Sep 20, 2019

Written By David Carnes

Commercial awareness in final year

Sep 20, 2019

Written By David Carnes

Now that you have made it to your penultimate year, aim to finish strong. Every effort you make this year relating to commercial awareness and professional development should be considered in light of the fact that your performance in interviews and over the course of your training contract could make or break your career. Proceed carefully and methodically—and with all due haste.


If you haven’t begun networking yet, there is no better time to get started than now. Remember, this is a process that will not end until you retire, so get a good start. Following are some helpful tips:

- Attend every law-related event that you can. Even university and law-society events will give you a chance to practice operating smoothly and comfortably in such an environment.

- Research the people who are likely to be found at any networking event you attend, and identify who among them you most need to talk to. 

- Prepare a business card—yes, even though you’re just a student. A business card will render it far more likely that you’ll be remembered.

- Take notes on the business cards you collect. Follow up the next day by connecting with your new contacts on LinkedIn or by sending a brief email that will remind them of you.

- Don’t ignore trainees and young lawyers. Sometimes these people are the surreptitious eyes and ears of the higher-ups. Err on the side of caution and assume that anything you say to these people is going straight to the top.

It would be wise to read at least one book on the subject of networking before you attend any important networking events.


Advanced analytical reading

Advanced analytical reading refines and expands on the more passive form of analytical reading that you should have performed in your second year (see “Commercial Awareness in the Second Year” for a detailed description). As you did in your second year, select a variety of op-ed or long-form journalism pieces in business journals or other periodicals, carefully read and outline them as before, and then:

- Decide whether you believe the writer solves the problems set forth in the piece.

- Identify where the writer might be vulnerable to criticism as uninformed, misinformed, illogical, incomplete or relying on controversial but undefended assumptions—regardless of whether you personally agree or disagree with the writer.

- Write a refutation of the piece based on your critical analysis. Ironically, the more strongly you agree with the author, the more useful will be the process of composing a convincing refutation. 

Tailoring your commercial awareness to particular firms

The firms that you interview with, whether for a training contract or a vacation scheme, are going to expect you to know something about what they do and what role their major clients play within their respective industries. Here are some tips on how to prepare for interviews:

- Examine the websites and mission statements of any firm that interests you, as well as their competitors.

- Before interviewing with a firm, research its latest activities and read any publications it has recently released.

- Examine the LinkedIn profiles of the firm’s newly-qualified lawyers to determine what qualities and achievements the firm values in its lawyers.   

Commercial awareness capstone project: The Law Firm Case Study

This is a cumulative project that should take you at least one school year to complete. 

1. Set up a Google alert for a law firm that you are interested in.

2. Carefully read the materials identified in the alerts, and identify the internal and external factors affecting the company. Explain these in a clear, written memorandum. Update your memorandum periodically as your knowledge base grows deeper and wider. 

3. Read the firm’s most recent annual report, if it has been made public. React to it in a written memorandum, and don’t be afraid to stake out a position. Perhaps you disagree with the managing director’s assessment. Why? 

4. If there are aspects of the report that you don’t understand because of your lack of background knowledge, research those aspects until you fully understand the report. Then modify your memorandum again.

5. Review and consolidate your understanding of the firm and the challenges it faces in a single well-organised document.

6. Repeat this process for as many firms as you are interested in, or with a particular firm’s corporate clients. 

Most LLB students will not faithfully perform all of the foregoing activities. Becoming one of the few students who actually follows through with a full-scale, self-directed commercial awareness development programme will place you among a rare elite—and is likely to continue working to your benefit for decades to come.

Next article: Coping with stress in final year

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LLB Final Years