I feel fairly certain I will focus on recruiting lawyers in much the same way I focused on coaching lawyers. Since I haven’t coached associates recently, I suspect I will rarely help associates find a new firm. But, if you are a regular reader and you want my help, contact me, let me get to know you, and if I can help, I will try my best.

Whether you are planning to stay put or make a move, here are some questions I asked myself while reflecting on my future. Hopefully they will help you reflect.

The Who Questions:
Who is important in my life?
Who do I want to benefit from what I am doing?

The What Questions:
What are my strengths?
What are my challenges?
What do I want to accomplish?
What do I want to learn?
What do I want to experience?
What contribution do I want to make?
What are my most important core values?
What do I want to earn?
What am I most passionate about?
What do my clients need the most?
What do I need to do to accomplish my goal?

The When Questions:
When do I want to accomplish each goal?

The Where Questions:
Where do I want to live?
Where do I want to visit?

The Why Questions:
Why is each goal important to me?
And why is that important to me?

The How Questions:
How do I want to accomplish my goals?
How do I want to live?

When I was in college and law school, I hated UCLA’s basketball team because they were winning the NCAA every year.

I remember being at a college party in 1968 and everyone cheered when Houston upset UCLA in the Astrodome before a record-setting crowd of 52, 693 fans. It was the first regular season NCAA basketball game televised on national TV, and it was called the “Game of the Century.

Later that year UCLA routed Houston 101-69 in the NCAA tournament. (So much for the game of the century.) You can read about the game here.

As fate would have it, my first assignment in the Air Force after law school was at a base in Southern California. Each night, I watched John Wooden being interviewed by the media. Within a very short time, I came to realize why he was not only the greatest coach of any sport ever, but also why he was a great leader and a great person.

A few years ago, I was interviewed. See: 5 minute Interview with Cordell Parvin.  I was asked what man had been my role model. I answered my father and Coach Wooden.

John Wooden’s character and principles always showed through whether his team won, or when it infrequently lost. After leaving Southern California, I have read many books about him and listened to him speaking. I have been frequently inspired by his approach to life and building a team.

Lawyers and law firms can learn a great deal from “The Wizard of Westwood.” Take a look at his website and his “Pyramid of Success.

On his website home page you will find one of my favorite Coach Wooden quotes: “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.”

If you have time, watch this John Wooden TED Talk, or at least the first couple of minutes where he describes his definition of success.

The reason that this quote was so important to me, and hopefully to you, was my realization that measuring my success based on what others achieved would either cause me to give up, thinking I could never achieve what some of them had achieved, or alternatively cause me to not reach as high as I might, thinking I had achieved more than some of them had achieved.

Work each day to serve your clients and to become the best lawyer for your clients you are capable of becoming. That will bring you the peace of mind and satisfaction Coach Wooden speaks about.

I knew it while I practiced law. Now that I am recruiting every day I am reminded that law firms want partners who have already attracted clients or are have clear potential to attract clients.

So, if you are a young lawyer and you want to have a long law career in a law firm, it is never too early to work on attracting clients.

Several years ago I was a member of a LinkedIn Group on Sales. Many of the discussions on the group page had little value to lawyers. But, some I found very valuable.

One day I saw a discussion that began with this question:

What are the core competencies for a salesperson trying to sell a “concept” like training?

We could edit the question:

“What are the core competencies for a lawyer selling legal services?”

Several of the comments intrigued me because they could be applied to selling legal services. Here are a couple of them:

This is semantics but all sales involve selling an idea or a “concept” whether the item is intangible or not… So, one core competency is the ability to understand the buyer’s need/desire. Maybe this is empathy but certainly the ability to listen and to probe for meaningful insight. Another is the ability to identify how your service can fulfill that need. Competency here is the ability to see connections that are not always obvious. Finally the ability to synthesize need and ability to fulfill need into a cohesive and attractive plan that demonstrates to the buyer that his or her objectives will be met and that these objectives will have a meaningful impact on the business or enterprise.

People who sell “training” or widgets eventually fail. Only people that sell value succeed. So the question is, “What competencies does a seller need to possess in order to articulate the value that is derived from the training?” And better yet, “Can the seller link that value to the prospect’s context, business or problem and communicate it effectively enough to close the sale?”

Can you see why I believe the two comments above can be applied to selling legal services?

