UCAS defines commercial awareness as: “the business benefits and commercial realities from both the organisation's and the customer's perspectives".
A looser but perhaps more relevant definition is a candidate that is "switched on".
How do I show commercial awareness?
To demonstrate commercial awareness, you need to show an understanding of business. You are not expected to know everything about it, but you should at least make the effort to do some research.
We’d expect candidates to know the answers for the following questions: where are our offices? What are our main practice areas and specialities? How are we doing financially? For which deals and clients are we engaged?
You need to take that information and be able to apply it to real world scenarios. What happens if there is an economic downturn? How might it affect our clients, and how can we continue to keep them satisfied? Which departments are likely get busier and which are not? And, perhaps most importantly, when are things likely to pick up again?
You aren’t expected to know the definitive answer, but you should be able to discuss them intelligently.
What is an example of commercial awareness?
Say, for example, a client wants to sue a supplier for £1,000. We could do that, of course, but what if the supplier was about to go bankrupt, or the court fees will amount to £2,000?
What if maintaining the relationship might be more important in the long term than litigation now?
Clients expect us to know the law and will assume we do. These days, however, we also need to be able to 'add value'; to build a relationship and demonstrate that we understand their business and its complexities.
In this scenario, you will hopefully have realised litigation may not have been the best idea. We would be expected to both (1) spot and (2) suggest that.
You need to understand what’s important and relevant to the client, rather than merely what the law is; what's the answer to their problem? How can they do what they want to do?
Showing commercial awareness in an interview
If you are asked why you want to work for us, this would be a near-perfect answer: "I am keen to gain international experience, working in your Dubai office for example because I would enjoy the corporate work done there [give reasons and/or examples, link it to your work experience if you can]."
Then, as the conversation develops: "I am aware, however, that the Gulf is being affected in many ways by the global slowdown and that corporate clients are likely to wait and see how things go there before deciding to set up businesses.
A number of law firms have set up offices in Dubai recently and may provide more competition for the limited work that is available, so there may not be much need for more lawyers at present.
I would also enjoy working in litigation, which could become busier in a slowdown as clients seek to recover unpaid monies from others and as companies resort to litigation to protect their interests."
This 'perfect' candidate shows awareness of both our business and the current marketplace.
You don’t need to walk in to an interview and immediately start explaining the causes of the recession in Dubai. You do, however, need to be prepared to deal with that if you are asked. So read our website, work out who we compete with, read the business press, and get copies of industry magazines.
Speak to your lawyer friends, watch the news, and try to keep abreast of any relevant developments. A practical, pragmatic approach is the best way to demonstrate commercial awareness.
If you think you're now ready, head over to our Legal Jobs section to get applying.