My Lateral Link colleague Abby Gordon is back with another guest post. In this one Abby shares some really great advice for law firm associates.

In my 7+ years in Biglaw and now 6+ years as a legal recruiter, assisting others with career planning, I have learned certain lessons I wish we’d all internalize early in our careers:

  1. Ask questions at the start. Ask questions to clarify the substance of your assignments and questions relating to logistical and practical matters. One question that is always appropriate is, “When do you need this by?” Trust me, you’ll wish you’d asked.
  2. Notwithstanding Lesson #1, ask yourself every question first. An essential quality of a great associate is developing the judgment to know when it’s something you can figure out on your own and when it requires input from someone more senior. Be respectful of senior lawyers’ time (which is also clients’ money). Learning to problem-solve and to be resourceful is a crucial skill as a lawyer. Even the most mundane tasks are learning experiences in disguise.
  3. Be responsive and efficient but pause before you respond. Take an extra minute to breathe, think, polish, and proofread your response.
  4. Appreciate that no job is too menial. Do you feel that many of your assignments are beneath you? That a well-trained monkey could complete them? Well, there’s a method to the madness. You need to live in the weeds—often for a long time—before you can design the perfect garden.
  5. Your day-to-day tasks might be tedious and you may be overworked and exhausted but you must always make time to ask how your task relates to the big picture. This is how you develop as a lawyer: by doing the grunt work carefully and meticulously while studying and conceptualizing the work of your whole team.
  6. Pay attention to detail. Re-read, re-read, re-read backwards. You are being paid the big bucks to complete menial tasks because the partners and the clients trust that you will do them right. You must catch the typos, even at 2:00 a.m. The simpler the task, the more important it is to avoid cutting corners and avoid mistakes.
  7. Recognize that organization, meeting deadlines, and a positive attitude count for at least 50 percent. Even if you’re not the best lawyer out there, attention to detail plus meeting deadlines—all with a smile on your face—will go a long, long way to keeping you employed.
  8. Treat junior lawyers and administrative staff—and everyone else for that matter—with just as much respect as you treat the partners. The positive attitude in Lesson #7 should not be reserved solely for your superiors. Be kind to everyone, as it will smooth the road for you going forward. And moreover, because it’s the right thing to do.
  9. Don’t trust blindly and assume the firm will “do the right thing.” You may feel as though you’re a valued member of a big, happy family, but ultimately law firms are businesses. Be smart and protect yourself. It’s not appropriate to email me (a recruiter) via work email regarding your job search. And a lesson I learned the hard way: do not give notice of your departure before your year-end bonus hits your account.
  10. Appreciate constructive feedback. Don’t get defensive. Your seniors get annoyed, and worse, they will stop giving you feedback. Then how will you grow? How can you properly assess your prospects for advancement?
  11. Develop authentic relationships with partners. Seek out mentors. You need someone who’ll go to bat for you. Failure to seek out and nurture a relationship with an influential partner sponsor (and someone who’ll be around for the long haul) is one of the most common mistakes that stop otherwise qualified associates from making partner.
  12. Develop a business plan. I believe that all firm lawyers need business plans, whether you’re looking to move firms or not. And maintain an always-ready, updated resume and representative matters sheet.
  13. Accept that you and only you are in charge of your professional development. Don’t assume law schools or law firm partners are looking out for your career development. Your interests may not always be aligned with the firm’s interests. Partners are busy. Be proactive and ask for specific guidance. Write down your career goals and how you plan to achieve them. This career plan is for your eyes only; it should be the result of honest and thoughtful introspection and self-assessment. Schedule weekly check-ins with yourself to take stock of your professional development needs and goals.
  14. Keep your options open. Work towards your goals but be open to changing them or the path to reaching them. Be open to considering new opportunities. Constantly assess and reassess your options. If you never change jobs, make it an affirmative decision to stay put. If your career goals stay constant, affirmatively choose them again and again.
  15. Practice authentic networking. Keep your LinkedIn profile up-to-date and connect systematically and in a timely manner with people you meet. Network to learn from others and to open your horizons. Don’t save building a network for when you’re desperate for a new job.
  16. Recognize that career planning is a continuous and thoughtful process and not a one-and-done crisis management tool. Don’t be complacent. Be proactive. Maintain an ongoing dialogue with a recruiter you trust. Remember that Career Services is for alums and not just current students. Calendar regular appointments with yourself to check in and ask if you’re doing everything you can do to 1) be the best lawyer you can be, and 2) be the happiest lawyer you can be.
  17. Believe in yourself. Develop and continuously re-evaluate your own definition of success and metrics for measuring it, in line with your personal goals and values. Appreciate constructive feedback but do not let how others view your legal skills define your worth as a human being.
    I’d love to hear about your career turning points and insights. Please e-mail me at and share with me what’s on your list of lessons learned!

