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, I’m finally back home from San Miguel de Allende, the city awarded best in the world by Travel and Leisure. I’ve been told that the number of searches for San Miguel de Allende since the award is incredible.

I am happy to be home, but, I miss the great learning experience at Habla Hispana, the  $1.20 lattes, inexpensive meals, watching 100s of families gather at El Jardin, buying vegetables and street corn from the same vendors at the Mercado.

But, most of all I miss the local people I met and my classmates, who like me poured their heart out  learning to speak and understand Spanish.

San Miguel’s award: Best in the World, and what is likely to follow made me recall Seth Godin.

Being best in the world is seriously underrated.

is Seth Godin’s opening line from his book: “The Dip.” He talked about it in this video, as one of his 10 rules.

He says the only way to win is to be talked about. People do not talk about average companies,  or average law firms.

What is being the best lawyer in the world? It is simply being the best is in the eyes of your clients and potential clients. They define what best means. For most legal work, “best” does not mean literally the best. It means “best” at the time, “best” value, “best” for the particular matter.

Since the big recession, business clients have redefined “best in the world. In many cases it is no longer big law firms whose associates billing rates are $300-$500 an hour. If your firm is not one of those pricey ones, what are you doing to become visible to the large companies that are looking for more value for their money? Do you know who the influencers are for those large companies? Do you know what they read?

Business Section of Paper

You won’t be very successful by trying to sell those clients. Everyone is trying to sell them, so they will not believe what you say. You will be more successful by showing them.

Suppose a General Counsel of a large company came to your law firm website. What do you suppose she would be looking for? Do you suppose she would find it on your website, or is your website just like every other law firm’s site?

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.

Greetings from Phoenix, where unless you live here, it’s hard to imagine how hot it is outside. I’m coaching lawyers here and one topic we have been discussing is how each lawyer can become a “go to” lawyer in his or her field.

Do you remember a blog I posted: Lawyers: Being the Best in the World is Seriously Underrated ?

 The title is based on  Seth Godin’s quote: “Being the best in the world is seriously under rated.” The world in this case is being seen by your target market as being the best at something they need.

My first target market was commercial businesses, then I narrowed it to the construction industry. A few years later I further narrowed my target market to highway, heavy civil construction contractors.

At the time, that was a fast growing industry due to Interstate construction throughout the United States. Narrowing my focus was one of the most important things I ever did.

You might be thinking that focusing on an industry may not work for you. If you are, I urge you to reconsider, because the more narrow your focus, the more likely you can be “best in that world.”

Forbes recently published: The 10 Fastest-Growing Industries in The US. Take a look. Reading it almost made me return to my law practice and put my guides pictured below on social media.

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Which industries are growing fast, but are not over crowded with lawyers seeking to serve those businesses? If you find one with those characteristics and one you would be passionate about representing, you can become the “go to lawyer.”

I spent a career identifying my clients’ problems, offering a solution and giving it away. Lawyers I coach now ask:

  1. Weren’t you afraid that clients would just accept your free stuff and not hire you?
  2. Weren’t you afraid other lawyers would “steal” your stuff?

Short answer to both questions:


I am sure some clients used the free stuff and never hired me. I am sure today that some lawyers and law firms use the free stuff I provide and never hire me.

But, I created it in each case to demonstrate I understand my clients business and their issues. And, I hope I helped those who used my materials.

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A few years ago there was a big debate about Chris Anderson’s book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price.

I never read the book, but I found his book The Long Tail interesting and I blogged about one of his main points.

After Anderson wrote Free, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a review in the New Yorker criticizing the book.

Then, Seth Godin blogged: “Malcolm is Wrong.”

Godin suggested that “free” is a way to get attention in a crowded market at the beginning and that in a digital economy with many players and low barriers of entry, cost will go down.

Godin also distinguished between commodities and what people are willing to pay for. “

People will pay for content if it is so unique they can’t get it anywhere else, so fast they benefit from getting it before anyone else, or so related to their tribe that paying for it brings them closer to other people. We’ll always be willing to pay for souvenirs of news, as well, things to go on a shelf or badges of honor to share.

What does all this mean for lawyers?

As I said above, I attracted new clients by identifying their problems, offering a solution and giving it away.

  • I wrote a monthly column for Roads and Bridges magazine
  • I spoke at industry meetings’
  • I created guides and gave them away.

My strategy was to give things away to demonstrate I was the “go to” lawyer for my narrow market of transportation construction contractors. It worked for me and I believe it will work for you, especially if you are the first lawyer to identify the problem and offer a solution.


I want to share a few ideas on “selling” your services in some posts between now and the end of the year.

Would you be surprised if I told you that one secret of client development is to “stop selling.” In many ways client development is counter intuitive and this is one of them.

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Think about buying a car. Are you more likely to do business with the dealer who is trying to sell you a car or the dealer who is trying to help you find a car. I hate doing business with someone who is selling me something, but I frequently do business with someone who is helping me.

