Commercial awareness can be simply defined as staying up-to-date on daily happenings and developments in the business and commercial world.
A significant portion of law today revolves around business and commerce in the marketplace, between cities and regions, and across geographies.
Commercial awareness is, therefore, one of the key requirements that a good and competent solicitor needs to master.
Sadly, becoming commercially aware does not happen overnight. It must be developed over a period of time, beginning with your basic legal education and growing as you embark on your legal career and climb the ladder.
For all those aspiring lawyers, commercial awareness is an important attribute which can make the difference between becoming and not becoming a lawyer.
Clients expect their lawyers to know in-depth details on how a business is run, what are the key factors for profitability and growth, and how best to make optimal use of resources at hand.
What is commercial awareness?
Solicitors provide their clients with advice and legal assistance on matters governed by economic, social and political spheres.
How a government rules and creates laws is as important as the demand and supply of various products and services, or societal developments such as education, public welfare and employment.
Lawyers must have a firm understanding of these contexts for their advice to have any reliability and relevancy.
In general terms, commercial awareness involves knowing about the current deals, transactions and issues in the business world.
Lawyers must have an understanding of the business environment and the operational grid under which business is conducted on a daily basis.
In particular, they must be able to put into perspective how their legal advice will affect the workings of commerce around the world in general and for their client in particular.
Commercial awareness is not a static concept; it is dynamic and constantly changing. The flexibility to adapt and adopt changing commercial acumen is the hallmark of any brilliant solicitor or top-rated law firm.
Gaining commercial awareness…
As mentioned above, it is best to start early on the road to gaining commercial awareness.
Firms will be testing your commercial awareness as soon as you begin applying for training contracts.
Most application forms have sections that are devoted to gathering information on how tuned-in to the business atmosphere you are as a prospective solicitor.
This does not mean that you have to be a business and economic guru; at this stage firms are only interested in checking that you have some basic understanding.
Researching commercial awareness
Research is the easiest way to gain commercial knowledge. Try reading newspapers, business publications and company newsletters, relevant books, watching relevant TV programmes or downloading business podcasts.
Try and stay up-to-date on the latest deals, transactions, legislative changes and other relevant developments such that you are able to understand and appreciate both the big picture as well as contemplate micro-level analysis.
Practical ways of gaining commercial awareness
Work experience is probably the most practical way to gain commercial acumen.
Working any kind of job, not necessarily one in law, will provide insight into how a business is conducted, what factors contribute to success or failure, how to utilise manpower and resources to the best extent, and what will be the bottom-line result.
Even doing short internships during the summer holidays at companies in an industry segment you are interested in will add weight to your CV.
Other methods include participating in discussion forums, industry-specific networking/business clubs, attending lectures and seminars focussing on business and commerce.
You can also interact with various kinds of business professionals on a one-to-one basis amongst your circle of peers, friends and acquaintances.
Proving your commercial awareness…
For a prospective solicitor, displaying a keen sense of commercial awareness will constitute a major portion of the application and recruitment process.
It begins with the details you provide in your application forms, continues with researching the law firm, and ends with providing final proof of your proficiency during the interview process where time will be spent on assessing your commercial awareness.
Prior to the interview, make sure you read up on all relevant material relating to business and prepare analyses of various developments in the business world.
During the interview, you’ll want to demonstrate your knowledge and aptitude in a reasoned and articulate manner.
The people you will be meeting during the recruitment process are well-qualified and experienced in the nuances of commercial awareness.
The way you tailor your responses will definitely give them an idea of the potential you may or may not possess in applying the concept in your career as a solicitor.
Thorough preparation is key, scanning headlines in the previous day’s paper or some half-baked ideas on how business works will definitely not help you during the interview or in the long run.
Get it right, however, and you will be well on your way to succeeding in the legal career of your choice.
Feeling sufficiently brushed up?! If so, put it to work and get applying via our Vacation Schemes & Training Contracts section.