms. Sad as it may seem, many law firms view developing the next generation of rainmakers as a “nice-to-have” rather than a “must have.” I guess they assume their baby boomer lawyers will never retire.

Likewise, when the economy is tough, law firms cut training and development of their lawyers because it goes from a “must have” to a “nice to have.” Thus, even though developing the next generation of outstanding lawyer rainmakers is “nice-to-have” not a “must-have” for the near future.

One irony in all this: My best construction law clients were the ones who hired me to do “nice-to-have” legal work and now my best law firms and the best lawyers for whom I work hire me to help with “nice-to-have” goals.

One other irony: The primary way I got hired for “must have” work was by creating content to help clients avoid the “must have” problem.

I have a question for you. What will happen to your law firm when the vast majority of baby boomers retire? Have you developed the next generation of rainmakers?

Small Law Firms: This One is For You

Posted in Client Development, Client Development Coaching

Are you in a small or medium sized law firm? If so you will want to read a report I saw recently:

How Small Law Firms Succeed Under the Pressure of Today’s Challenges … or Fail: 2016 State of U.S. Small law firms Study.  (Note: You have to fill out some information to get the study).

In the study, small law firm leaders identified their top challenges:

  1. Challenges acquiring new client business
  2. Client rate pressure/clients wanting more for less
  3. Spending too much time on administrative tasks

What are the most successful small firms doing differently?

In essence, the study shows that among “lawyer entrepreneurs,” simple goals allow each firm to fill in unique strategies to get there…

It is this same opportunity for entrepreneurship that will likely help position small law for greater growth in the coming years…

By contrast, successful firms are differentiating themselves – building a brand, leveraging it to win
new business, and investing in the firm’s future. Less successful or unsuccessful firms, on the other hand, are instead trying to cut their way to profitability.

If you are a long time regular reader, you know I believe:

  1. About 10% of the business out there is “bet the company” and whoever is perceived to be the top lawyer/law firm will get that business.
  2. About 30% of the business out there is price sensitive meaning clients will do it themselves or whoever is willing to do it at the cheapest price will get it.
  3. About 60% of the work out there will go to lawyers the potential client knows, likes and trusts.

Small firms should be actively seeking that 60%. Attracting those clients is based on building trust based relationships.

When I practiced law, my clients were my friends and my friends were my clients. Recently, Nancy and I were on vacation in Cabo San Lucas. There were five couples. Three were clients from my law practice and the fourth was the brother and his wife of one of those clients.


Tomorrow  Nancy and I will travel to Phoenix where I will begin coaching lawyers in a firm there.

On Saturday, we’ll eat dinner with a lawyer I coached several years ago, her husband and three kids. Every time we go to Phoenix we see them. On Sunday, we’ll eat dinner with, you guessed it, a former client and his wife.

If you are a small firm, are you investing in your firm’s future?  If you are interested, I know I can help develop your next generation of rainmakers.


Client Relations: Meet or Exceed Expectations

Posted in Law as a Business

Have you ever failed to meet a client’s expectations? I can think of no worse feeling.

How do you avoid it? The key is to establish the expectations right from the start. When I practiced law, I met with clients for pre-project planning and did not charge for the time.

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If you want to avoid the problem begin each project with a planning session. Here are some of the planning questions for the agenda:

  1. What is the budget for the work?
  2. Does the client expect the billing to be level during the project?
  3. How does the client want the project staffed?
  4. What client representatives will be working on the project?
  5. Are there any time sensitive issues?
  6. How does the client want its bill?
  7. How often does the client want a status report and in what format?
  8. What are the clients goals for the project?
  9. How does the project fit into the overall business objectives and strategy?
  10. Does the client want to take a hard line in the matter or not?
  11. Would the client like to have an extranet site set up for the project documents?

Over years of experience I learned what my construction clients liked and did not like about their experiences with law firms. I decided we would put together a Construction Law Client Service Goals based on what I had been told. After I drafted the document I had several clients review it and offer suggestions. Then I used it in my planning sessions.

Business/Career Planning: If You Are Still Stuck-Here’s Help

Posted in Career Development, Client Development

Before I begin, I want to share that I’m still looking to coach lawyers in two more law firms this year. If your firm is considering a client development coaching program for 2017, reach out to me.

I received an email this week from a lawyer I am coaching. He said:

Cordell, I know it’s important for me to have a 2017 Business Plan, but I’m stuck. I’m not sure where to start and I want to make sure my plan will help guide me.

I shared with him this blog that I posted in 2012. If you’re also stuck, I hope it will help you.

I have always learned from seeing what other lawyers were doing and then adapting the best I saw to my own situation. I believe most lawyers learn the same way.

This month I have received several requests from law firms and lawyers asking for workshop materials and plan templates I have created for lawyers.

If you or lawyers in your firm are still stuck on how to create your 2012 Business or Personal Performance Plan I hope you will find the workshop materials, plan templates, articles and workshop slides valuable.

If you haven’t read it, you can read my Practical Lawyer article: Making 2012 Your Best Year Ever. You can also go through the slides from my 2011 Planning Webinar.

If you’ve been stuck, I hope you find these materials valuable.

Client Development: I was recently asked how I did it

Posted in Client Development

A lawyer I coached asked that question.

My answer:

I made presentations at construction industry meetings.

Scan 53How did I get the opportunity?

I was insatiable to find out what issues highway contractors would be facing in the future. Those, over time included:


I created detailed guides for contractors on each of the topics above and gave them away. Then, I was asked to make presentations.

Sounds like a lot of work. How did I find the time?

I never found it. I made the time. Usually from 6:00 AM to 9:00 AM on Saturdays and Sundays. I chose that time because, if Nancy wasn’t working at the hospital, she was either working out or…easing into her day, and our daughter was still asleep.