Today’s legal marketplace is challenging, demanding, and dynamic. Whether you are a budding lawyer or young lawyer, successfully navigating the legal marketplace in the 21st century is no easy job. But you must set forth at dawn. Positioning yourself for success in your legal career can never be too early. This is about securing your future.

For budding lawyers and young lawyers, what other way could one secure the future than understanding how to successfully navigate the demanding and dynamic legal marketplace in our fast-changing 21st century?

To help you navigate successfully, I will be focusing on how to use SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis to help you reposition your legal career. Most of what I share below are part of my presentation at the Faculty of Law, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, June 2017.

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SWOT analysis will help you know who you are and what you are made of to enable you know where you are and where you want to be.

“So it is said that if you know others and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know others but do know yourself, you win one and lose one; if you do not know others and do not know yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.” – Sun Tzu in John Bryson’s Art of War

Getting Started—Do a SWOT Analysis
One of the things budding lawyers or young lawyers often fail to do is understand their internal strengths and weaknesses to enable them get the best of external opportunities and threats. If one doesn’t appreciate his or her own capabilities, how can one know for sure what can make or break him or her?

Many budding lawyers or young lawyers break today because they don’t know what they are made of. Knowing what you are made of will help you break down whatever wants to mar you. And this is why I always implore both learning and learned colleagues: do a SWOT analysis. SWOT is an acronym. It means Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.

SWOT helps you find your career path by enabling you to identify your strengths and weaknesses so you can take best advantage of the opportunities around you and tackle any career threats.

Get your SWOT Analysis right so you can reposition your legal career.

A SWOT analysis is essential for anyone that wants to maximize his or her abilities. It will reposition you professionally. Whether you like it or not, in today’s legal marketplace, you must position yourself as a brand—a professional brand, not just any individual.

What can you achieve with a SWOT analysis of yourself?
SWOT will help you:

  1. increase your value, whatever position you are now;
  2. improve your competitiveness as a to-be lawyer;
  3. understand your strengths and make you invest more in your identified strengths until you get to a level where it creates opportunities for you;
  4. realize your weaknesses, thus you will know the pitfalls to watch out for and how to minimize the risks of performing poorly on any task assigned to you at work; and
  5. realize your full potentials as a legal professional.

Strengths—Let’s start with identifying what makes you tick.

“Enter every activity without giving mental recognition to the possibility of defeat. Concentrate on your strengths, instead of your weaknesses… on your powers, instead of your problems.”- Paul J Meyer

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To identify what your strengths really are and not what you imagine, here are 7 questions you must ask yourself:

  1. What are the things you know you are great at?
  2. What do others say you are great at?
  3. What do you do better than anyone else?
  4. What unique resources can you draw upon that others can’t?
  5. What do people see as your strengths?
  6. What makes you stand out from the crowd?
  7. What is your professional Unique Selling Proposition (USP)? — what makes you stand out from the crowd?

Quick Tip?
To get the right answers, writing down your personal characteristics can help since most of your positive characteristics will most likely be some of your strengths.

Weaknesses—Before your hidden weaknesses destroy your legal career, open-up now and turn the table against it.

“Not knowing your weaknesses is a weakness. Not admitting your weaknesses is a weakness. Identifying and acknowledging your weaknesses is a step toward self-awareness. People who are self-aware are much more enjoyable to be with. They likely have a much better chance of achieving success too. If you want to be able to sell your story, you need the whole story.”- Kim Giangrande, Take Your Personal SWOT Analysis: Know Yourself to Sell Yourself

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I agree with Kim Giangrande. Even the Holy Bible says “Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free”. (John 8:32).

Spotting your own weaknesses is one of the most difficult things to do. You have to be honest with yourself. No one is perfect. To make your SWOT analysis worth the time you put into it, it is always best to be realistic.

Say the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. A SWOT analysis is probably the only opportunity you have to say the truth and still win your case (or stay out of jail). Accept your weaknesses. Plead guilty. The truth will set you free.

This is why Georg C. Lichtenberg once said that “[o]nce we know our weaknesses they cease to do us any harm.”

Weaknesses—8 questions you must ask yourself and answer.

  1. What do you struggle with?
  2. Are their tasks that you don’t perform well or areas you receive criticism on?
  3. What do you struggle with?
  4. When do you struggle with them and why?
  5. Do you lack experience, credentials or skills? What are they?
  6. What are those things you lack?
  7. What are those things your competitors will confidently identify as your weaknesses if they were to analyze you?
  8. What makes you lose confidence?

