What is commercial awareness and how does it tie in with legal practice? How can commercial awareness benefit you and how can you develop it? This page is designed to help you understand some of the headline principles of commercial awareness.
What is Commercial Awareness?
To be commercially aware essentially means to know your business. As far as practicing law is concerned, it involves:
Having a firm grasp of your client’s business
Having a wide understanding of the industry in which your client operates
Understanding how your client interacts and performs as compared with direct competitors
Having a good understanding of what leads to the success of a client’s business in light of the ever-changing challenges posed by politics and the world economy
Why is Commercial Awareness an Important Component of Legal Practice?
When providing legal advice, an appreciation of the knock-on effects the advice is likely to have on your client’s business more generally is crucial. It is not enough to simply provide blinkered legal advice. As part of your committed legal service, your clients will expect you to understand and incorporate wider business considerations.
How Do I Develop My Commercial Awareness?
There are a number things you can do to develop your knowledge of industry and the wider business world. These include:
1) Work Experience
Work experience, part-time jobs and voluntary work all offer fantastic opportunities to broaden your commercial awareness. This could be gaining experience in a law firm or a high profile bank or a part-time job in a supermarket or restaurant. Start thinking about what you have learned about that particular business, including:
What is their client/customer base?
What services do they offer?
Who are their competitors?
Where are they placed in the market?
How profitable/successful are they and why?
Who are their suppliers?
How do politics, the economy and law affect their business?
Have they been in the press of late?
2) Reading and Watching News
Keeping abreast of what’s happening in the news is a good way of developing commercial awareness. Try reading the business sections of any UK broadsheet newspaper, such as The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Financial Times and The Guardian. They will provide a wealth of information as well as news broadcast via television, internet and radio.
Tip: In the lead up to interviews, find news stories featuring cases and deals the law firm/chambers have recently worked on. A good place to start would be individual law firm news pages. This will demonstrate you have read up on the organisation. It will also show that you have a firm grasp of their client base and the type of work and industries those clients are involved in.
3) Industry Specific Publications
As your interests evolve and become increasingly focused, you may want to read more specialised industry publications. For example, if you decide property law is of particular interest and you have a forthcoming interview, with a law firm and chambers specialising in property law, a property-related industry publication would be an extremely helpful and insightful resource to you.
4) Talking to Experienced People
Exposing yourself to experienced business people wherever possible will help to develop your commercial awareness. Whether it be friends, family or work colleagues, be inquisitive and engage in discussion and debate. This will not only give you experience of discussing commercial issues but will also help broaden your knowledge.
What are the Benefits of Being Commercially Aware?
You will be better placed to advise clients if you have a deep understanding of their industry, building client confidence
Providing working examples of commercial awareness will make you stand out from the crowd when completing CVs and application forms
It will facilitate discussion at interview if you are able to draw on your own business experiences and relate them sensibly to the discussion at hand
It shows commitment to learning and understanding how businesses operate in addition to studying and practicing law
Commercial Awareness – Don’t Panic!
Seek solace in the fact that commercial awareness is not something that develops overnight! It will invariably build over time and will continue to do so throughout your entire legal career as industries and markets diversify and evolve.
In other words, you will never stop learning and developing your business knowledge. The important thing at this stage is to expose yourself to as much information as possible and get involved.
Commercial Awareness Hot Topic: ‘New Law’
One extremely hot topic in the legal world is that of ‘new law’ and how the digital age is affecting legal services. Jamie Ng, a partner at Ashurst talks about the challenges faced by law firms with the introduction of digital systems, such as artificial intelligence, and how this is likely to shape the future of legal services. This could certainly make for an interesting talking point at any interview!
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