Commercial awareness is an important skill that every employer looks for in candidates. Many students assume that it’s only relevant for those seeking corporate careers. That’s not true. Anyone who wants to be a solicitor, regardless of the type of firm they want to work for, needs to have commercial awareness.
Commercial awareness is one of the key requirements that a proficient and competent solicitor ought to master. So, for aspiring lawyers it is important to be commercially aware in order to secure a training contract.
SO WHAT IS COMMERCIAL AWARENESS?
Commercial awareness can be defined as staying up-to-date on daily activities and developments in the business and commercial world. However, commercial awareness is not merely being aware of the news. It also about understanding the implications of what is going on in the world- politically, economically, socially and how that impacts the clients of the firm. Commercially aware solicitors can tailor their advice to reflect the circumstances of their clients and in doing so will help to build stronger client-solicitor relationship.
Commercial awareness is about appreciating how a law firm works as a business. Law students usually understand how the law works. But to be commercially aware students need to also understand that a law firm is a business and it needs to make money. Employers want to see that you are also business minded and can identify ways in which the law firm can increase revenue. For example, this can be by undertaking exceptional work for the client so that the client brings in further work to the firm or by identifying a gap in the market or an opportunity to win a new client.
HOW CAN YOU BECOME COMMERCIALLY AWARE?
It is important to emphasise that 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 continue your studies and embark on your legal career. Hence, thorough preparation is key to becoming commercially aware.
Research is the easiest way to gain commercial knowledge. Try reading newspapers, business publications and company newsletters, relevant books, watching relevant TV programmes, downloading business podcasts or reading business and commercial blogs like this one!
Predominantly you should be watching the news and reading newspapers daily to expand your general knowledge, as this is crucial to becoming commercially aware. So if you are interested in a particular story, make sure you follow it up all the way though to demonstrate genuine commercial awareness. One way you can do this is by, perhaps, signing up to the Law Society Gazette and keep updated on the stories which interest you.
Try and stay up-to-date on the latest deals, transactions, legislative changes and other relevant developments such that you are able to understand and appreciate both the big picture as well as the local economy on the doorstep of the firms you want to work for.
Work experience is probably the most practical way to gain commercial acumen; as it may give you knowledge about how a particular firm works. The strength and weaknesses of the business and what is affecting the business at that particular time.
Working in any kind of job though, not necessarily one in law, will provide insight into how a business is conducted, what factors contribute to success or failure, how to utilise manpower and resources to the best extent, and what will be the bottom-line result.
Other methods include taking part in discussion forums, industry-specific networking/ business clubs, attending lectures and seminars which focusses on business and commerce.
USING SOCIAL MEDIA TO BECOME SOCIALLY AWARE
Social media has become a part of most people’s daily life. Social media is an easy and fun way to become commercially aware.
Facebook can aid in becoming commercially aware, since news outlets such as the Financial Times, The Times, Bloomberg Business and The Telegraph have their own Facebook pages. You can effortlessly keep up to date with the latest affairs on your newsfeed by liking their pages, and simply clicking on article that interest you which will help your commercial awareness. It would be even better to like the pages of the Law Firms you are interested in potentially working for, as they may post updates about the firm which may be useful to know for interviews.
Twitter can also be used to help individuals become commercially aware. You can follow the twitter pages of the news outlets mentioned above e.g Bloomberg Business and Financial Times. You can also follow The Law Society and the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority as well as the pages of the firms you want to apply to in the future, to keep up to date. Even the Student Law Office has a twitter page!
LinkedIn is a professional social media platform which acts as your online CV. So it is essential to have a profile on LinkedIn and ensure it is optimised for recruiters.
LinkedIn can help you be commercially aware as you can follow a range of law firms and remain updated on their activity. You can even check out the profiles of people who already work at a specific law firm to get an insight about the educational and professional background of the people the firm employs.
And last but not least, don’t just ‘consume’ information – you need to understand and apply what you’ve learnt. Recruiters are searching for candidates who can make connections, draw conclusions and understand the world around them. Recruiters want evidence – you need to give it to them!
This blog post was written by Rezwana Dithy. Rezwana is a MLaw student working in a business and commercial firm within the Student Law Office. After graduating from University, she hopes to secure a training contract within a commercial law firm. In the meantime, she plans to undertake paralegal work & also continue her work advising older clients at Age UK to develop important skills she will be utilising in practice.