When a young partner comes to me wanting to change law firms, among other things, I ask:

  • What is the most important thing you want to accomplish in your career?
  • Why is accomplishing it important to you?

Years ago, a lawyer I was coaching was struggling with developing specific actions in his plan. He asked me to help him.

I told him he was going at it backwards. You and he will have a difficult time figuring out how if you haven’t figured out what and why.

I know I am not the first person to use these words, but I have always found them incredibly powerful and inspirational. If you can figure out the WHAT, and you know the WHY you will creatively figure out the HOW.
Have you figured out WHAT you want to become both as a lawyer and in your personal life? Do you know WHY it is important to you? If so, let your creative mind come up with HOW to achieve it.
Want more thoughts on this subject? Check out the Fast Company post: 5 Career Questions To Ask Yourself Instead Of, “What’s My Passion?”

As we are approaching 2016, is your law firm encouraging your associates to create a career plan with goals? I asked the question because when I was the partner responsible for career development in my old firm, our firm made if more difficult.

The message our associates received was that achieving billable hours was the only thing that mattered. Some of our partners subtly, and not so subtly, made the point repeatedly.

Bonuses were set based on “billable hours.” I used a graph to show spikes of billable hours at the bonus levels. Our associates were congratulated more often for their billable hours than they were for the quality of their work.

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Our firm laid off associates because they did not have enough “billable hours.” It wasn’t the associates fault. Their lack of hours occurred because the work in the practice group was slow, or because the partners needed to get their own billable hours.

I remember some partners in our firm discouraging associates from attending “training” and career development sessions because it took away from “billable hours.”

When associates returned to the office from a pro bono effort, community service or client development meeting, they were sometimes made to feel they were not carrying their share of the load. If they cut back on their billable hours in order to spend more time with their children or in the community, some were made to feel they were not committed to their work.

We had some really great mentors and some that were not interested. As a result some or our  associates became disillusioned by the mentoring process. They anticipated their mentor would help them in career planning and they had high expectations when they selected their mentor, only to have those expectations dashed when the sole mentoring activity was lunch at the firm’s expense.

I remember one associate who with my help had developed a specific career plan. When she enthusiastically shared it with the partner for whom she worked, he put down her idea.

In 2015, is your law firm encouraging or discouraging your associates?

Here are five questions your senior lawyers should ask your junior lawyers or that your associates should ask themselves:

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  1. What are you good at? What are you really good at?
  2. Is there a need for your talent? Is it marketable? Will someone pay you for it?
  3. What is your passion? What excites you?
  4. What are your core values? How do you want to practice law and live your life?
  5. How can you integrate your talent, passion and integrity? What steps do you need to take to accomplish your goal?

When your associates answer these questions for themselves or for your firm, they become the architects of their careers. They take responsibility for making, shaping and achieving their objectives.

AND when they own their goals, when they are motivated from within, they will operate at a much higher level of achievement that will speed them toward them. Who in your firm will encourage them to do that?

If you have read my blog posts this week, you know I have focused on the new lawyers who just started in law firms. Many start with great enthusiasm and also great fear. I know. I had both.

Over time your first year lawyers will either become artisans or virtuosos.

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I thought of this idea because several young partners I coach have complained about the way the young associates who work for them analyze a problem.

These very bright associates seem to only do what they are tasked to do rather than digging deeper when confronted with an issue and trying to figure out an appropriate answer.

Some time ago I came across an interesting two part blog titled: Artisans and Virtuosos: Cultivating Adaptive Expertise in our Children–and In Ourselves.

The blogger discussed ideas shared by John Bransford in his chapter “How Experts Differ from Novices.”  In that chapter, Bransford outlined six principles of of “expert’s knowledge” and then examined their “potential for learning and instruction.” The very first principle is:

Experts notice features and meaningful patterns of information that are not noticed by novices.

Young lawyers who are artisans do only what is required. I think they must have been taught how to take the tests, including the bar exam.

Young lawyers who are virtuosos see meaningful patterns that cause them to dig deeper. I loved digging deeper and finding a solution others missed.

