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April 2009 Issue | Volume 35 Number 3 | Page 11



There’s an old story about two shoe salesmen who were sent to different parts of the remote world to study sales potential. The first reported back that since no one in the region wore shoes, there was zero potential. The second reported that since no one wore shoes, the potential was infinite.

Every strategy rests on specific assumptions about what’s going on in the world. Given all the factors affecting the legal market today, this is clearly a time to reexamine your assumptions about your firm’s strategies. Here are three simple steps.

Step 1: Identify . Ask these questions about each of your current assumptions:

  • What conditions must exist, and what factors must be true, for our effort to prove fruitful?
  • What else should we assume? (Example: Will clients continue to willingly pay full-rate fees to their favored BigLaw firms?)

STEP 2: Test . Analyze each assumption with these questions:

  • How valid or probable is this assumption? How do we know what the odds are?
  • If a given assumption fails, what is the impact? Does it diminish the level of accomplishment? Delay it? Or destroy it? (Example: What happens if further waves of economic constraints or new regulations stimulate a cost-cutting obsession among our clients?)

STEP 3: Act . Now subject each assumption to the following:

  • Is this a reasonable risk?
  • To what extent is it amenable to control? Can we manage or influence it? Or only monitor it? (Example: Do we move now to invest more aggressively in marketing certain services?)

Acting on your strategic assumptions requires thinking through whether they are still valid when the external world changes around you—which it does nearly every day.

About the Author

Patrick J. McKenna consults on competitive strategy and conducts special programs for new managing partners.