My life improved immensely when I changed my mindset from marketing and selling myself to finding ways to help my clients and potential clients. Yours will also. Selling and marketing yourself is about what is in it for you. Finding ways to help is about what is in it for them.

Most lawyers I know are uncomfortable asking for business. It’s understandable because they fear how they will be perceived and do not like the feeling of being rejected.

So how do you ask for business? Try this: Next time you are at the point where you are thinking about asking for business, say:

I would love the opportunity to work with you and help you on this.

Before you are at that point consider saying:

What can I do to help you be more successful in your job?

Recently I had a coaching session with an outstanding lawyer I coach. He lamented that he was making all kinds of client development efforts, but not achieving results. In other words, he was getting noticed, but not hired.

A few years ago Seth Godin posted a blog titled: “Notice Me.”

If you are getting noticed but not hired, read the bullet point list in Seth’s blog and develop an action you can do for each item on the list.


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.

If you are a lawyer I have coached, you could have written this blog post. You likely remember, we talked about repurposing the content you create.

As we talk about repurposing what you create, keep these four points in mind:

  1. More often than not, clients hire lawyers rather than law firms.
  2. Client development is about relationship building.
  3. You will be considered by a new client based on recommendations or based on something you have written or presented.
  4. The recommendations more often than not will come from weak ties.

Have you handled a complex matter recently? If so, how can you reuse materials you created to educate other potential clients, referral sources and weak ties?

Take something that was created in your billable work that your client would give you the ok to share.

Create an article or blog post. From the article or blog post create a presentation or a webinar. From the handout for the presentation, create a guide.  You get the idea.

I always did that. Let me share an example.

In the early 90s, the Federal Highway Administration received permission from Congress to “experiment” with Design-Build construction of complex bridges and highways.

I knew the experiment would lead to states wanting to construct more and more projects by design-build contracts. I also knew contractors were unprepared for this change.

I decided to do workshops across the country to educate contractors. About 100 contractors attended. I had taken many hours to prepare the detailed handout materials. I wanted to get the materials in the hands 100s of other contractors .

When it became possible, I had our marketing department put the materials on my website where they could be easily downloaded. Here is a link to my Design-Build Guide.


Next, I broke out sections of the guide and created several articles that were published. The net effect was I reached a much wider audience by repackaging the materials I had worked so hard to create. In some cases I put materials in front of potential clients I had never met.

First, I was hired by a state in New England to help draft their first design-build contact.

A couple of years after that, I was hired by the contractor to help put together a proposal to install a very complex electronic toll collection system in the Northeast.

Because of my design-build articles and presentations, I was hired by several contractors to handle disputes arising from design-build contracts. All of these opportunities and engagements came as a result of creating content and reusing it.

Think about how you can repurpose materials you create.

If I coached you, then you know all about the strength of weak ties concept which was first discussed by Mark Granovetter. We talked about it at length.

I also told you how blogging, the internet and social media has taken much of the luck out of getting recommendations from weak ties. Are you taking advantage of what we discussed?

As I reflect on my own career, I know just how powerful weak ties can be. I have shared this story before but it is worth sharing again.

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In early 1983, President Reagan signed into law the Surface Transportation Act of 1982. It included a provision that for the first time by statute required that 10% of the federal highway funds be expended with Disadvantaged Business Enterprises. That created new and complicated legal issues for highway contractors.

I wrote a guide and spoke on the subject all over the country. One presentation was a panel in Washington, DC.

A lawyer from the Federal Highway Administration was on the panel with me. I had never met him before we spoke that day. I have not seen him since, but I still remember his name. He was my ultimate “weak tie” relationship.

About six months after the panel presentation, I received a call from the general counsel of one of the country’s largest contractors. They had a $30 million issue with the City of Atlanta.

The general counsel told me he heard I was the one to call for help. Later in the conversation I asked how he had heard of me.

He had called the Federal Highway Administration about the problem and a lawyer there told him that Cordell Parvin was the lawyer who could help them. Fortunately, I was able to help the client solve the problem and that led to a long lawyer-client relationship.

I look back now and almost every major matter or every new client came to me as a result of recommendations from weak ties.

But, in 2015, there is something more to consider. When I was getting referrals from “weak ties,” they most often had heard me speak or read one or more things I had written. Take one moment to think about how limited my weak ties were.

  • To hear me speak, they would have had to be there in person.
  • To read anything I wrote, they would have had to have a hard copy.

Just, think about how many more “weak ties” would have heard me speak after the internet and social media made it so easy.

I have audio podcasts, a video coaching series and video on Youtube. Anything I write can be found by a Google search of the subject.

I saw a video clip from class taught by Stanford University Instructor Robin D. Stavisky.

I like this quote:

Social networks enable you to amplify reach.

Who are your weak ties?

How can you blog, use the internet and social media to geometrically expand the number of “weak ties?”

Have you thought about my three hour video coaching program?  You can participate and get feedback from me after each of the 7 sessions for only $49. (I spend more than that on coffee over 7 weeks).