As you know, I am currently recruiting lawyers. If I was playing baseball, one would say I haven’t hit a home run in 2019. I haven’t even hit a single. In recruiting parlance, I have not placed a lawyer in 2019. Successful recruiters make cold calls. I’m uncomfortable doing that.

I feel good when I place lawyers I know with law firms I know. What are law firms I know looking for in potential partners?

When I ask law firms what they want in a lateral partner hire, the typical response is the lateral partner should have at least $1 Million in business. Given that law firms discourage associates from doing any client development, where can you start?

Several years ago, two lawyers I was coaching asked me how to stay optimistic and persevere when they were not seeing the results of their efforts.

A lawyer in my old firm asked the same question. I went back and found an email reply I had sent in 2004. I decided to update it and share it with you:

The first step to having $1 million law practice is to decide you want to have one. Believe it or not, most lawyers never decide they want to develop a $ 1 million practice, so they don’t.

The second step is to answer the “why” question. How important is it to you to generate a $1 million of business a year? It was of compelling importance to me years ago because having it provided security for Nancy and Jill. Having $1 million also allowed me to control my career and life. Finally, I felt my purpose as a lawyer was to enable my clients to achieve their business goals.

The third step is to believe in yourself. If it is important to you, do you REALLY believe you can achieve it? If not I want you to start really believing it now by telling yourself you are a $1 million lawyer. I want you to visualize being a $1 million lawyer. See:

  • yourself meeting with clients who greatly value what you are doing to help them.
  • yourself receiving an annual award from the firm (which I received each year).
  • yourself having young lawyers work for you and having others ask how you did it.
  • the content look your spouse and children have because they feel secure financially.

1 Million Atty.pngI want you to write down on paper or make an entry in the task part of Outlook: “I am a $1 million lawyer.” I want you to look at this written statement at least twice each day and close your eyes and visualize what I suggested above. Next, I want you to establlsh a date by which you will achieve this. Is it by the end of 2020? 2021? 2022? Make the date certain.

Next I want you to focus on where your $1 million in fees will come from and start making a list of what you need to do to generate $1 million in fees. Brainstorm with yourself each day. Close your eyes and become creative. Use your imagination to come up with ideas no one has implemented.

This approach may sound hokey to you, but I did it and it worked for me. As long as I had my eyes on the prize and focused on what achieving it would do for me and my family, I never gave up in tough times. I am confident you will achieve $1 million a year. You have the legal talent and relationship building skills. Now, all you need is to have a burning desire to do it, fueled by something that is really important to you. When you have that desire, you will:

  • Convince your subconcious mind by autosuggestion and repetition you will achieve your goal.
  • Then, you will creatively develop a concrete plan.
  • Finally, you will execute your plan, even when you are faced with challenges.

I will leave you with a Robert J. Collier quote that resonates with me and hopefully with you also:

The great successful men of the world have used their imagination…they think ahead and create their mental picture in all it details, filling in here, adding a little there, altering this a bit and that a bit, but steadily building–steadily building.

Laura is a lawyer I coached when I was in charge of attorney development in my old law firm. One night when she and her husband were eating dinner with Nancy and me, Laura shared with us that at the end of each day after she put her two children in bed, she was absolutely exhausted and dreaded starting the same grind the next day.

Like many lawyers I know, Laura rarely got up from her desk while at work. She frequently ate lunch at her desk and spent most of her time focused on her computer screen.

When I heard Laura describe her typical day, I suggested that she read the book: The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz.

I have both the written book and the audio version and I urge you to read or listen to the book if you end each day exhausted.

