The ways an aspiring lawyer can develop commercial awareness are multiple and rather varied—from using social media to getting a part-time job. However, regardless of the method you choose, you’ll have to learn how to stay up-to-date with current events. Part of the difficulty in doing this is taking time every day to catch up with what’s going on in the world. The other—often more exasperating—challenge is learning how to understand it.
While reading certainly isn’t the only way to become commercially aware, it will often be the method most readily available to you. Coming to terms with jargon and difficult concepts in the news is one of the major challenges many law students face.
What types of commercial awareness publications are there?
You’ll acquire commercial awareness from many different kinds of media: news media, trade publications, email and news updates, and even podcasts or documentaries. It’s important that you’re able to recognise these different kinds of publications and understand what each is useful for.
News media, which includes publications such as The Telegraph or the Financial Times, is naturally important when it comes to staying on top of current events. You won’t be able to read everything and the news won’t be curated for you—although you will get better at recognising what’s relevant to you and what’s not—but news outlets are essential to get to grips with the developments in the legal and business spheres that may affect law firms and their clients.
When it comes to news media, it can often be helpful to sign up for newsletters and email alerts. Many news outlets will send you daily news updates based on your interests, which can help you save time finding news that’s relevant and interesting to you. If you’ve subscribed to The Times, for instance, you can sign up to The Brief, a daily newsletter that summarises the most important legal news for you every morning.
Trade publications specialise specifically in law, and they can be useful when it comes to keeping up with big developments in law firms (such as mergers or acquisitions) or understanding how certain current events might be affecting firms and their clients. They can also give you a better idea of how law firms function internally. Good examples of law outlets include The Principle, Legal Business, and The Law Society Gazette.
How should you read these publications?
It’s always a good idea to take a quick browse of the headlines (on both news and trade publications) to know what the main news stories are, but reading the headlines alone won’t get you very far in terms of commercial awareness.
Once you know what the most important developments are each day, you should find a few topics you’re interested in that affect the legal profession. Ideally, your interests will align with the area of law or type of law firm you’re interested in. If you want to work at a firm that specialises in EU law, you’ll hopefully be interested in Brexit and the legal repercussions it might have. You should tailor your daily news catch-up to the firms you’re thinking of applying to. Find a few things you’re interested in (and that are relevant to the firms you like) and stick with them—it will be easier to commit to reading the news regularly if you do.
On that note, it’s essential that you devote a small amount of time to reading the news (almost) every day; consistency is key when it comes to becoming commercially aware. If you spend 10-15 minutes every day reading up on current events, even the most complex articles on the Financial Times will slowly become more intelligible.
Tracking issues over time
If the issues you’ve decided to focus on have been developing for quite a long time—for instance, you’ve decided to focus on reading up about Brexit, but you haven’t kept up with it until now—it will be useful for you to do some background research. Read old news articles or articles summing up everything that’s happened until now.
Once you’re all caught up, you should start tracking the issues you’re interested in, reading any articles related to them every time you check the news. (Again, subscribing to news alerts makes this process easier). Tracking issues will help you keep up with small developments, so that when you talk about it in an interview, you’ll be able to discuss both the bigger picture and specific details.
You won’t be able to glean commercial awareness from reading a newspaper the night before an interview. It takes time to develop commercial awareness and, odds are, it’s something you will continue to develop throughout your legal career. It’s hard work to develop the degree of knowledge that law firms expect of you, but it will pay off in the long run!