I wrote recently that in-house lawyers are looking for law firms that are innovative and efficient.  It reminded me of a speaker at a law firm retreat I attended many years ago

Barry J. Gibbons, the former Chairman, and CEO of Burger King spoke at our firm’s partner retreat. He spoke to us on Saturday morning just after a speaker from Fidelity showed us at least 100 PowerPoint slides while explaining our 401K program.

Gibbons used no PowerPoint slides, so the focus was on him rather than the screen. He also told vivid stories to make his points stick with the audience. He made them in a way that I could easily remember them.

For example, the way he presented innovation was to say that he had always been fascinated by what happened when a man for the very, very first time got milk from a cow.

Gibbons asked:

“Just what was that guy thinking? What kind of mind says to itself: ‘I’m going over there to that beast, and I am gonna pull on those things, and drink what comes out.’”

He said that kind of mind changes the world’s diet. When I think of innovators, I think back to that description of an innovator.

After hearing Mr. Gibbons speak, I had to buy his books. I especially enjoyed his book: “If you want to make God really laugh, show him your business plan: The 101 Universal Laws of Business.” I found that Mr. Gibbons universal laws apply to law firms and lawyers, but many of us do not realize it.

One of his laws focuses on branding. He suggests that branding has moved away from supply-side (as lawyers what we do) thinking to a demand-led (as lawyers what our clients need) approach.

Gibbons says we are moving from an era of mass marketing to an era of mass-customization. He describes this as

“an era in which winning companies will know as much about their customers (clients) as they would if they were dating agencies.”

That means your law firm’s webpage and your own website bio should be less focused on what you do and more focused on your clients. The idea is to have a potential client look at your webpage and conclude: “That lawyer really understands my issues.”

How much time are you and your firm spending on what you do compared to how much time you are spending on understanding your clients’ individual and unique needs and figuring out how you can add value?

Even clients in the same industry will be unique and have needs differing from other companies in the same industry.

Over many years I spoke often about the “targeted differentiators.”

It is how you differentiate yourself and your services in the eyes of your clients and potential clients. Just suppose one of your targeted differentiators was that you know each of your clients’ industries, their unique and individual needs and you provide value based on those needs far better than any other lawyer or law firm.

My guess is that your firm would be more innovative and more efficient….what in-house lawyers are demanding.

Well, sadly it happened. Something I ate did not agree with me and I was up all Tuesday night. I did not have my A game for our four hours of class Wednesday. and I slept most of the afternoon. Thankfully, I feel better this morning.

How are my classes going? I enjoy them, but I still struggle to remember words when I am under pressure in a conversation. I’ll have to work on that when I get back home.

On Wednesday I was asked what was in my room.  I wanted to include mi maleta (my suitcase). I have no idea what I said, but it wasn’t maleta.

Let’s get to business. Are you a young lawyer looking for a mentor? In my book “Prepare to Win” I wrote a chapter titled: “The Importance of Role Models and Mentoring.”

I have written extensively on mentoring because I feel I owe a great deal to the mentors I had in my career beginning with my father. I also enjoy helping young lawyers.

Give me the Young Lawyer

I frequently receive email questions about mentoring from lawyers and professional development professionals. Here is an example of an email with questions about mentoring:

“Cordell, I recently thought about your article where a partner mentored you early in your career and how this partner met with you early in the morning to teach you about the practice of law. What advice do you offer to today’s young attorneys about forging similar relationships?

How can a young attorney turn a grumpy old partner, who is only concerned about his billable hours, into a mentor?”

Those are great questions. My first thought was:

“Gosh, I hope none of the associates who worked for me thought I as a grumpy old partner.”

My second thought was that the older the partner, the more likely he or she will be to take the time to listen and provide advice. The greater challenge is getting a grumpy young partner to take time away from billable hours.

