There's no need to be terrified of commercial awareness, and if you're interested in the law, it's likely that you've already got some. That said, employers will be on the lookout for commercially aware students - so make sure you know what commercial awareness is, and how you can enhance yours.
What is commercial awareness?
In this day and age you will have no doubt noticed that many employers are using the words 'commercial awareness'. So what is commercial awareness and how can you ensure that you have it?
Put simply, commercial awareness is an understanding of the business world in which we live. It is about being able to look at situations from a business or commercial perspective.
This can mean understanding what makes a business successful and an appreciation of the factors that influence success. This is extremely crucial for a career as a lawyer, especially that of a commercial lawyer.
Why do I need commercial awareness?
As your career progresses in private practice you will not only be expected to provide commercial and sound advice, you will also become more involved in decisions which affect your firm as well.
You will probably also be unsurprised to hear that what clients want in terms of legal advice is a user-friendly product which is based on an understanding of their business and not advice which is delivered in a relative vacuum.
Even at a student level, employers will be looking for some appreciation of commerciality. This will be tested at interview level whether it be through direct questions on topical issues in the news or press; a group exercise where you will have to apply commercial considerations to a given scenario; or report writing on a particular subject.
How do I get commercial awareness?
Everyone has at least some exposure to commercial awareness.
Any work experience in a company or organisation will have enhanced your commercial awareness in some way. What did you learn about the company? How were the needs of clients or customers met? How did the organisation market itself? Was there any legislation impacting on the delivery of its goods or services?
If you are intending on a career in law it is important to gain as much legal-related work experience as possible, whether it be a paid vacation placement run by a large law firm or work experience at a high street firm.
Experiencing life in a law firm like this should give you a good insight into the workings of a firm and some appreciation of how it operates as a business.
Similar considerations apply to any extra-curricular activities you may have been involved in. Did you manage a student society? Did you have to publicise any events or deal with budgets and cost considerations? How did you attract new members?
Take a step back and look at your various activities with a business mind. The more you question actions and their motivations, the more you will become comfortable with noticing and discussing their commercial implications.
How can I improve my commercial awareness?
The obvious source is reading broadsheet newspapers such as The Financial Times or The Telegraph. If these seem a little dry at first target the business areas of their websites or try setting up e-alerts. This way you will have the main headlines sent to your email inbox with the option of clicking through to the full-length article if you would like to find out more.
Try watching the news regularly. Some people find it easier to understand and remember information which is delivered in an audio-visual away. Whichever medium you use, the trick is to be generally aware of what is going on in the business world around you.
If you are applying to a particular firm or sector, look at the websites and mission statements of the firm and their competitors. Before going to an interview you should research the company’s current activities, any publications they have recently released, relevant press articles and what their current deals are.
A really good way of gaining an insight into the company is to look at the company’s annual report if it is publicly available. This will be introduced with a statement from the chairman who will talk about the past financial year and the company’s future ambitions, and will also include all the financial data you need to get a good understanding of how the company is doing.