A senior lawyer asked me to boil client development down into a bullet point list of no more than 10 suggestions. I confess it’s hard to pick a Top 10, but here are the 10 that first came to my mind.

  1. Client development has changed. It is more focused than ever on the client and becoming a remarkable lawyer in the client’s eyes.
  2. Your clients expect you to understand their industry, their company and them individually.
  3. By reading what clients read and belonging to organizations they belong to, you are best positioned to identify their problems, opportunities, internal and external changes that require legal help.
  4. Prepare a business plan with goals to focus your attention and not waste time.
  5. To become a “go to lawyer” in the eyes of your clients and potential clients, writing and speaking on their problems, opportunities, internal changes and external changes are the best “bang for the buck” uses of your non-billable time.
  6. Connectors are best suited to get business by being active in the Bar and/or community and building as many relationships with diverse groups of people as possible. Are you a connector? To see, take the test in Malcolm Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point.” I also found a survey you can take: Are You A Maven, Salesman, Or Connector?
  7. Client development is a contact sport. Be purposeful about staying in touch with your contacts.
  8.  Clients hire lawyers more than law firms. You get considered based on your profile and you get hired based on how well you build trust and connect with the decision maker.
  9. Clients are not satisfied with the level of service they receive. It is important to be responsive and to understand their industry company and representative. Think of ways you can enable the client representative to do his or her job more effectively.
  10. Make client development a habit and try to do something, no matter how small, each and every day.

On Tuesday, I posted The 3 P’s. One of those P’s is persistence. Let’s explore that one further today.

Have you ever thought of giving up on client development because you were not getting the results you wanted?

I know many young lawyers who enthusiastically start a client development program and then get frustrated because they do not see instant results.

I experienced that frustration. I had put my heart and soul into my business development by writing articles and speaking at industry meetings and had not gotten the first client. Many times I wondered whether it was worth all the time I was putting in.

A couple of senior lawyers in my firm also kept putting me down for taking time they wanted me to spend helping them. I kept on because I wanted to control my own destiny and not be totally dependent on senior lawyers.

So, whenever I got discouraged I would picture myself five years later with $500,000 in business. I also made client development a habit and tried to do something no matter how small each and every day. There came a time about two years after I started, when it started raining with new clients and business.

Recently I read that two very important virtues are persistence and flexibility. The writer said:

Persistence beckons you with eternal hope, while flexibility enables you to get through the obstacles that stand between you and your dreams.

I love a quote from Calvin Coolidge:

    • Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not. Genius will not. Education will not. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

Woody Allen once said:

80% of success is just showing up.

That means taking actions. Many lawyers have no plan for client development. Others have a plan, but do not take the actions necessary to be successful.

Flexibility means thinking about a variety of options to achieve a goal. It means being resourceful and changing tactics when appropriate while maintaining the values that are important to you.

Have you ever heard of the book: “Who Moved My Cheese” by Spencer Johnson?

Cheese is the metaphor for what we want in life. The maze in the story represents how we spend our time looking for what we want. You will learn a great deal about persistence and flexibility in the book.

Check the short summary of the book.

Seth Godin wrote a blog several years ago: Mentoring, platforms and taking a leap. It is worth reading. I appreciate this point he makes:

And yet most mentors and coaches and teachers will tell you that few of their students ever do, not in comparison with their potential. A few break through and change everything, and we celebrate them, but what about everyone else?

I agree with his point. Only a few lawyers I have coached truly reached their potential. So, what about everyone else?

How can I encourage or push them to come closer to their potential? In this post, I want to ask you six questions. I believe figuring out the answers to these questions will give you ideas on how you can create a successful program in your own firm and reach those lawyers.

When I coach a group of lawyers in a firm, we frequently set a group goal and decide on action items to achieve the goal. Each member of the coaching group sets individual goals and prepares a plan to achieve them.

Members of the group share their plans with me and in some cases with the other members of the group. Each month, each member of the coaching group reports on what he or she has done that month. Some firms put the reports on a coaching group portal page and other firms send an email with the photo of each person in the group and his or her report by the photo.

Here are questions for you to ponder:

  1. Why do I have the coaching group set a group goal?
  2. Why do I ask the participants to agree on  action items to achieve the group goal?
  3. Why do I begin the first individual coaching session learning about the lawyer’s family and what he or she enjoys doing when not working?
  4. Why do I have each person to set his or her own goals and create a business plan?
  5. Why do we create 60 days or 90 days action plans each time I meet with each lawyer?
  6. Why do I have each member of the group to share with me what his or her client development plans are?
  7. Why do I encourage firms to have each member of the group report monthly what client development activities he or she has done, and why do I suggest the report be published?

If you answer these questions you will have some good thoughts on how to make client development coaching successful in your firm.