In Part 2 of the blog, Virtuosos: Learners in the Age of Meaning, Imagination and Ideas the blogger discusses Bransford’s description of routine experts in his informal essay “Thoughts on Adaptive Expertise:”

Routine experts (‘artisans’). . .tend to accept the problem and its limits as stated. . . Their approach to these tasks is primarily to find things that they have done before that can be applied to the new situation. They attempt to ‘get the problem solved’ as efficiently as possible and then move on to the next task.

How can we help young lawyers gain experience in seeing issues they are currently missing? In my work I have found that young lawyers develop their skills by doing not by listening.

So, what opportunities to learn by doing is your firm providing young lawyers?

Our daughter Jill starts a new school year teaching today.

Years ago when Jill was in college we were taking a father-daughter trip to a Virginia Tech football game. While on the plane, Jill said:

Dad, there is something I have to tell you.

With fear of what it might be, (I don’t think any dad wants to hear something his child has to tell him). I asked:

What’s that Jill?

She said:

Dad, I don’t want to be a lawyer. I want to teach.

I was quite relieved and I told Jill I admired her for following her passion.

Several years later when she and I were preparing for a high school youth group program at our church, Jill showed me her journal from high school which included her life goals at the time. One of her primary goals was to teach special education.

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 1.51.42 PMOn Sunday, we met Jill and her husband for brunch after church. She described her experience at the “back to school” night last week. She enthusiastically told us about children she had taught who are now in high school and made a special trip back to the elementary school to see her and thank her.

Jill has been teaching now for 15 years. She first taught middle school, so those first students are now in their late 20s. Some of them regularly contact her.

What can you learn from Jill? First, follow your passion. She has a clear idea of what she wants to do. She is very focused on serving the needs of her kids.

Second, the real joy of practicing law comes when we know what we did made a difference for our clients and they appreciate us for it.

Third, help someone in need who will never be able to pay you. If you’ve done that, you know the feeling you get from it.

While it may not be easy for you, if you can find the same things in your law practice, you will have the same kind of satisfaction.

Two weeks ago, I coached 8 lawyers in a firm for the first time. The most common theme of our coaching sessions was time.

I have family with young children. How can a find, make, carve out time for career development and client development, do my billable work and spend quality time with my family?

These lawyers are not the first to ask the same question. It is the question most asked by lawyers who have children.

I have argued that your time and your energy are your two most important resources. So, how can you plan and use them most wisely?

The answer is do not plan your non-billable time career and client development actions, until you know the WHAT and the WHY.

I know I am not the first person to use these words, but I have always found them incredibly powerful and inspirational. If you can figure out the WHAT and you know the WHY, you will creatively figure out the HOW (and use your non-billable time most wisely).

Some time ago I read: Research: Your Reasons for Change Make all the Difference. Take a minute and read it. The writer makes three main points about reasons for change that can make a difference. Paraphrasing those are:

  1. You will be better off if your reason for change is a positive one for your future.
  2. You will better off if you are intrinsically motivated rather than extrinsically motivated.
  3. You will be better off if your reason for changes involves others rather than just yourself.

Seth Godin wrote an interesting blog about time recently: Time doesn’t exist until we invent it.

I liked this:

Time on a long bus trip goes so much slower than time spent doing what we love with people we care about.

Like I said: When you know the WHAT and the WHY…

In December and January I will be presenting Webinars on Preparing Your 2014 Plan for Success. Contact Joyce at jflo@cordellparvin.com for more information.

I don’t run into many senior lawyers who understand. Do the senior lawyers in your firm realize it is way more challenging for a young lawyer to develop a book of business in 2013 than it was when the senior lawyers did it?

In mid-sized and larger firms today, income partners and senior associates go to work each day with the full knowledge that their firm has raised the bar on what it takes to get promoted to equity partner at the very time it is more difficult than ever to meet the standards.

I hope you saw my recent blog: Client Development/Career Coaching: Who will succeed? If you missed it, I argue that attitude trumps talent every time and argue that your most motivated lawyers are the ones who will benefit the most from coaching.

I saw these quotes in a Harvard Business Review article: What Can Coaches Do for You?  I am sharing them with you to support my proposition that coaching should be aimed at lawyers with the greatest potential and to suggest that coaching is more important in 2013 than ever before. (Note: I added references to lawyers and law.)

