Even most vacation-scheme applications include sections that are devoted to gathering information about how in-tune you are to the business environment. In a training-contract interview, your commercial awareness is likely to be evaluated through questions on various issues in the news. Alternatively, the firm you are interviewing with might divide applicants into groups and ask the group to apply commercial considerations to a hypothetical scenario.
To meet these challenges, you are going to have to hone several critical skills including reading analytically, understanding a topical issue from a holistic perspective and gaining a detailed understanding of the firms you are targeting as well as their primary clients and industries.
Reading analytically takes a lot more work than simply skimming a passage, and it is far more structured than the type of reading that you may have become accustomed to. Analytical reading works best when you are dealing with a lengthy piece on a complex topic in which the writer is attempting to solve a problem by analysing it and stating an opinion. Generally speaking, the analytical reading process involves the following steps:
1. Identify the subject matter as a whole.
2. Divide the piece into its main sections based on its logical structure, and outline those sections.
3. Abstract and succinctly state the problem that the writer is trying to solve. The writer might, for example, be attempting to forecast the long-term impact of Brexit on the UK legal industry.
4. Understand the author’s terminology. Don’t take anything for granted. When in doubt, look it up.
5. List the writer’s major propositions and, if appropriate, any unstated assumptions that the writer appears to be relying on.
6. Put extra work into understanding the writer’s arguments, especially if you disagree with them.
A variety of op-ed pieces or long-form journalism in business journals or other periodicals would likely serve as appropriate subject matter for your efforts to improve your analytical reading skills. Remember—the end goal of analytical reading is not merely to absorb information, but to understand the subject matter to the point where you can draw implications, see inconsistencies and relate the subject matter to a similar topic.
Synthesis: understanding topical issues from economic, financial, regulatory, cultural and social perspectives
Select a relevant topic of interest to analyse from multiple perspectives—legal, economic, financial, regulatory, cultural and social, for example. Analyse in writing how these various perspectives conflict with or reinforce each other. Possible topic issues include (among nearly limitless alternatives):
- The deregulation of the legal profession in the UK.
- The rise of the “gig” economy.
- The implications of specific high-profile M&A Deals.
- The effect of the US-China trade war on the world economy and on the legal profession in particular.
Repeat this process several times throughout your second year, on different topics that interest you. As your understanding and your interests begin to converge on a particular industry or practise area, select relevant topics that fall within your ever-sharpening career focus (intellectual property, for example, or IPOs)
Last but not least, set up a LinkedIn account and optimise it for recruiters. Keep abreast of exactly who visits your profile and research them if appropriate. You might just end up with an opportunity you didn’t expect.