It has become a truism that prospective employers value commercial awareness in employees these days. Yet what does it entail and how do we prepare ourselves for it?
In simple terms, commercial awareness entails reading up on your specialised area of interest in 3 main strands: contextual knowledge of the field you are entering, skills which may be relevant and the firm’s performance or unique ethos that has catapulted its performance in the pantheon of the Legal 500 charts.
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Having contextual knowledge of the area of law you wish to enter helps inform your decision while ensuring you have set expectations for yourselves in internship stints so that they can be evaluated thereafter.
It is also helpful in interviews in answering questions related to how relevant your skills may be to the firm in that particular department.
Knowledge is not accrued in a day, so it follows that it may not be easy to start reading up on your area of interest especially given the vast literature of articles, reviews and online resources.
You could start by reading a news article and then branching out from there. Create your own catalogue of related articles, reviews or quotes from descriptions legal review websites to compile your own opinions and views on that area of law.
Knowing which skills are prized in the area of law you are interested in helps you get a head-start to build on those skills ahead of your peers.
For instance, a career in litigation would definitely require excellent advocacy skills which can be honed through the rigour of mooting and debating competitions. This can be especially helpful if you have an interest in litigation work but are too reticent.
Knowing skills that are specific to a particular area of law also helps you to narrow your search for prospective employers insofar as knowing which firms are renowned for which department of law. It will also aid in your interview preparation.
To identify which skills are required for which area of law, it could be wise to read widely, from firm reviews to trainee statements. Identify what they have labelled to be important and keep a list of what skills different areas of law require. This can help you in deciding your career path as well.
Knowing the firm’s performance in that area of law helps you to gauge the kind of work-life balance you can expect.
While lawyers generally have to work the hours and watch days quite often become nights, different firms have different philosophies regarding their corporate mindsets. While these may not be apparent, it can be said that firms which usually perform at the top of the charts such as Magic and Silver Circle firms will expect irregular hours.
While work-life balance seems too distant a prospect, it remains a practical consideration in the long haul as some of us may expect a more healthy work-life balance from our careers.
Beyond work-life balance, knowing the firm’s performance helps inform your view on the firm’s standing in the commercial world and how it got there.
While most interviewees would be bound to regurgitate the firm’s standing and top ranking in interviews, you can stand out by providing an opinion of the unique methods it took to achieve its success.
Of course, they have to be substantiated by evidence and it is not easy, as mentioned. However, you can always compare the firm’s performance and trawl news engines for cases that the firm may have taken on that propelled it to fame. Usually for top firms, it would be advisable to research on how they have maintained their standing in the commercial world amidst competition from rising firms.
To conclude, commercial awareness is not about knowing the commercial realities of your prospective job like a lawyer would. Rather, it entails demonstrating a keen interest in research and initiative in finding out about your area of interest in law. It can be the determinant towards cementing your position in an interview in a training contract.
So as Rome was not built in a day, the route to commercial awareness should start today.
Published: 22/01/18 Author: Edwin Teong Ying Keat
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