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Commercial Awareness Series (Part 3): How Can You Improve Yours?

Commercial Awareness Series (Part 3): How Can You Improve Yours?

The previous article in the series explained commercial awareness in the context of how lawyers and law firms implement it into their business practice in order to make it more effective. It explained the different techniques that lawyers use in order to communicate more effectively with clients in a language that they understand under commercial pressure. This next article in the series will provide you with hints and tips as to how you can go about improving your own commercial awareness. It will aim to prepare you for those all-important interviews with law firms and ensure that you are more than ready for those inevitable commercial awareness based questions. So, what exactly can you do right now to improve your commercial awareness?

Keep up-to-date with the news

Practically every daily news story can be linked to the law in some way – which is why it is so essential to stay up-to-date with the news. There is a vast range of reliable resources out there for you to choose from, including news channels on television, newspapers, websites, and even apps! Checking the news on a daily basis will allow you to stay updated with the latest and how it all relates to the legal industry. And it is not just legal-related news that you should be keeping your eye on: business-related news is just as beneficial when it comes to improving your commercial awareness. All those mergers and acquisitions going on in today’s market are definitely worth knowing about, particularly as plenty of these take place with the help of those top London commercial law firms everyone’s got their eye on! Knowing all about a firm’s involvement in a big business deal will be sure to impress employers at interview, so make sure you are up-to-date with this. Don’t worry if the Financial Times goes straight over the top of your head, there are plenty of other reliable news sources out there that are easy to read and will be sure to keep your commercial awareness in tip-top form, including the BBC news website, the Sky News app, and of course, The Student Lawyer!

Networking

It’s been mentioned before, and you’ll be sure to hear it time and time again, networking is a great tool in the quest to improving your commercial awareness. All those lawyers you meet through networking must have a commercially-minded attitude in order to achieve the position that they have. Their minds are rich with valuable information for you to delve into and explore. So, be sure to ask questions, take an interest, and really seek out the key to their success. Remember, commercial awareness is an attitude of mind – something that is sure to be adopted by you the more time you spend with commercially-minded people through networking! And with networking, sometimes comes a bonus in the form of work experience – another great tool to improving your commercial awareness. Work experience is an invaluable opportunity to learn all about a businesses’ (law firm’s) structure, culture, marketing, clients, competitors, and unique selling points – all key ingredients to the success of a business and hence, key knowledge which employers are looking for in the form of commercially-minded employees.

Part-time jobs

We have all probably had a part-time job at least once in our lives, but what did we learn from it? A lot, is the answer! If you have worked within an organisation or any kind of business, you have no doubt gained some valuable commercial awareness. Reflect on your last part-time job – what was the structure of the business? What was its unique selling point? Who were its competitors? Who were its clients? All of these questions, you will most probably know the answer to. Having experience of life on the inside of a business or organisation, big or small, is invaluable to employers, and deemed as an asset when applying for legal jobs.

Remember, law firms are businesses too, and they want to be sure that you know all about how a business works, and that you can identify the firm’s competitors, clients, and potential challenges with ease. Employers will deliberately seek out those individuals who have worked in a commercial environment under the commercial pressures of today’s 21st century market. This is because these individuals are much more likely to know how a business operates and hence, how a law firm operates and its position in the market – all of this knowledge makes for a very skilled employee who is full of potential in an employer’s eyes! So, be sure to draw on all of the skills and knowledge you have gained from your part-time jobs and how these make you a commercially-minded individual. That part-time summer supermarket job could be worth more than you think!

Societies and extra-curricular activities

Have you played any key roles in any societies at school or university? If so, this could be another avenue to demonstrating your commercial awareness. Lots of work that happens within societies involves dealing with finances, other societies or organisations, and of course, marketing. The ability to stay on a budget, negotiate with other societies and organisations, and market your society and what it has to offer in an effective way all demonstrates a high standard of commercial awareness. Employers are sure to appreciate the time, effort, and skill, you have put into your society or group as part of your extra-curricular work, and if you can show your involvement in the more administrative side of being in a society, you are sure to impress.

Have you been involved in any organisation of events perhaps? Organisation and the ability to market and promote are great skills which demonstrate a commercially-minded attitude. So, be sure to get involved in the organisation and/or promotion of any events within your society, and if you are not part of a society, join one! The benefits you will reap from belonging to such a group will be invaluable in the long run when it comes to those commercial awareness based questions at interview. You will be able to provide examples of that time where you negotiated with an organisation to gain sponsorship for your society, and the time where you organised for your society to take part in a volunteering day…so, make it easy for yourself and get involved!

Research

If you already know which jobs or firms you have your eye on and are planning to apply to, why not research them? Research is by far one of the best tried and tested methods of getting to know the job or firm you want to apply to, and gaining some all-important commercial awareness of their role and position in the market. Be sure to check the firm or organisation’s website as your first port of call for any key information you should know about, including what services they provide, what deals they are currently involved in, what projects or causes they support and so on. Also, make sure you read the firm or organisation’s mission statement. This is its reason for existing as a business. It defines what the firm does, how it does it, why it does it and what its goals for the future are. Analysing this statement and truly understanding the firm or organisation’s purpose will be sure to improve your commercial awareness and score you points when the application process comes around.

You need to understand what challenges and changes your target industry is facing in today’s 21 century market and how they can overcome these challenges in order to remain strong. Putting this into context, for law firms, the introduction of Alternative Business Structures (ABS) have already had an impact on the legal industry, and introduces a strong competitor for law firms who need to stay competitive. Knowing this key information is vital when it comes to the application process and having the ability to really demonstrate your passion and interest in the firm/organisation, as well as, showing a detailed understanding of their position in the market. Also, make sure you refer to other sources when researching organisations and firms to get an even broader knowledge of them, such as their publications or articles. Maybe try to find out about a careers fair they may be exhibiting at and go and talk to some of the employees who work for the firm to get even more tailored answers to your research questions. Research is an essential method in getting to know a firm or organisation and finding out if you truly want to work for their business. So, do not skip this vital piece of the puzzle when striving to improve your commercial awareness!

Now what?

Take action. Don’t leave it until the last minute to start building up your commercial awareness. Remember, it is an attitude of mind, a way of thinking – it is certainly not something you can just build up overnight! So, start downloading those news apps, check the internet for the latest legal or business-related news, get networking and meeting commercially-minded people, reflect on your part-time job, embrace or join a society, and of course, get going with the research. Before you know it, the commercial awareness blocks will start building into place and you will be more than ready to demonstrate your fantastic commercial awareness attitude by the time the application process comes around!

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