When I first started my law degree, one expression that kept popping up at legal events was ‘commercial awareness’. My peers and I were constantly being told that if we wanted to secure a legal job, we would have to demonstrate strong commercial awareness. While we knew how essential commercial awareness was for our applications and interviews, we knew very little about how to acquire it. If you’re an aspiring lawyer and can relate to this feeling, this blog is for you.
What is commercial awareness?
Commercial awareness simply means understanding how the business world operates and what drives business success. It’s about staying up-to-date on recent business developments and understanding how they affect different industries.
Why is it important?
Clients expect commercial lawyers to provide them with legal and business advice. Sometimes the best legal solution might be the worst commercial solution for your client. This is why understanding your client’s business and the industry it operates in is key to providing the right advice.
As an aspiring lawyer, law firms want to see that you not only have such business acumen but are genuinely interested in the business world. Working as a commercial lawyer is demanding, so firms want to make sure you’re the right candidate through your passion and dedication to the field.
So, how can you develop your commercial awareness?
Commercial awareness is not something you can acquire overnight or a week before your interview. Just like any other skill, it’s something you can develop over time. Here are some suggestions for doing so:
- Subscribe to a daily news organisation like the Financial Times, the Economist or BBC News. Try and spend at least 30 minutes a day reading headlines and hot topics.
- Research your firm’s clients and read about their recent deals.
- Listen to podcasts delivered by law firms and legal professionals covering different business law topics.
- Reach out to people in the legal field and ask them how the business world is affecting their practice. This is especially useful given the current pandemic.
- Attend law firm presentations and online webinars covering commercial awareness topics. Institutions such as BPP, the Legal Cheek and the Law Society are hosting plenty of those.
- Try and find an industry you’re interested in and follow the news of that industry. This is especially helpful when you’re first starting to build your commercial awareness and are feeling overwhelmed with the amount of information out there.
- Read simple commercial awareness guides for aspiring lawyers. I found Jake Schogger’s ‘Commercial Law Handbook’ a must-read before interviews.
- Actively think about the consequences of business transactions. For example, when reading about a merger, think about why the merger is happening and why it is beneficial (e.g. synergy, reduced competition, experienced employees etc…).
- Remember that the firm you’re applying to is a business. So, familiarise yourself with the firm’s different legal departments and understand their roles. This usually comes up at case study interviews.
How can you showcase your commercial awareness during the application process?
- When talking about a recent deal you read about or a hot topic in the news, make sure to have an opinion about the topic and be ready for your opinion to be challenged.
- When answering common questions like ‘why commercial law?’ or ‘what are some of the challenges facing our clients?’ make sure to include some element of commercial awareness in your answer.
- When discussing a case study, explain how each relevant department at the firm will liaise with each other to support the client’s transaction.
- Ask your interviewer questions related to his/her practice.
- Share your thoughts on how the firm is finding new ways to increase efficiency for its clients (e.g. through technological solutions or alternative fee arrangements).
The more you educate yourself and become commercially aware, the easier it will get for you to showcase your interest in commercial law. Make sure you keep an eye out for our blogs – some contain various topics that will help develop your commercial awareness!