If you start a coaching program in your firm, the senior lawyers who will be coaching need to know as much as possible about the lawyers they will coach. When I start coaching  a new group, I send these coaching questions to help me better understand their practice.
  1. What kind of work do you do? Be specific.
  2. Describe your target market (e.g. who do you want to hire you?)
  3. What do you want the target market to hire you or your firm to do?
  4. What do you consider to be your major strengths as a lawyer (e.g why should your target market hire you or your firm rather than the competition?)
  5. What areas of your client development would you most like to improve in the coaching program?
  6. Have you written and published any articles or books? In what publications? How did you get the articles published? What was the topic? Are you blogging? Please give me the link to your blog.
  7. Have you made presentations at any conferences, conventions or meetings? If so, identify them and describe each presentation.
  8. Are you active in the Bar or in your community? Describe what you are doing and if it has resulted in any business.
  9. How many non-billable hours did you spend in 2016 for your career development and client development and what were the major activities you did with those non-billable hours?
  10. What have you done to expand relationships with your existing clients?
  11. What are your client development goals for 2017?
  12. Have you put together a development plan or business plan to achieve your goals? If so share it with me.
  13. Suppose you plan to spend 20 hours a month on your own development and client development. How do you think you can best spend that time?
  14. What do you think you can do with the other firm members that would contribute to client development?
  15. What is the one thing you can do that you are not doing now that would have the greatest impact on your client development efforts and how can Cordell Parvin help you do it?

Even if your firm does not start a coaching program, these questions are good ones for you to answer to better understand your own practice and the steps you can take to enhance your efforts.

I was young. Even though I had four years experience litigating government contract cases as a United States Air Force Captain, I truly had no inkling of what it would take to succeed in a law firm.

I had no real “connections” to potential clients and referral sources, but I did not think that mattered. After all, a senior lawyer in my firm had told me:

Just do good work, get a Martindale AV rating, be active in the community or Bar, and you will be successful.

That was the common thought among many senior lawyers in those days.

I wish I could remember the exact time I had my first aha moment. My mentor (we never used that term) always shared his philosophy on life and law practice. He was a young partner in my first law firm.

On this one particular day, among the many things he said, there was one gem that changed my career forever. He said:

Cordell, any firm can hire smart lawyers. They graduate from law school every year. Firms are looking for smart lawyers who have a confidence inspiring personality. Those lawyers will over time develop and expand relationships with clients.

While he didn’t say it directly, I got the message: If I was just a smart lawyer I was expendable. There would be another smart lawyer following after me.

On the other hand, if over time I was able to develop and expand relationships with clients, I would have the greatest asset a lawyer can have-clients.

I almost immediately began focusing on how to attract and become more valuable to clients. It didn’t come easy at first. I worked hard. I tried hard. But, nothing happened. Then, all of a sudden there was a breakthrough. I got that first call from a new client.

What’s my message? What was my first mentor’s message? Just like patients who need surgery, your clients want to hire lawyers who they believe can handle their problem or help them with an opportunity. Before you can become that lawyer, you have to belief in yourself. Start there.


Earlier this year a law firm marketing director asked me:
Cordell, what should be included in our client development training program?
Almost 10 years ago, I wrote a Practical Lawyer article Unlocking The Secrets To Developing Your Future Rainmakers. It has some ideas for the marketing directors.
I practiced law and learned about client development from the seat of my pants. I probably learned more from my mistakes than I ever learned from my successes.
In 2017, you don’t have time to learn from your mistakes. That was one reason I left my law practice to coach lawyers.
In my firm I found many lawyers were motivated to develop business and client relationships, but gave up when their efforts weren’t productive.
Since 2005, (seems like a long time ago now), I have worked with young associates, junior partners and senior partners, just like you.
Based on my own client development efforts and the work I have done with lawyers, I have a good idea what you need to learn to be successful.  Here is my list of Planning and Motivation activities to incorporate now:
Planning and Motivation
  1. Discover the attributes of successful lawyers/people and incorporate them into your own career
  2. Decide what you want to achieve
  3. Set motivating stretch goals
  4. Prepare a yearly plan to achieve those goals
  5. Break down your plan into shorter time frames (90 Days, or 60 Days and weekly)
  6. Take StrengthsFinder and determine what kind of client development will best work for you (See this blog post with my strengths.
  7. Make time for client development (you will never find it)
  8. Get organized for a more productive day (See this blog post for discussion of David Allen’s book: Getting Things Done)
  9. Stay motivated and accountable…even when you are not seeing results
  10. Patience and persistence (It took two years before I received the first call from my client development efforts)

The beauty of coaching is you can get feedback when you are working on each of the 10 activities above.

P. S. I have finally finished a complete draft of my novel. I’ve worked on it since 2014, and I have written 10 different versions. This one is the last version. But, some of my earlier versions tell a story so different from this one that I may go back and create a second novel with different characters.

This novel is about a young Hispanic lawyer who is best known for her beauty and defending refugee children who is called upon to defend the richest man in Texas against Department of Justice Prosecutors who know no bounds when it comes to their desire to convict the defendant and destroy the defendant’s lawyer’s reputation.

If you are interested in reading the draft, send me an email.