I love a point the authors make early in the book. They say:

To be fully engaged, we must be physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focused and spiritually aligned with a purpose beyond our immediate self-interest. Full engagement begins with feeling eager to get to work in the morning and equally happy to return home in the evening and capable of setting clear boundaries between the two.

The authors assert there are four key energy management principles:

  1. Full Engagement requires drawing on four separate but related sources of energy: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual
  2. Because energy capacity diminishes both with overuse and with underuse, we must balance energy expenditure with intermittent energy renewal.
  3. To build capacity, we must push beyond our normal limits, training in the same systematic way that elite athletes do.
  4. Positive energy rituals-highly specific routines for managing energy-are the key to full engagement and sustained high performance.

Chapter Ten of the book is titled: “Taking Action: The Power of Positive Rituals.”

In that chapter the authors note that “a growing body of research suggests that as little as 5 percent of our behaviors are consciously self-directed. We are creatures of habit and as much as 95 percent of what we do occurs automatically…”

They point out that great performers all rely on positive rituals to manage their energy and achieve their goals. They suggest that these great performers have rituals that optimize their ability to move rhythmically between stress and recovery.

How did reading this book change what I was doing? First, I divided my lifetime goals into four categories:
•    physical/economic
•    mental and growth
•    emotional and relationships
•    spiritual

Second, I decided to get up from my computer and least once an hour; I quit sending emails to someone who was just down the hall from me; I quit eating lunch at my desk; and, I changed my exercise routine to include interval training.

Finally, I tried to create positive rituals including getting up early to workout, setting aside time to work on client development and spending Saturday afternoon with my daughter, Jill and playing golf each week with my wife, Nancy.

The book includes a full Corporate Athlete Performance Development Plan. Interestingly, I found many of the same steps in the plan that I included in the Personal Performance and Development Plan I had prepared for associates in my firm.

Are you exhausted when you get home each day? If so I urge you to read The Power of Full Engagement and make the changes suggested by the authors.


There is a fine line on when a lawyer should pass the torch to the next generation. It is true not only in law, but in virtually every walk of life, especially sports.

Bobby Jones once famously said:

I believe all of sports reveal character, but especially individual sports.

Did you get a chance to watch the US Open Tennis Finals on Saturday and Sunday? On Sunday, in five sets over five hours, 33-year old Rafael Nadal won his 19th major tournament defeating 23-year-old Daniil Medvedev. I like this article: Rafael Nadal Shows Why the Young Guard Will Have to Wait.

Like the match on Sunday, the match on Saturday was a match for the ages,  pitting a 19-year old Canadian, Bianca Andreescu, against Serena Williams. the all-time greatest women’s tennis star seeking to match Margaret Court’s record of 24 major singles titles.

Andreescu became the first Canadian to win a major tennis tournament, the first person born after 2000 to win the US Open, and the first person not even born when Serena won her first US Open. In the second set, Andreescu was up 5-1 and serving at match point. Serena won that point and went on to win the next four games.

The crowd went wild. The noise was so deafening that Andreescu covered her ears. Yet, with all the noise, all the nerves, Andreescu hung tough and won the next game to close the deal.

Canada celebrated her victory: Twitter Reaction: Canada celebrates Andreescu’s historic win at U.S. Open. #SheTheNorth will always mark Andreescu’s victory. I saw this tweet:

Over the last eight months, 🇨🇦 Andreescu has gone from obscurity to national sports hero. And we, as a country, have entered uncharted territory. You can search for comparables, but they just aren’t really there. By: Stephen Brunt l #SheTheNorth

Here is a New York Times article about the match: Bianca Andreescu Wins the U.S. Open, Defeating Serena Williams. 

A few months ago there was a debate: IS AGE CATCHING UP WITH SERENA WILLIAMS?

It’s natural to ask the question. Serena is 37 years old playing a grueling sport while giving 100 percent of her energy. The next generation who she inspired are less than half her age. Serena said in her press conference that she didn’t play as well as she had played in earlier matches. That was true.

Serena isn’t ready to hang it up. She is physically fit and I believe she will win another major and maybe more, but I am sure from my own experience that it must be more challenging playing a grueling tournament over two weeks against younger opponents.

When I was in my 40s, each morning I was in town I worked out. At the time I loved running. I ran 5 miles each morning with a goal of 8 minutes per mile.

