17 / 08 / 20
Since I started studying law, I’ve realised ‘commercial awareness’ has become something of a buzzword that our lecturers, our fellow students and academic advisers bang on about. Most of us understand that commercial awareness is essentially keeping updated with current business and commercial developments. We also know how to build on our commercial awareness which is by looking at newspapers such as Financial Times and other reliable resources. What a lot of us wonder is why is it so important for us to have this type of knowledge and why are we tested on it in almost all of our interviews?
When I started looking into the different career opportunities within the commercial legal sector, commercial awareness was underlined as a crucial attribute for every lawyer to have. Through work experience and discussions with various lawyers, appreciating that a law firm is a business in itself engaging in commercial activity was highlighted to me. Whilst its main purpose is to help solve legal issues, it simultaneously needs to develop as a business and make money. I found that firms are very keen for their lawyers to keep up to date with the latest developments because the ability to identify risks and opportunities will help define winning strategies. It was also emphasised to me that firms are looking for people who will be able to embed themselves in a client’s situation, organisation and business, so that consequently they are viewed as part of a team rather than as mere external advisors. Understanding the client in terms of their business, their environment, priorities, and concerns can be built on through developing commercial awareness, making it a curial criterion of being a lawyer.
Our commercial awareness is often tested within interviews at firms, for jobs, summer vacation schemes and traineeships. From my experience so far with interviews this can be done through direct questions or scenario questions. Keeping updated with current news in the political, economic and legal world is a habit worth starting to make! The more you enhance your commercial awareness, the more you realise it’s a way of thinking and the less you are reliant on memorising facts! The feedback I got back from firms is that people who take the time to understand the legal industry and how firms operates will demonstrate a high level of motivation, interest, and focus. This awareness helps new hires make informed decisions, right from the start and is why it is such a key aspect to be tested in interviews.
Keeping commercially aware can also be beneficial when exploring careers you are potentially interested in pursuing. For example, certain sectors may interest you more than others. For me, I am always intrigued in the developments of the employment and business sector which has made me look at potential careers in these areas.
Sources I use to keep myself updated on new developments are through The Economist and The Financial Times apps on my phone. Notifications come through and if a particular story interests me I can access the reliable information easily and form robust opinions. LinkedIn is also a useful networking site I like to use. It is a site that allows you to connect and join online groups which expands your professional network, participate in discussions, and learn more about different industries. Overtime,things I often find myself thinking about when looking at different news updates are how that specific situations are affecting certain sectors of business, who the major players are and what are the emerging challenges for the industry affected. As I said above, commercial awareness develops your way of thinking. It will prove useful not only in a legal career but any career pathway you venture into!
I hope this has provided some more insight into the importance of commercial awareness for us potential future facing lawyers!