I am not sure a young attorney can ever turn a partner who is only concerned about billable hours, into a mentor. Here are my suggestions for young lawyers:

  • Find the right partner. Lawyers in your firm who are good mentors are likely well known throughout the firm.
  • Find the right time to spend time with the mentor. As explained above, I met with my first mentor (we never used that term) the first thing in the morning over coffee. I learned early on that he spent some time early getting ready for his day and he was open to meeting with me then.
  • Convey that you want to learn and become the best attorney you can be. Experienced lawyers admire young lawyers striving to learn and be the best they can be.
  • Ask good questions. Experienced lawyers generally like to tell younger lawyers about their experiences. When I met with the young partner who took me under his wing, I frequently began the discussion with: “Have you ever…?”
  • Actively listen to your mentor.
  • After the mentor offers his or her ideas, don’t say: “Yes, but…” or “My problem is…” Any time a lawyer said that to me, I decided he really wasn’t seeking my help. Instead he just wanted to complain.
  • Come up with your own action plans after a mentoring session.
  • Pass it on. Find a new lawyer in your firm and offer to be his or her mentor.

Speaking of mentoring, you may know I wrote an e-book you can download here: Strategy for Your Career and Your Life. In it I discuss my own strategy and strategies used by other lawyers. I also include a workbook for you to use to develop your own strategy. If you think the book is helpful pass the link on to your friends and colleagues.

Years ago I saw a fascinating quote in Success Magazine

Super Achievers

Are you optimistic?

I hope so because studies show optimists are more likely to succeed. Based on my years of working with lawyers, I think I know one of the reasons why. In your career you will have setbacks, disappointments and dips. Being optimistic will allow you to learn from failures and get through challenging times.

I am reminded of a famous Winston Churchill quote.

Winston Churchill

Are you seeing opportunities?

A couple of years ago, Nancy gave me “Live What You Love: Notes from an Unusual Life” by Bob and Melinda Blanchard. The Blanchard’s describe themselves as serial entrepreneurs, having owned eight businesses. They talk about skeptics and pessimists and suggest that the next time you start to say: “yes, but…” stop yourself and say instead:
”sure, how.”

Several lawyers I am coaching have told me that the change from “yes, but” to “sure how” has made a difference for them. It will for you also.

Give it a try.

P.S. If you are interested in learning more about how Superachievers think, read this Selling Power Magazine article: How Superachievers Think to Reach Consistent Success.

I’ve been having some “issues” with my golf game. A friend recommended I visit Golf Tec. I went to the one in Plano, Texas and had my “Swing evaluation.”

golf 3 men istock

During the hour, the golf professional asked me to tell him my goal. (For those of you I coach does that sound familiar?) I told him I wanted to reduce my handicap from a 19 to a 12.

That’s pretty ambitious, since I never played to a 12 even when I was in top physical condition prior to….surgeries.

Having watched myself on video in the first session, I can see why I have a 19 handicap. Can I get to a 12? It will depend on whether I am coachable and willing to make the effort between coaching sessions. (For those of you I coach, does that also sound familiar?)

Since I began coaching lawyers in 2005 I have found that some lawyers really put a lot into the coaching program and they get a lot out of it.

One lawyer I coached in 2006-07 when he was an associate sent me an email in January, announcing he had a record year in 2015, originating over $3 million in business. I knew when I coached him, he would be a rainmaker and now he certainly is.

Over time, I have developed Coachability Factors. I urge you to take the test and see if you are coachable.


Recently I received a really nice handwritten note from an Atlanta lawyer. He said:

Cordell. We’ve never met, but I’ve been following (and recommending) your blog for years. I wanted to thank you for providing me with good info and continued motivation in my business development efforts.

I loved practicing law. My clients were my friends and my friends were my clients.

Yet, I gave up my law practice at the peak of my career because I enjoyed helping younger lawyers in my law firm succeed even more.

My mission in writing this blog, sharing ideas on a coaching page on Facebook and posting on Twitter is to help you become a more successful lawyer, develop more business, use your time most effectively and have fun in the process.

I have a favor to ask: I want you to share with me:

  1. Learn Istock.jpgWhat have you learned from reading the materials I post?
  2. What changes have you made?
  3. Have you seen any results?
  4. What would you like for me to teach you?
  5. Would you be interested in participating in our Video Group Coaching Program with three group telephone coaching sessions to learn how to:
    1. Create a plan with goals and actually work the plan
    2. Raise your visibility and credibility to your target market and referral sources
    3. Build relationships and get hired

I like the ebook by Chris Guillebeau called “279 Days to Overnight Success.” I urge you to read the ebook.