When I was in my 50s and maybe even early 60s, I was still running. I don’t think I ran 5 miles each day and I don’t think I ran 8 minutes per mile, but I ran. Running gave me lots of energy for my day at work. I worked very hard during my 50s and enjoyed the most successful years of my law practice.

Several years ago I had my hip replaced, both of my knees scoped. I don’t believe I have run a mile since. I walk, but I get easily bored with it. Last November, a surgeon fused my right foot. For the next six weeks I slept in a boot and was unable to walk.

On December 31st I was readmitted to the hospital because my foot was infected and the infection was traveling up my leg. A second surgery was done on January 4. Over the next six weeks I was connected to a portable IV and I was unable to walk.

There is no way I could have done my legal work during those times. I would have had to rely on the next generation. For each of us, a time will come when we aren’t able to make the same effort with the same focus. Are the lawyers helping you prepared for that time?

In August, Nancy and I went with friends for golf in Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island. (It was 100 degrees each day in Dallas and in the 70s in Eastern Canada). In Newfoundland, we stayed and played at the Cabot Lodge Golf Resort. One course was called “The Cliffs.”

It was lovely as they might say in Eastern Canada. There was only one slight problem, without a note from my doctor I had to walk the 18 holes on each course with major elevation changes. I suppose I could have gotten a note from my doctor, but I would have felt weird riding in a cart.

This photo shows the terrain

Nancy kept track on her watch we walked over 7 miles. After two rounds my hips hurt, my knees hurt and I could barely swing my golf club. At the end of the round, I was so gassed that I asked myself why I paid really good money for the torture I had endured.

What’s the point? I believe there are two:

  1. Never take continued good health for granted. When you are younger, stay in shape, eat healthy and produce your best work, earn your best money, make sure your clients and your team are happy, and save for your retirement.
  2. You too will age. You too will have surgeries. You too will have less energy.  It won’t be as easy bouncing back as you imagined when you were young.

I will be posting about focusing on your energy in the near future.

What is appropriate attire? My how that has changed. I have tried to go out with a shirt untucked, and before I leave the house I tuck it in.

When I was younger, we dressed up to get on an airplane-not anymore. Several months ago, Nancy and I were on a flight together. One of the young women across from us was wearing yoga pants. That was fine, I guess. I was wearing shorts and a golf shirt.  But these yoga pants didn’t cover everything on her backside, so each time she got up, it was a bit X-rated.

On another occasion Nancy and I were in the first row in first class when all of a sudden I looked between us to see two bare feet sticking through between our seats. Thankfully, the flight attendant intervened before I stuck a pointed instrument in the sole of his foot.

It was only a few years ago that I wore a suit to church each Sunday morning- Not any more. Fast forward, last Sunday at the early service at our church, several older men were wearing shorts, golf shirts and Birkenstock sandals or flip flops. So far I have never worn shorts to church, but I suspect that won’t last long.

What do law students wear to class these days? When I entered law school, Dean Muse advised the male students that we would have to wear suits (not sport coats, only suits). He believed it was important to look professional even though we were only in law school.

I didn’t own any suits. I bought one on sale at E. J. Korvette’s for $14.95. I bought another at a cheap men’s store in Richmond. The suit, shirt, tie and socks cost $49.95. It was my “good suit.”

What is the appropriate attire when meeting a client on a muddy construction project? Probably thirty years ago I was asked by a large Mississippi contractor to meet him at a project his company was building in Arkansas. He explained they were having trouble compacting the soil and that after we met we would meet with the Arkansas DOT officials.

Knowing I would be walking in the mud, I showed up wearing jeans, cowboy boots (that hurt my feet) and a casual shirt. When Bill first saw me, he said:

Cordell, I want my lawyers to dress like lawyers, not like a contractor.

I was taken aback. If I had worn one of my nice suits and a pair of wingtip shoes, I would have returned with mud over my ankles. But, it made me think about what is proper attire.

Most of you likely never watched a Thin Man movie. They were made in the 1930s I’ve watched all of them. In those days, Nick and Nora Charles were always dressed in suits and dresses even when they were on the train together.