Quick Tip
“Whenever I am analyzing my weaknesses, what I do is be my own opponent. I cross-examine my strengths to see if they are actually strengths or weaknesses that just look good.” Senator Iyere Ihenyen, ‘How to Become a 21st-century Lawyer in a New Legal Economy’, LEaP Online Lecture Series, October 2016.

Opportunities—The Exciting Part You Often Mistake for problems

“If we are paying attention to our lives, we’ll recognize those defining moments. The challenge for so many of us is that we are so deep into daily distractions and ‘being busy, busy’ that we miss out on those moments and opportunities that – if jumped on – would get our careers and personal lives to a whole new level of wow.”- Robin S. Sharma

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Opportunities are everywhere. If you don’t see any (yet), it is probably because you have not positioned yourself in the right place.

Opportunities have always been a matter of perspective. What shapes your perspective is your mindset. And your mindset is the function of your mind’s eye—the power of your imagination. It is from the power of human imagination that innovation, development, and advancement are born.

Opportunities—8 Ways You Can Expand Career Opportunities Today

  1. Networking: Where can you meet people that can help you advance your legal career? Identify them and start building your professional network.
  2. Learning & Development: Do you invest in your professional development even if you have to pay for classes and certifications yourself? Are you taking your future in your own hands and figuring out how to get the professional and skills qualifications you need? Take courses. Attend programs. Courses and programs must not be limited to law—learn business, branding, finance, language, marketing, technology, etc.
  3. Volunteering: What volunteer work have you taken up or do you plan to take up to acquire new skills and get experience at your level? Volunteering is a fantastic way of opening doors of opportunities for yourself. Don’t wait. Make the move.
  4. Exploring New or Emerging Areas of Law: Are there new or emerging areas of law that is yet to be fully explored by other lawyers in the industry? As a budding lawyer or young lawyer, don’t limit yourself too early. By broadening your knowledge, you will increase your chance of specializing in areas your strengths may really be. You never know!
  5. Taking advantage of New Legislations and Regulations: Do you know of any new Act, Laws, or Regulations that are likely to create new opportunities for you? If old dogs (wigs) can’t learn new tricks, you can. Pay attention to New laws and regulations in every sector. Your biggest opportunity may be in one of the new changes to legal or regulatory regimes. For example, the Cybercrime (Prohibition, Prevention, Act) 2015, Electoral (Amendment) Act 2017, the Petroleum Industry Bill, Secured Transactions laws, etc.
  6. Acquiring Soft Skills that Stand You Out: Is there a new skill that you need to learn to add value to yourself as a to-be lawyer? In this Conceptual Age of creativity, innovation, and design, you badly need to acquire soft skills. Logical and analytical skills will no longer be adequate. Today’s legal economy will increasingly need right-brained professionals, not just to untie knotty issues, but also get naughty with ideas in a creative-driven business world.
  7. Social-media Networking: Are you using Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or Twitter to expand opportunities available in your network?
  8. Think local but act global: Become glocal. This will make you see yourself as a global professional—and that’s exactly what you really are. So read New York Times. Follow Richard Branson. Enjoy Pinterest. Read John Grisham. Like the Stock Exchange. Bloom with Bloomberg. Download ‘The Economist’. Love Robert Picasso. Rap with Jay-Z. Score with Messi. Play Word Play. Discover Chimamanda Adichie. Be glocal.

Quick Tip?
“Those strengths you have identified will put you in a competitive advantage are often the most useful when you need to take professional advantage of the opportunities you have spotted in your legal marketplace. Never project your weakness(es). Shut your door against threats.”- Senator Iyere Ihenyen, ‘How to Become a 21st-century Lawyer in a New Legal Economy’, LEaP Online Lecture Series, October 2016.

Threats—Your Threats are Disasters Waiting to Happen

When You Only Wait for Things to Happen to You
“Just remember,” he told her. “If you run from me, I will pursue.”-
Nenia Campbell, Fearscrape

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No one likes threats (especially lawyers!). But there are few professionals who don’t pay attention to threats to their profession as lawyers often do. As a learned breed, we appear to expect business and commerce to wait for us when in fact both since left us behind. The legal profession is now struggling to catch up.

To avoid being caught up in the catch-up struggle, understand that threats, like opportunities, are the external elements in the SWOT matrix. So when dealing with threats, you are facing external factors, not internal factors. This is why you must be a keen observer of what is happening around you. If you fail to, you will be most likely left behind. Being left behind is one of the greatest threats facing lawyers. And it has already destroyed many legal careers.

