Putting your commercial awareness into practice - RPC's perspective

It’s all well and good to be commercially aware, and to know everything that’s going on in the world of law. But it can be difficult to figure out how to demonstrate this when you’re attending interviews or even once you get onto a vacation scheme or training contract. How exactly does commercial awareness fit in once you’re inside a top law firm? What’s the best way to use it – and how can you keep building upon your commercial awareness? We spoke to Umut Bektas, a trainee solicitor at RPC, to find out exactly how commercial awareness fits into your future career as a lawyer.

  • Last updated Feb 26, 2018 3:39:24 PM
  • Becky Kells, Editor, AllAboutLaw

Learning on the job
Whichever route you follow into law, the moment you step inside a law firm, your commercial awareness is going to enjoy a healthy boost. You may have stayed up-to-date on what happens in the law sector and the corporate world, but the best way to develop solid commercial awareness is to experience it first-hand. So, what have you got to look forward to? We asked Umut what it’s like at RPC.

As students embark on a vacation scheme at RPC, what opportunities will they have to build their commercial awareness?
On the RPC vacation scheme, we have various opportunities to develop students' commercial awareness. Firstly, there is a trip to Lloyd's of London, an insurance market located very close to our office. This gives students an instant insight into how the insurance market works and how RPC works with insurers.

Throughout the vacation scheme the students take part in various workshops designed to give you an insight into RPC and the two broad groups: commercial and insurance. This gives students an insight into the structure of the firm and demonstrates how the internal working of a law firm operates.

Students will also have the opportunity to take part in a practice area speed networking whereby they have snapshots into every department at RPC learning about each practice area. This gives the students unparalleled insight into the workings of a law firm.

Perhaps most significant is the group business project that takes place on the vacation scheme. Students are split into two groups and given a real life commercial scenario to research and present at the end of the placement. This involves presentations from the senior management team and partners; this adds real value to the scheme and enables students to feel as if they are already training at RPC.

Showing that you’re aware
You may have memorised the entire backlog of the Financial Times, kept up-to-date with the Twitter feeds of various corporate big names, and studied an array of financial models in your spare time – but none of this will matter unless you can demonstrate it in the working world. So how do you approach a conversation in which you have the opportunity to show commercial awareness? For one thing – don’t go memorising page after page of the FT…

In a conversation in which commercial awareness is demonstrated, what kinds of things do you expect students to bring up?
Commercial awareness is more about being able to spot particular issues than knowing every topic in the news. In a conversation about commercial awareness I would expect a student to be aware of big pieces of news that are set to affect the commercial and legal sectors. Take GDPR for example, this is a key piece of legislation set to change the way every business in the EU (and those that are based elsewhere but operate in the EU) handles data. I'd expect a prospective applicant to know about this and be able to discuss it and what it means for business and how law firms are adapting for its arrival; for example, at RPC we are growing our data protection offering in response.

Whilst Brexit is another large issue on our horizon, I think it's slightly overdone at the moment and with so much uncertainty, students can fall into a trap of simply guessing what Brexit could look like and what it could mean for commerce in the UK. The key to any commercial awareness conversation is knowing how something will affect business, how law firms will subsequently respond and what lawyers will need to do to stay up to date.

Speaking the academic language – and the business language
When you’ve been studying solidly in an academic environment, it’s easy to think that the business world follows a similar pattern of essays, test scores and textbooks. While your degree is going to be a huge asset to your career, it won’t carry you through by itself – you’re going to need to put some work into understanding the industry you’re entering. Just as if you wanted to be an actor, for example, you’d need to be strongly aware of how the theatre functions on a business level and how audiences respond, so too must you give your all in understanding law firms, and the clients they serve.

How do you think commercial awareness complements the academic study that students have been doing?
Commercial awareness and academic study go hand in hand; being commercially aware gives students a context in which to apply their theoretical legal knowledge. It enables students to ground more complex legal problems and gives them real life scenarios in which to situate them. This can set students apart from their peers - knowing the law is one thing, but being able to apply it correctly and effectively is another.

However, this does not just apply to law students; all students can apply commercial and business knowledge to their subject. Academic study (whether law or non-law) can be brought to life by commercial awareness. Commercial awareness can propel a student's education to the next level giving them transferable skills such as attention to detail, spotting trends and patterns, communicating complex problems simply, and research; all of these skills are important whichever degree you study.

Whilst gaining commercial awareness can seem difficult in the abstract, but just giving yourself 10 to 15 minutes of reading a day can really bolster your knowledge over time and help you relate to complex academic problems.

Obtaining those transferable skills
Whether it's analysis, filtering of information or recognising business patterns, becoming more commercially aware is a simultaneous journey into developing some transferable skills. Demonstrating these skills on your work experience or in your training is one of the biggest ways commercial awareness is going to help you in your career.

For students, becoming commercially aware is a good way to introduce themselves to the business environment. What transferrable skills does a commercially aware student have that will equip them for a career in law?
A commercially aware student has a huge tool belt of skills that will ensure they are well equipped for a career in law. Commercial awareness enables a student to analyse large pieces of information, draw conclusions and present them succinctly; this is a core skill of any trainee. This ties in with being communicative, a skill that is vital for the duties of any lawyer such as when you are negotiating settlements or explaining complex information to clients.

Being able to spot trends and patterns in business is another hugely important skill for a lawyer and keeping up to date with the legal and commercial press facilitates this. It will also sharpen your attention to detail as you will be required to notice changes from one situation to the next. Furthermore, commercial awareness will rapidly develop the skill of research; this is one of the most crucial skills a trainee can possess – being able to find a commercially viable solution to your supervisor's issue can sometimes save the day.

There are countless skills that enable a student to become a successful commercial solicitor; however, the key strength is utilising your assets and finding ways to develop your areas which require growth. Law firms are looking for the full package and this can only be delivered if students develop their weaker areas.

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