Did you ever watch Father Knows Best? In the 1950s, Jim and Margaret Anderson always were dressed in suits and dresses. Ozzie and Harriet were dressed the same way. In the 70s and 80s, Mr. and Mrs. Cunningham on Happy Days wore suits and dresses.

I recently read: Why American Workers Now Dress So Casually. As I suspected, Silicon Valley changed how we dressed for work. You might also enjoy reading: Why It’s So Hard to Get Dressed for Work.

My old law firm first announced “Casual Fridays.” Before long it was business casual every day. Call me old fashioned- I was against the idea. I didn’t own any clothes I would describe as business casual. I owned suits and dress shirts, golf clothes and workout clothes. Some of our younger lawyers thought golf shirts were business casual. Maybe they are now.

Have we lost anything by dressing casually at the office? What do you think?

Several coaches, including Bobby Knight and Bear Bryant once famously said:

 Most people have the will to win, few have the will to prepare to win.

Over many years I found that is true of many lawyers. They are extremely bright. They want to be successful, but they do not have the will to prepare to be successful. It takes hard work to develop your skills, build your reputation in a given field and build relationships with clients. To do it you have to sacrifice now for the rewards in the future.

Long ago I coached  and mentored Jim, a senior associate in my old law firm. He was an extremely bright lawyer and had played college football.

During one of our sessions Jim told me he really wanted to become a sports lawyer. In particular, he wanted to focus on amateur sports including NCAA rule violations, Title IX and legal issues involving Olympic athletes. I thought that would be a great niche, especially since Jim had experience as a college football player.

I found all kinds of books and materials on sports law generally and amateur sports specifically. When the materials arrived, I was excited for Jim. In fact, I took a look at the materials, just to see what a sports lawyer needed to know. I told Jim he needed to develop a plan to learn sports law and later to write and speak on various sports law topics.

Jim never became a sports lawyer. He had the will to become one but not the will to do what was necessary to prepare to become one.

How about you? Do you have the will to prepare yourself for success?

If you have read Malcolm Gladwell’s book: The Tipping Point, you know he writes about “connectors”. Check out this article to learn more. I’m a “connector.” I enjoy connecting outstanding lawyers and giving them the opportunity to help each other achieve success.

As you may know, for three years I hosted an annual “Outstanding Women Lawyers Roundtable.” Women I coached from the US and Canada came to Dallas and connected with each other and shared ideas on their careers.  I wrote about the first one here.

Leila Rafi is a Toronto Lawyer I coached when she was a young partner. She is with McMillan. When I coached Leila, she was by far the most enthusiastic member of her coaching group.

I first met Nevena Simidjayska (Veny) when she was a first year lawyer attending the Fox Rothschild orientation. She was just joining the firm’s Philadelphia office. Don’t ask me how, but I could tell during our short time together that Nevena had the “right stuff’ to become a future super-star in her firm.

I knew that both of these rising stars had similar practices and had many clients doing business in both the US and Canada. I believe the first chance to put them together was when one asked for my recommendation for a lawyer in the other’s city.

Since that first introduction, Leila and Veny have become friends and have helped each other develop business. I asked the two of them to share with you their experience. Here is what they said.

Cordell Parvin connected the two of us a few years ago.

That fruitful connection has been wildly positive for both of us in more ways than we could have imagined. We have been building a pipeline of opportunities across the lawyers in our respective firms on cross-border deals and issues.

How did Cordell know to match us? In the two of us, he saw a likeness in our personalities (tenacious and curious), passion for our profession (displayed in our commitment to the growth and future development of our profession), a drive to succeed (hard working and relentless) and kindness (empathy and the ability to build connections with others easily and quickly).

As soon as our paths were linked, we instantly forged a meaningful friendship and prosperous work relationship. Without hesitation we call upon each other for our respective clients and tackle challenging client opportunities. The fundamental similarities in our character that Cordell identified allow us not just to collaborate as colleagues, but to also trust, support and cheer for each other as friends. This synergy has been invaluable and we are excited for everything that it will bring in the future.

We’ve enjoyed a great experience and highly recommend finding a lawyer in another city, or in our case, another country with whom you can develop a pipeline.

I recently read a very helpful blog post: 5 Reasons Why You Should Commit Your Goals to Writing, posted by a blogger you should read: Michael Hyatt. I urge you to read the 5 reasons.

