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Article written by James Tonge, Philosophy Undergraduate at The University of Manchester.
This article will discuss the idea of commercial awareness. Firstly looking at what the concept is, then applying it from a law student’s perspective to make a more employable future candidate.
Commercial awareness is a multi-layered concept. It involves understanding the client’s business and that the law firm is itself a business with a profit incentive. Understanding clients’ companies and the marketplaces in which they operate allows lawyers to deliver quality advice that assists the client in achieving its goals. Lawyers are valued business advisers in today’s legal world, expected to be continually vigilant to not only hazards but also new solutions that will benefit their clients. Commercially aware candidates are also aware that the law firms to which they are applying are commercial companies. Whatever area of law you choose, you must demonstrate that you can assist your firm’s business growth. For example, if you want to work for a leading national or international firm, you could develop relevant commercial awareness by reading the Financial Times and staying up to date on business developments such as mergers and acquisitions among market leaders. Or, if you want to work locally, knowing relevant domestic businesses will demonstrate your commercial knowledge. It is worth bearing in mind, that clients often do not want an academic answer to their issues. Instead, a student should be able to draw to a more commercially relevant solution.
With an understanding of commercial awareness, there are a few tips I will give to show how a student can build up their commercial awareness and ultimately foster a skill which is incredibly appealing to recruiters.
- Read the news: This is one of the most effective ways of building commercial awareness. There is a magnitude of newsletters, online blogs, and specific media outlets which focus on stories applicable to the type of law which you may want to go into and the firms that practise in that area. Also, a student can utilise social media. Follow the specific firm you want to apply for and keep up to date with the types of clients they are dealing with.
- Work experience: This is one useful way of demonstrating experience in a specific sector. For example, a firm whose focus is finance will look at work experience in a bank fondly. This is also a good way of improving your employability if you didn’t land the vacation scheme you wanted.
- Find a niche you enjoy: This is a simple piece of advice which will make your journey a lot easier. Many students often romanticise the idea of becoming a lawyer or solicitor and will jump at any opportunity. However, practising in an area of law you find tedious will quickly drain your enthusiasm. There are plenty of law firms that specialise in areas you find the most interesting, so tailoring any work you may have to that area will help make building commercial awareness a more enjoyable task.
A student who can demonstrate commercial awareness will have an advantage in interviews and will naturally land the training contract or job they desire. Often interviewers will ask questions which require some sort of commercial awareness.
- Describe an organisation’s business strategy you admire and tell us why.
- What are the most significant issues facing our industry today?
- What strategies would you use to remain competitive in a challenging market?
With an understanding of the firm you have applied to, partnered with knowledge of the industry, a top student will be able to articulate an answer to all of these questions. They will be able to draw upon experience gained from following the tips above, and as such take a step closer to achieving their goals.