You are not selling litigation or transactions. You are providing a solution to a potential client’s problem, facilitating the client taking advantage of an opportunity or helping a client deal with a change they are facing.

As expressed above, the core competency is the ability to ask questions and listen, see things your client may be missing, empathize and finally articulate a solution the client finds valuable.

In July of 2000, Seth Godin wrote an article in “Fast Company” titled: “Unleash Your Ideavirus.” In the article Godin says:

Ideas are driving the economy, ideas are making people rich, and most importantly, ideas are changing the world.”

He suggests that to win we need to unleash an ideavirus, which I interpret as a high-powered word of mouth marketing.

Later, he published a book, and then a book with audio and video.

I doubt any of you quarrel with the importance of ideas in 2018, and I doubt any of you question the value of having clients and referral sources telling others that you are a great lawyer. But, many of you likely wonder how you can create great ideas and a high-powered ideavirus, word of mouth campaign.

Seth Godin gives some suggested techniques that you can use to identify, launch, and profit from ideas that can be turned into viruses. First, he suggests that you concentrate the message.

You can only win when you dominate and amaze the group you have targeted.”

That means as lawyers you cannot create an ideavirus by marketing to everyone. Depending on your field, you will want to narrow your market either geographically or by industry.

The more narrow your market, the more likely you can develop an idea that will resonate with that market and the more likely the idea will spread.

How do you figure out the right idea?

Quit thinking about selling yourself or your firm or what you do as a lawyer. Instead, focus on understanding what your clients are thinking and what will potentially impact their business.

  • Think of your most important client.
  • Then think about what is impacting that client. What does that client need to achieve its goals? What are the obstacles that client is trying to overcome?
  • How can you help?

Someone has to be the “go to” lawyer in your field. If you are willing to work hard to become a valuable resource for your clients, potential clients and referral sources, it might as well be you.

Keep in mind. Seth Godin wrote this 18 years ago. It would be an understatement to say the landscape has changed since then.

I recently heard a discussion I would describe as “what some big law firms doing to be thought of as cool by young lawyers.”

I listened intently and learned that a high percentage of associates working in big law firms are seeking to leave their law firm and go in-house at a company.

I gathered that some of the big law firms are seeking to retain those lawyers. I heard that one firm allows young parents to bring their children to work. (I assumed but wasn’t sure that they weren’t supposed to bring their children every day).

I learned that several well-known firms are providing alcohol as a way of being thought of as a cool place to work. I’m not sure I understood, but apparently, some firms believe they can demand many hours of work from young lawyers if they make working at the firm more fun.

At my old firm, beer was brought in on Friday afternoons to what was called the attorneys’ lounge. Over 10 years I went once and drank one beer as I didn’t want to be pulled over or cause an accident while driving home on the North Dallas Tollway.

Ok, I confess. I am old fashioned. I was the guy who didn’t think our firm should go to everyday business casual. Keep in mind that when I went to law school, male students were required to wear coats and ties. Also, keep in mind that when our firm went to business casual, I didn’t own any clothing that would meet what I defined as business casual.

So, I could be old fashioned when I say I don’t believe providing alcohol in the office is a great way to attract and retain talented young lawyers. Is there another way?

If you haven’t read or heard about Daniel Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, you likely have not heard of “Fed Ex” Days.

In the book, Pink talks about Atlassian, an Australian company that once a quarter allows their developers to work on anything they want, any way they want and with whomever they want. Atlassian calls them “Fed Ex” days because the developers have to deliver something overnight.

I urge you to read the book. If you want an introduction, read this CNN article Big bonuses don’t mean big results. You will see in the article that if you want to implement “Fed Ex” days in your office, there is only one rule: “The group must deliver something.”

How can you implement the program in your firm?

Give your associates the chance to do a project for a client or for an organization in your community. Let them select the project and who will be on their team. I believe your associates will come up with many creative ideas that will be a public relations coup for your firm, and just maybe your firm will be considered a cool place to work.

I met with a friend recently who shared with me the challenge of thinking about the future beyond this year. I understood because I coached lawyers who rarely thought about the future beyond the next week unless it was about a planned vacation.

Way back in 2006, I gave a presentation to the Texas State Bar Young Lawyers Association (TYLA). The title of the program was “Crossroads, Mapping out the Rest of Your Career.”

I liked the title because for me “crossroads” meant a defining moment and “mapping” meant the young lawyers would focus on a destination and the road to get there. I also wrote an article on the same subject for the Texas State Bar Journal. Here is the link.

