A Good Old Fashioned S.W.O.T. Analysis

Blog by Julian Summerhayes. 919 words.

S ~ Strengths

W ~ Weaknesses

O ~ Opportunities

T ~ Threats

When it comes to understanding your firm’s business and lead generation model, the SWOT analysis is amongst a plethora of stock-in-trade, but highly maneuverable, tools at your disposal. That said it never ceases to amaze me how few firms have taken the time and or trouble to analyse the likely investment in a new practice area using a SWOT analysis. Perhaps it is too simplistic but complex doesn’t abet better and if anything knowing where you stand in the line of competition is invaluable.

Don’t assume that just because you have proved the efficacy of the practice area (at least to the management board or your fellow partners) means you are at journey’s end.

Just to recap the SWOT analysis is one of those keepsakes that you need to have written out for every project and be prepared to analyses it frequently to make sure, if nothing else, that the goal posts haven’t drifted too far out.

Strengths

Does your team exhibit:

  • Tenancity in the face of insuperable obstacles?
  • Resilliance such that even when everyone around them is losing their head, they have the self-believe in bucket loads to keep going?
  • Are they about to expose the firm to a market that is so untried and untested that you need to know they have the commercial sense to understand when things are not working?
  • Self-belief which is not based, in the early days, on how much they bill bur rather a passion for the area of work.
  • Strong empathy?
  • A belief in the firm? If they don’t then it is likely they will not have the fortitude to carry on.

Weaknesses

Do they recognise that:

  • They have a weakness or two or three?
  • Self-belief is often a smidgen away from arrogance and sometimes, through lack of emotional intelligence, professionals fail to recognise when one has blended into the other. If they do suffer from Ivory Tower speak, then there is a risk that they may not see the risk of the project failing at a crucial time.
  • They need help. How many times have you been asked: “Are you busy?” only to retort “Yes” when you know full well that that is not the case. In other words who has the strength of character to admit when things are not going (swimmingly) to plan?
  • They have lost their belief in the practice of law. Speaking personally I could never have done my job if I did not believe that law had an important part to play in the client engagement. If all I ever saw was a commercial opportunity or making oodles more money then that would have shone through in an instant.

Opportunities

Can you honestly say:

  • The glass is half full? Most lawyers tend to focus on the downside. They are seldom upbeat unless they have a project in front of them that will wear at least 7 quality chargeable hours against it day in day out.
  • You don’t get bored quickly? If you are the sort of person who is always looking for the next (project) fix, then it is unlikely you will get much pleasure of holding in when the going gets a bit sticky.
  • We all like the “on a plate” variety of work but it just doesn’t exist. You know as well as the next person that just when the going is getting too easy that things will fall over. One too many cliches perhaps but true nevertheless. You have to see the big picture and be content with a few, small victories along the way.
  • Starting with the end in mind should be your mantra, not the purview of work that is in front of you.

Threats

And then comes the …

  • Risk of failure.
  • The competition.
  • People not meeting their billing targets.
  • The partnership losing faith in the project.
  • And an apparent willingness to see the project fail by those who of course were never behind it in the first place. They always seem to appear on the scene just as things are about to go pear shaped.

Like all good planning it is just that. It is not an end itself but a means to greater stress testing of your thesis. As I have said many times before, the best approach to any project is to pick a general direction and execute like hell around it. Yes, you may be backing something as ethereal as a hunch but most entrepreneurial lawyers are worth backing mainly because there are so few. If you find someone who by dint of their will of personality, desire, passion and ability to generate (in the short term) fees, then chances are by giving them a semi-free reign, and giving them the resources to see things through they will make a success of things.

Don’t be afraid to re-test the hypothesis from time to time, look at the balance of reasons for entering the practice area and understanding if you have the right people on the right seats on the bus. You may be tempted to start again but knowing when to fold is seldom good advice. Knowing when to stick is equally hard but don’t measure everything by P&L but rather the likely market for the services, the ability to grow a sustainable practice area and the cross-selling opportunities.

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