Jul 08, 2022

Written By Robert Greene

Do you need commercial awareness for criminal law?

Jul 08, 2022

Written By Robert Greene

When you think of criminal law, popular Netflix series like ‘How to Get Away with Murder’, ‘Money Heist’, and ‘Breaking Bad’ may spring to mind. But there is a lot more to criminal law than murder, theft, and drug possession. Indeed, the sphere of criminal law pervades the corporate world and having commercial awareness is vital if you want to practice criminal law.

What is commercial awareness?

Commercial awareness is the inescapable buzzword of the moment. But what does it actually mean? In short, it can be described as having an understanding of how current deals and transactions in the business world may affect a client. Lawyers do not advise on the law in a vacuum; they must be able to advise their clients on the law, taking into consideration the commercial realities of their clients’ circumstances.


What is criminal law?

The Law Society defines criminal law as the “criminal offences and the rules and procedures that apply when the police investigate an offence they allege you have committed; when the prosecuting authorities charge you; and when you must appear in a criminal court”.

As a law student, you’ll learn about a range of criminal offences – from assault and murder to rape and theft. There is some discussion about crimes that pertain to businesses – such as corporate manslaughter and fraud – but the focus is on individual crimes. So, you could be forgiven for thinking that you may not need to be commercially aware to practice criminal law. But in reality, having solid commercial awareness is important for criminal lawyers, particularly those advising corporate clients.

Corporate areas of criminal law

There is a swathe of legislation that targets criminal offences committed by corporate individuals and companies. These include the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, the Bribery Act 2020, and the Money Laundering Regulations 2017. In addition, many corporate firms specialise in different areas of criminal law, such as white collar crime, proceeds of crime and money laundering, criminal litigation, and Financial Conduct Authority advice.

What is white collar crime?

White collar crime is non-violent, financial crimes committed by businesses and governments. They include fraud, bribery, embezzlement and money laundering. Clients may include large corporations and banks as well as prominent business and political figures. In 2017, The Annual Fraud Indicator estimated that fraud losses cost the UK approximately £190 billion every year, with the private sector losing approximately £140 billion.

Many corporate firms specialise in white collar crime, offering trainees an opportunity to apply their commercial awareness to criminal law. Indeed, having an understanding of the business world – from the regulation of financial markets to the operation of offshore companies – is vital to practising white collar crime, or any other area of criminal law that affects corporate clients.

How can I improve my commercial awareness?

There is no magic solution. Becoming commercially aware is an ongoing process, not a one-off achievement. You need to keep on top of the financial and business news on a daily basis; the more you consume, the more commercially ‘fluent’ you will become. You will start to spot trends and connect stories and events.

Reputable sources such as the Financial Times and The Economist are good places to start; the Financial Times offer a free daily podcast, ‘FT News Briefing’, which is a quick and convenient way to stay up to date. There are also lots of news round-up resources, such as Watson’s Daily, Morning Brew, and Legit News, that give you a rundown of the latest business and financial news.


Commercial Awareness