So what is commercial awareness?
Commercial awareness can be simply defined as staying updated on daily happenings and developments in the business and commercial world.
A significant portion of law today revolves around business and commerce, in the marketplace, between cities and regions and on a larger scale across geographies. Hence, commercial awareness is one of the key requirements a good and competent solicitor needs to master.
This cannot happen overnight, but can be built over a period of time, starting early during your basic education and then honing up your expertise as you grow into starting a career and climb the ladder. It is critical to know of the overall framework within which law operates.
Commerce is the lifeblood of any society and without it life as we know it would definitely come to an end. For all those individuals who are aspiring to becoming lawyers, commercial awareness is an important capability which can make the difference between becoming or not becoming a lawyer.
Clients expect their lawyers to know in-depth details on how a business is run, what are the key factors for profitability and growth and how best to make optimal use of resources at hand.
What is commercial awareness?
Solicitors provide advice and legal assistance to clients on matters which fall into the realm of economic, social and political spheres. How a government rules and creates law is as important as the demand and supply of various products and services and societal developments such as education, public welfare and employment. Without a context which incorporates these areas, any advice provided would prove to be irrelevant.
Commercial awareness in general is comprised of knowledge of current deals and transactions and issues faced in the business world. For example, the ‘Credit Crunch’ is an issue that businesses are now facing. They will expect you to know about it and know what implications it has for your clients and their business.
You must have an understanding of the business environment and the operational grid under which business is conducted on a daily basis. Lastly, you must be able to put into perspective how your legal advice will affect the workings of commerce around the world in general and for your client in particular.
Commercial awareness is not a static concept, it is dynamic and constantly changing to suit economic and societal requirements. The flexibility to adapt and adopt changing commercial acumen is the hallmark of any brilliant solicitor or top-rated law firm.
Gaining commercial awareness
As mentioned above, it is best to start early on the road to commercial awareness. The first phase where this requirement will crop up is when you begin applying for your training contract. Most application forms have sections that are devoted to gathering information on how tuned-in to the business atmosphere you are as a prospective solicitor.
This does not mean that you should be a business and economic guru; at this stage firms are only interested in checking that you have some basic understanding and an aptitude for the concept.
Some of the methods by which you can familiarize yourself with the idea of commercial awareness can be categorized as follows:
(a) learning and research – this is the most basic and easiest way to gain commercial knowledge. Reading newspapers, business publications such as magazines, company newsletters or watching or reading business-oriented programmes and discussions through various media.
It also means staying updated on the latest deals, transactions, legislative changes and other relevant developments over a significant period of time, such that you are able to understand and appreciate both the big picture as well as contemplate micro-level analysis.
Putting such developments into perspective with the way the economy and society are currently progressing will help you understand the implications of change and how it might affect you or the environment around you or different industries and business segments.
(b) work experience – this is probably the most practical way to gain commercial acumen. Working any kind of job, not necessarily with a legal element, will provide an insight into how a business is conducted, what factors contribute to success or failure, how to utilize manpower and resources available to the best extent and what will be the bottom-line result.
If are not able to find a job, even doing short internships during the summer holidays at companies in an industry segment you are interested in, adds much weight to your CV.
Other methods by which you can build your commercial knowledge are by way of joining and/or participating in discussion forums, industry-specific networking and business clubs, attending lectures and seminars where the focus is on business and commerce, or interacting with various kinds of business professionals on a one-to-one basis amongst your circle of peers, friends and acquaintances.
Proving your Commercial Awareness
For a prospective solicitor, displaying a keen sense of commercial awareness will constitute a major portion of the application and recruitment process. You can begin with the details you provide in your application forms, continue with gathering data on the kind of business and practice the law firm you are applying to is involved in, and provide final proof of your proficiency during the interview process where quite a bit of time will be spent on measuring your commercial awareness.
Prior to the interview, make sure you read up on all relevant material relating to business, prepare analyses of various developments in the business world in the recent past, and during the interview demonstrate your knowledge and aptitude in a reasoned, crisp and cogent manner.
Finally, remember that the people you will be meeting with during the recruitment process are well-qualified and experienced in the nuances of commercial awareness. The way you tailor your responses will definitely give them an idea of the potential you may or may not possess in applying the concept in your career as a solicitor.
A thorough preparation is key, scanning headlines in the previous day’s paper or some half-baked ideas on how business works will definitely not help you during the interview or in the long run.
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