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Winter 2014

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Practical Tips on Client Development for Young Lawyers

By Cordell Parvin


This article is reprinted, with minor changes, with permission from the Texas Young Lawyers Association. Cordell Parvin, Practical Tips on Client Development for Young Lawyers, eNews: e-Newsl. of the Tex. Young Law. Ass’n, (Texas Young Lawyers Association, Austin, TX), Dec. 2013, available at http://www.tyla.org/tyla/index.cfm/news1/enews/december-2013/article-of-interest.

I have done a lot of work helping associates with client development in my old firm and now as a coach. In this article, I want to share with you my practical ideas for young lawyers on client development.

Set Yourself Apart:

Client development is more challenging today for a variety of reasons. First, business clients are no longer local or loyal, and there are many more lawyers from which to choose. Second, as a young lawyer in 2014, you have less time than I had and more choices of client development actions. Because you have too many choices, you may either never get started or become very scattered in your efforts.

If you have a plan, become visible to your target market, and find ways to become a valuable resource and advisor for those clients and potential clients, you can become very successful. It is important to start your efforts as early in your career as possible.

Client Development Myths:

Young lawyers seem to buy into client development myths, and this stifles their efforts. Here are several of those myths:

  1. You either have it or you don’t. I can tell you from my personal experience that I did not have it. Knowing my limitations drove me to work at it and develop my skills.
  2. Just do good work, get a Martindale AV rating, and wait for the phone to ring. There are thousands of lawyers in your city or area who do good work. Client development is a contact sport. It is about building relationships and adding value beyond the good work.
  3. “Too young and inexperienced to . . . .” Lawyers should start learning client development skills as early as possible. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Even though you may not bring in a client now that fits your firm’s client profile, you are building towards doing so later.
  4. You have to be an extrovert and know how to work a room. I know very outgoing lawyers who are unable to attract new clients because they talk about themselves and do not listen. On the other hand, introverted lawyers can do very well if they ask great questions and listen.
  5. You have to “ask” for business. Lawyers who are good at asking do not come across as needy or greedy. I, personally, was uncomfortable asking, so I tried to be the “go to” lawyer who would be sought by clients in my target market.
  6. Associates in big firms do not need to learn client development. At the very least, associates in big firms need to learn about and find ways to become more valuable to the firm’s institutional clients. As expressed above, institutional clients are no longer loyal, so they cannot be counted on as they have been in the past. Learning the skill set to get new clients is more important today than in previous years.

What Successful Young Lawyers I Coach Share in Common:

  1. They are patient, persistent, and persevere.
  2. They focus their client development efforts on things they are passionate about.
  3. They have a plan for their non-billable time and written goals.
  4. They regularly work on client development.
  5. They seek to become more visible to their target market.
  6. They obtain feedback on their ideas and how they are doing.
  7. They find ways to hold themselves accountable.
  8. They all wish they had started their efforts earlier in their career.

Use the Internet and Social Media

The Internet broadly, and social media more narrowly, have provided new opportunities for young lawyers to become visible and credible to potential clients and to build relationships. Take advantage of those opportunities to:

  1. Locate information about your clients and information they may find valuable. I use Google Alerts, RSS Feeds and Readers, and Twitter and iPad tools like Flipboard and Zite.
  2. Organize the information that comes your way. Create folders based on clients, industries, or types of information.
  3. Write, present, or otherwise disseminate. This is your chance to show the world what you know. The valuable information coming your way provides topics for blog posts, articles, and presentations. You can also simply disseminate it on Twitter, LinkedIn, Google Plus, and other social media sites.
  4. Connect with clients, potential clients, referral sources, school classmates, and others. I primarily use LinkedIn and Twitter to connect with people and companies.
  5. Build relationships with those with whom you connect. I have first met many young lawyers on LinkedIn or Twitter and then met them in person. I keep track of what they are doing through social media sites, such as LinkedIn and Twitter.

Deliberate Practice:

Practice things you want to get better at doing. When I was a young lawyer, I deliberately practiced:

  1. Treating my supervising lawyer like a client by figuring out what they want and need and then exceeding their expectations.
  2. Finding out what is going on that impacts my clients.
  3. Networking.
  4. Elevator speech/Elevator questions.
  5. Identifying future issues which may impact my clients.
  6. Writing articles for a business audience designed to get me hired.
  7. Public speaking.
  8. Questions for current and potential clients.
  9. Active listening.
  10. Building the team, assigning work, supervising, and giving feedback.

Reading an article like this has very little value by itself. If you want to get something out of the article, ask yourself: “What can I do based on what I learned?” If you want to share your ideas with me, I would be happy to offer feedback.

Cordell Parvin practiced law for 35 years and developed a national construction law practice. Throughout his career, he mentored, taught, and coached the young lawyers who worked with him. As a partner at Jenkens & Gilchrist in Texas, he began a formal client development coaching program for the firm's lawyers. In 2005, he left the firm to coach lawyers throughout the United States and Canada. To learn more, follow Cordell on Twitter, his LinkedIn Coaching Group, or his daily blog.


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