What is commercial awareness?

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.

  • Last updated Nov 12, 2019 12:33:05 PM
  • By Billy Sexton and Anna Vall Navés

Commercial awareness can be simply defined as staying up-to-date on daily happenings and developments in the business and commercial world.

For aspiring lawyers, commercial awareness is an important attribute that 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, the key factors for profitability and growth, and how to make optimal use of resources at hand.

Unfortunately, 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.

What is commercial awareness?

Commercial awareness involves knowing about the current deals, transactions and issues in the business world that might affect a client. 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 client’s business. 

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.

Why is commercial awareness important?

Solicitors provide their clients with advice and legal assistance on issues that are either related to or governed by economic, social and political events. While clients know a lot about their business, they generally are not experts in the law. This is where solicitors come in, and it is their job not only to provide legal expertise, but also to match up their knowledge with that of their client and gain an in-depth understanding of their business.

For solicitors, understanding a client’s business means—first and foremost—understanding what the business does and where it operates. However, this is just the beginning. For a solicitor to add value to a business, they also need to become fully acquainted with how the business functions internally, who its competitors are, and how other external factors might affect any legal action they decide to take. A solicitor should be able to advise a business in understanding what the consequences of taking legal action might be and knowing the best ways to help them achieve their business aims.

Firms only offer positions to those who can demonstrate that they’re up to speed with political, economic and social developments; they want to know you will keep up with being commercially aware after your training, so if you start it now and make a habit of remaining business savvy, this will benefit your applications.

Commercial awareness shouldn’t be about being able to regurgitate facts. Instead, it’s a way of thinking—you should be intrigued about the profession you want to develop a career in and the market it operates in. 

Gaining commercial awareness

As was mentioned earlier on, 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. There’s no textbook on commercial awareness, but you should 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 on a daily basis such that you are able to understand and appreciate the big picture as well as contemplate micro-level analysis. Signing up for email updates on issues you’re interested in or that you think are relevant is an excellent way of becoming a bit more commercially aware every day.

Practical ways of gaining commercial awareness

That being said, 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 resources to the best extent, and what will be the bottom-line results. 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 or business clubs, or attending lectures and seminars focusing on business and commerce. You can also interact with various kinds of business professionals on a one-to-one basis among your circle of peers, friends and acquaintances.

Proving your commercial awareness

For a prospective solicitor, displaying a keen sense of commercial awareness will be 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. 

In your application forms for vacation schemes and training contracts, law firms will try to gauge how commercially aware you are. They might provide specific case studies and expect you to show your knowledge of their clients and current events to reach conclusions. Sometimes, they won’t mention commercial awareness at all, but they’ll expect you to demonstrate it nonetheless. For instance, if they ask you why you’ve chosen to apply to that firm specifically, you should demonstrate an in-depth knowledge of what the firm does and perhaps align it with some of your own interests.

In interviews, you should be prepared to answer in a similar way. However, as interviews are more fast-paced, you should be ready to think through answers quickly and be articulate. Interviewers will not just be looking for signs that you’re up-to-date on recent developments—they also want to see that you can communicate your knowledge effectively.

The people you will be meeting during the recruitment process will be 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. As a result, it’s important that you begin preparing as soon as possible to show recruiters how committed you are to staying commercially aware throughout your career. Get it right, and you will be well on your way to succeeding in the legal career of your choice.

 

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