Ten years ago, most companies engaged a coach to help fix toxic behavior at the top. Today, most coaching is about developing the capabilities of high-potential performers.

Executives (lawyers) who get the most out of coaching have a fierce desire to learn and grow.

There’s no question that future leaders (rainmakers) will need constant coaching. As the business environment becomes more complex, they will increasingly turn to coaches for help in understanding how to act. The kind of coaches I am talking about will do more than influence behaviors; they will be an essential part of the leader’s learning process, providing knowledge, opinions, and judgment in critical areas. These coaches will be retired CEOs (lawyers) or other experts from universities, think tanks, and government.

Is your firm providing coaching opportunities for your high-potential lawyers, or are you just requiring them to meet higher standards in the “new normal” era?




Did you read a November, 2011 New York Times article: What They Don’t Teach Law Students: Lawyering? It referenced an American Lawyer survey finding that 47% of clients surveyed did not want first or second year associates working on their matters. It also identified what clients are saying to firms:

But the downturn in the economy, and long-running efforts to rethink legal fees, have prompted more and more of those clients to send a simple message to law firms: Teach new hires on your own dime.

Are you  in a firm that is investing in your  associates’ skills, or is only interested in your associates’ billable hours? In the last week I have coached and taught senior associates in two firms on how to develop their skills and become successful at securing, retaining and expanding relationships with clients. Those two firms are not only investing in their associates. They are also investing in their clients.

When I was named the partner responsible for attorney development in my old law firm during the booming economy, I spent a lot of time with our firm’s associate committee. I discovered that very few of our associates had any kind of plan with written goals to develop their skills and become more valuable to our clients. (Do your associates?) I decided to teach career planning with written goals to the associates in each of our offices.

I scheduled my first session for a lunch program on a Friday at our Los Angeles office.  On Tuesday that week I learned that very few of our Los Angeles associates had signed up. The office administrator told me the reason was they “have to get their hours.”

At the time our firm had a grid with pay and bonuses based on hours beginning at 1950 hours and increasing at every one hundred hours . Our associates knew how to work the system. We had a large number at 1950 to 1960 hours and then it dropped off dramatically. Not unexpectedly, a second surge occurred at the 2050-2060 numbers, then another dramatic drop off. I could go on, but you get the picture.

I thought our bonus system was backwards. When you reward hours, you get hours. Your lawyers are more concerned about their hours than they are about the quality of their work. Clients do not want to pay for more hours.

Believe it or not, they would prefer to pay law firms for work done more efficiently because the associates have developed the skill set on the firm’s dime. I love the opportunity to work with law firms that “get it.”




  1. Law schools brag that students are taught to “think like a lawyer.” Unfortunately students are not taught to “think like a client.” As a result, young lawyers do not appreciate the business context of their legal work.
  2. Law students are taught "the law," but not taught how to to be a lawyer who helps clients.
  3. Law students are taught to speak and write, but not taught to ask good questions and actively listen. 
  4. In law school, establishing goals is easy. Most law students want to finish near the top of their class, pass the bar and get a good job. As associates, setting goals is more complicated because the potential choices are infinite. So, most associates do not have a plan for their career or for client development. Many who do have a plan do not have the discipline or commitment necessary to stay with it during “dips.”
  5. In many firms associates are told to do great work and not worry about client development. Yet, in those same firms, the path to partnership generally includes the associate’s potential to develop business, or in some cases their actual success developing business. 
  6. The learning curve for developing business and expanding relationships with clients is the about  the same no matter when the learning begins. Associates who begin learning about client development early in their careers are better prepared to be valuable partners.
In Building the Next Generation of Rainmakers article I wrote for “The Practical Lawyer,” I outlined the kind of training on client development I suggest for associates. As you will see in the article, I suggest that to the extent possible, the learning be interactive and experiential rather than just lectures. In the training, associates should learn how to prepare a Development Plan with goals, how to focus on their contacts, how to build their profile and how to build relationships.
I talked about many of those things in a LexBlog Client Development for Associates webinar Tuesday when I answered questions from participants. After the webinar LexBlog blogged Following up on today’s webinar with Cordell Parvin: a few helpful materials. Click on the link and you will be able to download the materials.