Answering commercial awareness questions
Commercial awareness has become something of a buzzword in the legal sphere. Lawyers are required to demonstrate an understanding of commercial issues and contextualise current affairs within a legal framework. Consequently, recruiters will be paying close attention to the candidates’ commercial awareness during the interview, assessment centre and the initial written application.
Although you may have already developed commercial awareness, knowing how to answer the questions during an interview is crucial to secure the vacation scheme, training contract or pupillage.
It is unlikely you will ever come across a question simply asking “in what way are you commercially aware?” Rather, the questions you will come across in the application form will be a lot more specific and generally geared towards a particular aspect of the firm. For instance, the question could ask you to define private equity or evaluate the difference between a private limited company and a public limited company.
Alternatively, you might come across a question that is structured as a case study. In this case, you will be required to assess the performance of a business. Think about the company’s sources of income and expenditures, its competitors and any external factors that impact the business.
A law firm may expect you to demonstrate commercial awareness without ever explicitly mentioning the term. They will expect applicants to demonstrate their commercial awareness when answering questions such as “why have you chosen to apply to our law firm?” Such a question requires you to align a key focus of the law firm with your own commercial understanding.
If the law has a tech focus, a possible answer could be: “My own interest in tech aligns with ___’s focus on FinTech. I know that ___ recently worked on a deal with ___ FinTech company. With the FinTech industry expanding at a rate of ____, it is something I would like to be at the forefront of.”
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During an interview
You will need to be capable of answering questions on the spot in a fluid and concise manner. But unlike the application form, you will not have time to clearly plan out your answer. That shouldn’t stop you from preparing before the interview for any speculative questions.
Typical questions that are worth preparing for include:
What are the biggest issues the legal industry faces in the future?
How does our firm compare to our competitors?
What is your opinion on (current news story)?
It is important to stress, recruiters are not necessarily interested in your opinion, but rather how you reached your opinion and how you go about sharing your opinion. When preparing your answers to these questions make sure to relate your chosen topical story to the legal practice of the firm.
Whatever stage you are at in your legal career, commercial awareness is a skill you should continually seek to develop and expand. We have plenty of other articles that offer tips and advice to develop your commercial awareness, whether you are in the first or final year of a law degree.