I began by asking how many in the audience were completely satisfied with where they were in their career. Very few raised their hand. Then I talked about the future and what would be the appropriate map.

For too many of us, the road and the destination would be clear if we would simply take the time to consider our future.

So, take some time today and figure out if you’re working towards a goal, or being called to it. You might be happily surprised with your answer.

If you have several million dollars in originations each year, you likely won’t need a business plan when you are seeking to change firms. (I suspect not many of those lawyers are regular readers of this blog, but…)

If you are like most other potential lateral partners, you want to able to demonstrate your potential. The first step in that effort is your business plan. You should prepare a business plan even if you are happy and content with your present firm. It will help you be more successful.

Why and how? In 2018, your time is really important, and for your own professional success and personal fulfillment, you should use your time wisely.

Preparing a business plan will help you prioritize how you spend your time, focus your attention on the important things and execute. With no plan, you will find it easy not to do anything other than the billable work that is on your desk.

If we worked together, you may recall I said that many lawyers spend more time planning a vacation than they spend planning their careers. Interestingly, the approach to planning can be similar.

What can we learn from our 30th Anniversary Trip to Ireland in 2000? (Can’t believe we are honing in on the big number 50 in two years.)

Start with Answering What and Why

Nancy, spent at least 20 hours planning this trip for us. She decided she wanted us to go to Ireland and she knew why.

Her family came to the United States from Ireland and she also knew she would enjoy the people, the scenery, the golf courses, the Irish beef cooked by French Chefs and the Irish Pubs serving Irish beer. So, she knew what and why. Then she planned where we would stay, where we would play golf and the itinerary for each day.

I like to say she did a top-down and bottom-up plan. Her top-down plan was looking at what she wanted us to do and where she wanted us to go. Her bottom-up plan looked at how many days we would spend and what we could do in that number of days. Then she had a plan for each day we were there.

When I practiced law, I prepared my business plan the same way and you should also.

I started with one major goal. My goal long ago was to become the “go to” lawyer for transportation construction contractors.

Why was that important to me?

First, I was far more comfortable knowing a lot about a little than I would have been knowing a little about a lot. I wanted to be a specialist and have a niche industry based practice.

I also wanted the recognition of being the “go to” lawyer for contractors. While I always had financial goals and wanted to earn a good living, the money really didn’t drive me. It was simply a way of keeping score.

My plan for each year had many, many action items. If did not reach my yearly financial goal, I knew I had come closer than I would have with no goal or if I had set a lower goal.

My bottom-up planning began with an estimate of how many non-billable hours I felt I could spend on client development. I usually planned to spend between 240-300 (20-25 a month). Then I outlined what would be the best use of those hours.

I have a short attention span. Knowing that caused me to break my action items down into smaller pieces. Each month I outlined the actions I wanted to accomplish that month and at the end of the month, I could track how I had done.

So, what do you want to achieve? Why is achieving it important to you? What is your plan to achieve it?

I recently read: Definition of Entrepreneur from 15 Successful Business Owners and was struck by how the definitions apply also to successful lawyers and rainmakers any law firm would want to have.

For example, here is Mark Cuban’s definition:

Someone who can define the business they want to create, see where it is going, and do the work to get there.

If you are a lawyer I coached, or if you are a lawyer who I mentored in my old law firm, you have heard words similar to those from me many times. I urged you to define what success you want to achieve, create a plan to get there in 3-5 years, work the plan and create a system to be accountable.

I urge you to take a couple of minutes and read the other definitions and find one to print and put someplace you will see it to motivate yourself to action.

Remember: Plan Long Term and Act Short Term

I’ve been working as a legal recruiter for a couple of months, and one thing I have learned is I only want to place lawyers with firms when I know enough about the lawyer and know enough about the firm to believe the fit is one that both will thank me for later.

I posted this five years ago. Now, that I am helping law firms find the right candidates to join their firms, I wanted to share with you what I would look for in a potential candidate.

It’s the same thing I looked for when I was hiring lawyers to work with me in Construction Law.

Last week I posted: Want to know what it takes? I mentioned three main points:

  1. Knowing what you want.
  2. Believing you can achieve it.
  3. Taking action and persisting until you achieve it.

Today, I want to share with you a concrete example. My daughter Jill posted something on Facebook that made clear to me she paid great attention to what I was teaching her when she was growing up.