The blog reminded me of a blog I posted four years ago and I wanted to share it with you again.

I have set goals since childhood. When I was young, I set goals related to my sports activities, such as free throw percentage in basketball, strike outs and earned run average in baseball, and average yards per carry in football.

When I started law school, my goal was to finish in the top five of my class. When I became a lawyer, my first goals centered on what I wanted to learn and what I wanted to experience. I remember one year I wanted to have five jury trials. Even though I did not have five jury trials that year, having goals motivated me, stretched me and forced me to prioritize my activities.

Because I owe so much of my success and career satisfaction to setting goals and working to achieve them, I struggled when I learned many, if not most, associates do not set goals or have career development plans. Naively, I assumed all associates would enjoy setting goals, having a plan and working to achieve them.

Bwoman chair thinking SS 74496718

Setting goals is a difficult process. To set goals, an associate must focus on something other than doing billable work. To quote John Lennon” Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” For lawyers that means doing billable work.

To set goals you must be willing to look inside and determine what you really want. That’s tough to do. Many associates are uncomfortable looking within themselves. They know how to please others – parents, teachers, law professors, bar examiners and partners, but do not know what they really want.

Sitting down and writing out what they want to achieve in the short-term as well as the long-term is daunting and often leads to a feeling of helplessness. Achieving goals requires a commitment of time and energy, and willingness to take a risk.

Yet, taking a risk can make your career way more enjoyable. I know that has been the case for me. I also know that the feeling of having more control over your future can make the commitment of time and energy well worth it.

If you are a regular reader, you know that I have written many times about how to actually achieve the goals you set. One way is to hold yourself accountable.

As you may know, I passed the bar and began practicing law in 1971. I believe 2008 was the last year I billed any time as a lawyer. So, I had 36 plus years to learn lessons practicing law. In the hope you will not learn what I did the hard way, here are my 25 lessons I learned:
  1. The greatest asset a lawyer can have is clients.
  2. Real learning began after I finished law school and passed the Bar exam.
  3. The importance of doing what I was passionate about.
  4. The people who worked for me were incredibly important.
  5. The people who worked for me were not necessarily motivated by what motivated me.
  6. The more narrow I made my niche, the easier it was to be noticed and for my expertise to be recognized.
  7. Writing and speaking were the best ways for me to build my profile and reputation.
  8. Repurposing my material. Briefs and memos became articles. Articles became presentations. Presentations became guides. (In 2019, those would become blog posts.)
  9. My client representatives had different personality types, meaning I needed to speak with them differently.
  10. If I did not create a written plan with written goals, I did not use my non-billable time wisely.
  11. In order to make the plan effective, I had to break down my actions into smaller components.
  12. Planning my week around my roles including my personal roles.
  13. I had to make time for client development and my own development. (I would never “find” it.)
  14. That learning about my client’s work and industry was at least as important as developing my legal skills.
  15. The importance of making client development a habit.
  16. The importance of focusing on existing clients.
  17. That clients wanted me to understand their industry, their company and them.
  18. That while some lawyers may have natural people skills that make client development more natural for them, client development is an acquired talent.
  19. In client development, little things made the biggest difference.
  20. Every person is a potential client.
  21. The importance of asking good questions and actively listening.
  22. Actively listening is more than hearing what a client has said.
  23. To effectively communicate with a jury, I had to find something they cared about.
  24. If I was to be successful trying cases or helping clients close deals, I could not fear losing.
  25. To succeed, I had to be able to rebound from failing or losing.

I actually learned at least one more really important thing:

To be at the top of my game, I focused more on my energy management than I did time management.


I recently read Seth Godin’s blog: People Don’t Change. It is only a few lines and it applies to several lawyers I have known and some I have coached.

As Godin says the hard part is not changing. It’s wanting to change.

I have written that the only way you will make a change is to have a big enough answer to the “why” question. Why is making the change important to you.

When I was a young lawyer with senior lawyers feeding me work, I wanted to change and develop my own clients.

When I asked myself why that was important to me, I thought of making more money, providing more security for my family, not being beholding to a senior lawyer, the joy of knowing the clients hired me, and the independence I would feel from having my own clients.

Those answers to the “why” question were enough to keep me motivated when I wasn’t succeeding.