Don’t be caught unprepared. It can be disastrous. Threats are dangers and imminent disasters everyone wants to avoid, if they can.

Never overlook changes in your environment, whether legal, economic, political, social, or technological changes.
Watch new government regulations, legislative actions, and technological innovations.
New government regulations, legislative actions, and technological innovations are 3 of the external factors that often create threats (and new opportunities) in any industry. This is especially through for the legal profession. Depending on how prepared you are, what appears to be a great career threat to your legal career may be a fantastic opportunity to another, and vice versa.

Threats—8 Threatening Questions You Must Ask Yourself and Answer before They Happen to You

  1. Career Obstacles: What obstacles do you face presently? Do law firms now demand law-school graduates have LLM or professional qualifications apart from BL? Do clients now expect lawyers to have a fine grasp of international commercial law so they can be sure you can protect their cross-border business interests? Are other professionals now competing with lawyers in areas hitherto exclusive to lawyers and that’s all you have got to offer?
  2. Government Regulations and Regulations in Legal Practice: Are there new regulations in sectors of the economy that affect the way lawyers practice in those sectors? (Think of the new regulations at the Corporate Affairs Commission {CAC} for instance and how it has greatly affected lawyers in “corporate practice” who hitherto enjoyed certain privileges and rights over others. Are there also new professional regulations by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) or new civil or criminal procedure that may have restricted law practice generally or in any particular law-related field like corporate practice, entertainment law, medical law, securities, taxation, etc?
  3. Poor Funding: Do you have funding challenges for your legal education and continuing legal education (CLE)? If yes, are you qualified for scholarships to enable you further your studies? Do you belong to associations or bodies that offer funding assistance or scholarship opportunities for budding lawyers and young lawyers? Do you have any career-funding plans for your long-term professional development?
  4. Weak Academic Performances: Are your academic results taking you where you want to be after your LLB and law-school program? As more law firms increasingly demand a minimum of 2.1 in both LLB and BL (and some require LLM and other advanced qualifications including experience), what’s your plan to handle this legal-job market expectation? If your academic performances are excellent, are you also developing your lawyering skills so you don’t become a bookworm? And if your academic performances are not so excellent, are you developing and deepening the areas you have competitive advantage over the 1st-class and 2nd-class upper holders.
  5. Disruptive Technologies: Are there any new technologies changing the way lawyers provide legal services in today’s legal marketplace that might affect your career plans? Law reporters are going digital. Legal Analytics is taking up jobs hitherto done by new associates. Smart contracts are increasingly sacking many lawyers in the UK and the US (and it’s only a matter of time for this to happen in Nigeria as well). Robots with no LLB, BL, or LLM are doing better jobs as lawyers. What’s your Unique Selling Point (USP)?
  6. Competition: What are you up against? What do the people competing with you have that you don’t? Are there new areas in law your competitors are beating you hands down that you need to do something about? Are your competitors getting all the clients that matter in your target industry while you are struggling to find your feet? How visible are you as a budding lawyer or young lawyer in the legal marketplace out there?
  7. Poor Communication Skills: Do you have excellent oral and written communication skills? Is advocacy skills one of your strengths? Do you write well? Are your legal-writing skills clear, modern, and persuasive or you are drunken with legalese and verbosity?
  8. Poor CVs and Legal-job Applications: Is your CV ready? Will it work for you? Is it effectively tailored at the particular law firm or organization you are applying to? Does your CV stand out and truly define who you are and what you have done? Does it highlight your achievements and show your strengths? Does it align with the job position you are applying for? How about your cover letter? Is it clear, concise, and inviting? If you were the employer or recruitment agency, will it capture your imagination

After a successful SWOT analysis, think of yourself as a professional brand.

When you know your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, you will be able to effectively harness your potential and take charge of your career. This is how you begin to see yourself and sell yourself as a brand—a professional brand. Becoming a professional brand can help you maximize your strengths and create amazing opportunities while defeating your weaknesses and shutting out threats.

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Your brand is you and you own your own brand. Your brand is your best asset. So create your brand; create yourself. Listen to George Bernard Shaw: “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”

Senator Iyere Ihenyen is the Lead Partner of Infusion Lawyers, an IP & IT law firm. Senator advises on intellectual property and information technology.

About the author

Senator Iyere Ihenyen

Senator Iyere Ihenyen writes on Information Technology and Intellectual Property. He contributes to Legal Technology and Today's Lawyer. Senator is the Lead Partner of Infusion Lawyers, an IP & IT law firm.

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