She also inherited some important traits from her mother. Nancy does nothing just half-way. She was all-in when she went to college and became the first in her family to graduate. She was all-in when she ran the blood bank at the local hospital and the Red Cross. She was all in when she was running and bicycling. She was all in when she took up golf when she was 40 (and still is today). She was all-in when she recently took up needlepoint.

I am very proud of Jill. I also feel she has expressed what I hope lawyers I coach take away from our work together. I asked if I could share what she wrote with you and she gave me permission.

I earned two stripes on my belt at jiu jitsu today. I was a little upset because my knee is messed up and I couldn’t roll. I just keep telling myself that God did not grant me with natural athletic ability so I have to work harder than most of the guys. I will show up and train every day no matter how tired I am. My goal is not to earn a black belt (although I believe that will happen) or win any tournaments ( got to enter them first), but to be better than the jiu jitsu player I was yesterday. I am not competing against other guys but against myself and my own self doubt and my fear of failure. I can’t bench press as much as Réne (her husband) and I do not have the skill of more seasoned players, but I will win in the long run because I am going to work harder through the tears, blood and sweat and I believe my passion will help me to overcome my physical short comings. I will be the best I can be. No excuses! I will be better than I was yesterday. It’s me vs. me.


What are the main points for you? There are several in her short paragraph. I love coaching lawyers who have Jill’s attitude about striving and working hard each and every day. More importantly for you, I think the takeaways are:

  1. Have clarity on what you want to accomplish.
  2. “Life is a journey, not a destination.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
  3. If you are following your passion, it is easier and more enjoyable to work hard at it.
  4. John Wooden correctly defined success as: “peace of mind, attained only through self-satisfaction and knowing you made the effort to do the best that you are capable.”
  5. Truly successful people are never content when they reach plateaus. I know far too many lawyers who reach a certain point in their career and stop learning and striving to be a better lawyer.
  6. To be successful you have to have “grit,” that determination to persevere in pursuit of a long-term goal. (See my post: Grit: The One Trait that Lawyers Need to Break Through.)
  7. Too many lawyers believe they will never be successful at client development because they do not have the natural skills (the gift of gab or schmoozing). In truth, for almost every lawyer, the quality of the effort made trumps natural ability.

Suppose you wanted me to help you find the right firm for you. I might ask you these questions:

  1. What are you doing to become a more valuable advisor for your clients?
  2. What are doing to become the best lawyer you are capable of becoming?

When I coached lawyers, I frequently heard

Cordell, I’ve been too busy to do any client development

When I practiced law unless I was in the middle of a trial out of town, I was never too busy to do client development. In fact, I did more client development work when I was busiest than when I wasn’t busy.

Now that I’m recruiting lawyers if a lawyer candidate told me he or she was too busy to do client development activities, I would likely not recommend that person to a great firm.

Why? It is really pretty simple:  I believe it is because they don’t have a strong enough motivation to cause them to “make” time for client development. And, the law firms I try to help don’t need that kind of lawyer.

Years ago, a lawyer I was coaching told me he had heard a sales seminar where the presenter said:

Time management is a waste of time.

The lawyer asked what I thought.  Here is how I replied:

Interesting. I did a Google search and saw this article: How Managing Your Time Is a Waste of Time.  I noted the writer said:

It’s the compulsive aspect I find problematic. Our national obsession with self-improvement and personal productivity bears remarkable similarities to the self-help genre and our endless pursuit of quick fixes, miracle cures and wonder pills.

I don’t view time management or pursuing excellence to be an “endless pursuit of quick fixes, miracle cures and wonder pills.” If anything it is the opposite of a quick fix.

Then I saw this article by a guy who said he used to think time management was a waste of time: How To Get More Done: Time Management For The Rest Of Us. He wrote:

I now rank everything that is important to me–both professionally and personally–on one piece of paper. They are the most important things I want to accomplish written done in list form.

I personally feel I am better able to focus on my top priorities by doing what he suggests.

To me, saying time management is a waste of time is similar to saying creating a business plan is a waste of time.

Some successful lawyers in my old firm told me they didn’t need a business plan. They kept their plan in their head.

I suspect they did not want anyone able to judge whether they were doing what they put in their plan. I wondered how much better they might have done simply by thinking through a plan and putting it on paper.

Time and energy are your two most important resources and I don’t think you can waste either.