While it is focused on writers, there is a great deal in it for lawyers.

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Chris describes his “World Domination Strategy” and lists six components in his strategy. The five listed below apply to lawyers.

  1. Create a Compelling Story and Be Remarkable
  2. Clearly Answer the “Reason Why”
  3. Prioritize Writing and Marketing Over Everything Else
  4. Be Bigger than I Really Am
  5. Build Long-Lasting Relationships

As lawyers your compelling story should focus on your clients. Think about what you are doing to help your clients achieve their goals or get over the hurdles that confront them.

If a potential client doesn’t know you, why should the client care about what you have to say? When you are writing or speaking always ask yourself, what is in this for the reader or audience.

Clearly you cannot prioritize writing and marketing over doing work for clients. But you can have a plan for your non-billable time and make time for writing and marketing. You can also find ways to hold yourself accountable.

I have always liked the phrase: “Think Big and Act Small.” For me thinking big means you can become more successful than you ever dreamed. Set goals that stretch you. Acting small means you are not on a crash diet. Make client development a lifestyle change.

Client development for lawyers is about relationships. Focus on the clients for whom you are working and making sure you are building long lasting relationships with them.

A few years ago I read a book written by Charlene Li and Josh BernoffGroundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies

I found an interesting idea in the book. Early in 2007, Crédit Mutuel, a French bank, began an ad campaign directing viewers to a website titled: “If I were a banker.”



The authors describe that the website has a French voice who says: “If I were a banker, I would give my customers a say in things and together we would build the bank of tomorrow.” From there the visitor can either enter a suggestion or see what others have suggested.

Crédit Mutuel received tens of thousands suggestions. Some were useless. Many were very helpful and creative.

As the authors note, instead of saying: “Tell us what to do,” they said: “What would you do if you were us.”

There is a subtle, but important difference. Because the bank is encouraging the customers to develop empathy for the bank, even momentarily, Crédit Mutuel gets much more realistic suggestions.

So here is my question: Can you and your law firm create the same dialogue with your clients? If so, how would you do it? I suspect you won’t be putting the “If I were a lawyer/law firm” question on your website.

But, you might simply ask your clients, “If you were our law firm:

  • what would you do to add value?”
  • what would you do to be more responsive?’
  • how would you improve client service?”
  • how would you train your lawyers?”
  • what improvements would you make in billing?”
  • how would you improve communication with clients?”
  • what topics would you offer in webinars at no charge?”
  • what would you ask your clients?”

P.S. Are you a lawyer I coached? If so, I invite you to do a guest post on my blog. Send me your draft on some aspect of client or career development, leadership, mentoring, motivation or another topic.


Do you want to be more successful with client development? If so, find a way to hold yourself accountable.

Here are some suggestions. One lawyer I coach created a scoring system for his 90 days goals.For example, he gave himself 2 points for each meeting with a client outside the office and gives himself 20 points for an article he got published.

Another lawyer I coached kept a handwritten journal of her activities by date. Each month she sent me her updated journal.

Several lawyers I coached reported monthly to their coaching group, their firm leadership and me.

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Rob and Suzanne, a husband and wife team I coached several years ago here in Dallas shared their weekly plan/report with me. Suzanne sent me this email explaining how it worked for her:

Cordell, really like the weekly list idea, it helps keep me on track! Just called my one client for the day and got a new case!

I can’t assure you that holding yourself accountable on a weekly basis will result in a new matter, but I can assure you it will increase your chances because you will be more purposeful and focused.

A couple of years ago, I asked a group of lawyers:

If you were me what would you do to help more lawyers become successful.?

The majority suggested I create an affordable Internet or group telephone coaching program. I have both programs available.

Many of you have participated in the group telephone coaching program. For those of you who have not, it costs $95 per month and we have monthly coaching and teaching sessions with usually 5 other lawyers.

In this blog, I shared with you the topics we cover each month and more details about the program: Client Development: Group Telephone Coaching.