I recently posted a blog about developing a niche practice, and included one of my favorite quotes:

If you market to everyone, you market to no one.

A lawyer I coached a few years ago asked that I expand on why he should consider an industry based practice. Here are the reasons I shared with him:


  • Your business clients repeatedly say they want you to understand their industry and their business
  • Industries have industry publications to read to stay on top of what is going on in the industry
  • You may also have the opportunity to write for the industry publications
  • Industries have associations who meet regularly and discuss what is impacting their business
  • You may also get the opportunity to speak at industry association meetings
  • When you build a relationship with an association executive you have also built a relationship with members of the association
  • When you focus on an industry it is easier to find out who the influencers are
  • Potential clients might google “Their industry (e.g. highway construction) and law
  • You have a better chance to become a “go to” lawyer by narrowing your target market

Ok, suppose you and I had an in person coaching session today: What might we cover?

In advance of our coaching session, I would ask you to send me agenda topics you want to brainstorm with me. I ask for those topics in case I need to do any research. A lawyer I coach recently sent me this agenda of items he wanted to brainstorm:

I would like to discuss time management issues that I’ve been experiencing lately.

Lately, I feel like I am running on a treadmill from the moment I get in until 4:00 in the afternoon – I am running around but feel like I am not getting anything done until the early evening, when I get my best work done. I was wondering what works for you and if you have any time management techniques/maneuvers that might help.

So, now I would be able to prepare for our session together. During the session I would also ask you some questions:

  1. What have you worked on since we last met?
  2. What do you have planned for the next month?
  3. What client development activities do you want to accomplish the second half of this year to feel you are moving toward your goals?
  4. How do you feel you are doing compared to what you had hoped to be doing?
  5. What  causes you to feel like you are running on a treadmill until 4:00? How does that affect your work? What have you tried to do to solve the problem?

After getting your answers to the treadmill questions, I might say:

Have you given any thought to actually scheduling client development activities?

When I felt I was struggling for time, I would prepare a weekly plan. I would list the client development activities I wanted to do, estimate how long each one would take and then I would put them on my calendar. I also had a list of small client development activities I could do each and every day. When my time was very tight if I just did one of those actions, I felt I was keeping my head in the game.

You have a couple of months to focus on what you want to accomplish next year. If you will answer my coaching questions above, you will be on your way to a focused, purposeful 2018.

Put simply business development doesn’t work because it is focused on what is in it for the law firm or the lawyer rather than what is in it for the client.

If you are like most lawyers, including me, you are uncomfortable with “selling” yourself or your firm to a client.  I might have  chosen the word “hustling” clients, to express what you feel you are doing. You also know that potential clients do not want to be “sold.” You might have been told:

  • You need to “get out there” more.
  • You need to get more work from existing clients.
  • You need to take more contacts to lunch.

That may seem like a numbers game. It may also seem like your hand is always out looking for something.

Have you ever considered the definition of business development?

 Business development comprises a number of tasks and processes generally aiming at developing and implementing growth opportunities.

You see the problem is that BD is about selling tasks and processes.

When you engage in client development, instead of selling, you are focused on building trust and rapport. Instead of  focusing on the numbers, or on the process, you are focused on serving, finding ways to add value and genuinely putting the clients’ interest ahead of my own. You do not have to be that person you prefer not to be.

So, what is the takeaway? Stop doing random business development (BD) activities that make you uncomfortable and start doing activities that your clients and potential clients will value. I will leave you with a Seth Godin point that speaks to how clients decide to hire lawyers and law firms:

People don’t believe what you tell them.
They rarely believe what you show them.
They often believe what their friends tell them.
They always believe what they tell themselves.

To engage in client development, work on becoming the lawyer or law firm that is recommended, and work on building trust and rapport with your potential clients.


My best clients always became my best friends and vice versa. I have vacationed with them, gone to sporting events with them, visited them, gone to their children’s weddings and done legal work for their companies. I never viewed our time spent together as marketing. Instead, it was all about relationships and being a good friend.

One of the books I recommend lawyers read is The Sales Bible by Jeffrey Gitomer. When I read it, I came to the heading: “More sales are made with friendship than salesmanship.” Gitomer says there is an old business adage: “All things being equal, people want to do business with their friends.” “And all things being NOT so equal, people STILL want to do business with their friends.”

I believe more lawyers are hired because of friendship and trusted relationships than because the lawyer has some specific legal skill. I believe that about 10% of legal work is bet the company and it goes to the lawyer or law firm perceived to be the best to handle that specific matter. I believe that about 30% of the legal work is commodity work and it goes to the lawyer or firm that is willing to do if for the lowest fee. That leaves 60% of the legal work that all things being equal or not so equal, the client would rather do business with friends.

Gitomer makes another really important point: “Competition is eliminated. Your best competitor couldn’t blast you away from a customer who is also a friend.” That second point is the one that made me think. Looking back at my career, when my clients were also my friends, they were intensely loyal clients.

How about you? Are your friends also your clients? Are your clients also your friends?