As you also know, you can get coaching from me with the $95 Video Coaching Program. I shared details with you here: Client Development Coaching: New Opportunity to Work with Me and one lawyer’s experience in Client Development: Video Coaching Program Takeaways.

This is likely the last year these programs will be available. So, if you have given thought to becoming more accountable for your client development efforts, contact Joyce at jflo@cordellparvin.com.

Does your law firm have first year lawyers starting next week? Do you know a first year lawyer who will start next week? If so, this one is for you and for them.

I remember how excited I was when I showed up for work my first day at my law firm. I had spent four years in the USAF and now I was starting my law practice. If my memory serves me correctly, I wore a short sleeve dress shirt with my tie and suit that day, and learned that was not appropriate attire.

Over the years, I have regularly given presentations to first year lawyers during their firm orientation. I call it Starting Right for Career Success. This fall I will be giving the presentation to University of Nebraska law students. I focus on the importance of taking responsibility for their careers, developing a plan with written goals and using time wisely.

If you are a regular reader, you know I have written my suggestions for first year lawyers. Several months ago I took two blog posts and created a Practical Lawyer Article: 40 Important Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me When I Was a First Year Lawyer. Finally, I wrote an article for the Texas Young Lawyers Association titled: Practical Tips on Client Development for Young Lawyers

First year lawyers have other questions. They rarely ask them because they are afraid the questions are stupid, or they feel they should be able to figure out the answers on their own. Here are 10 questions I have been asked by young lawyers.

Seasoned lawyers might think they are stupid, but for young lawyers ready to start their first “real job,” knowing what to do in the circumstances described may be important.

  1. What should I do if I do not understand an assignment?
  2. What should I do when I don’t know the answer?
  3. What should I do if I make a mistake and make the partner I am working for upset?
  4. What should I do if I  have too much work and another partner wants me to do an assignment for them?
  5. What should I do when I am short of work and others in my practice group are busy?
  6. What should I do if I  have a personal commitment I really need to tend to that will prevent me from timely finishing an assignment?
  7. What should I do you if I am not getting any feedback on my work?
  8. What should I do when I  go home exhausted every day from sitting in front of the computer and working all day?
  9. What should I do you if I am not getting secretarial support or help from a legal assistant because their allegiance is to a more senior attorney?
  10. What should I do if I am asked to attend an important recruiting event and I have a memo, brief or document a partner expects to receive the next morning?

Are you stuck figuring out where to start your client development efforts?

If so, you are not alone. I have coached many young lawyers who are struggling with that same issue. Ok, what can we do about it?

I urge lawyers to do what star athletes do. Begin by making small improvements each and every day. Coach John Wooden made that point:

When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur. . . . Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made. Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time.That’s the only way it happens—and when it happens, it lasts. (Wooden,1997, p. 143)

What is the small improvement you can make next week? It might be to invite a contact to lunch. It might be to find a topic for a blog post. Do something next week no matter how small.

I have ready many articles on how star athletes train.  A 2013 New York Times blog post gives some good insights:  Training Insights From Star Athletes.

Stay Focused: I contend that in the distracting world we live in,  the best lawyers in 2014 and beyond will be those who are most focused on what they are doing.

Manage Your ‘Energy Pie:’ You are busy at work and want to spend more time at home with your kids. Your time and your energy are your two most important resources. You need a plan to use your time and energy most wisely.

Structure Your Training: Structure what you want to learn and practice on client development. Structure your client development efforts. Like the athlete mentioned in the NYT blog post, making random client development efforts is a waste.

Take Risks: The lawyers I coach who have been most successful are those who have gotten outside their comfort zone.

The Other Guy Is Hurting Too: Lawyers in other firms have the same issues and challenges you have. If they didn’t, they would have already cornered the market.

If you have time, read one more thing today. It is a short one page Forbes article titled: 10 Lessons For Entrepreneurs From Coach John Wooden.

The next time you have 30 minutes, I urge you to take each of the 10 lessons and simply write a sentence or two on how each lesson applies to your law career. If you would like, share your ideas with me.  I would enjoy posting a blog with readers ideas.

I hope to hear from you.