Firms expect candidates to have an interest in, and understanding of, their work and that of their clients. November is as good a time as any to swot up and strengthen your knowledge of the business and legal markets.
Why is ‘commercial awareness’ an important attribute in a candidate?
The term 'commercial awareness' is constantly heard in the legal world as it is crucial for candidates to understand the business world with which our clients' operate in. Candidates need to focus on lawyers as being business advisors and think about the difference it makes when considering the knowledge pool a lawyer will draw upon when advising clients.
We are, therefore, looking for candidates to demonstrate commercial instinct. In addition to an interest in commercial and financial matters, we are looking for candidates' who can take their interest a step further and really think about the impact that these will have on our clients' business needs.
Commercial awareness is not something that can be developed overnight. It is the genuine interest that candidates display in the commercial and financial world that allows them to build upon this attribute over time.
In order to develop your commercial awareness, make sure that you are keeping up to date with current affairs and really take your time to do further research surrounding relevant issues and deals.
Quite simply, it should be important to candidates because it's important to us! Our clients tell us that they want commercial, practical business advice and we need to respond to that at every level of the business.
Not only is it an essential requirement for any future lawyer it will help differentiate yourself from other candidates if you're able to demonstrate your strengths in this area. Whilst we're not expecting you to have the same level of commercial awareness as our partners, we are expecting you to be able to demonstrate the potential to develop and to have a genuine interest in business.
This isn't as hard as it sounds! Before you apply for training contracts make sure you do your research, know our business, our challenges and those of the sector more widely. Read the business pages, keep up to date with what's going on in the world around you and how that might impact us and our clients."
Womble Bond Dickinson
How can I develop my commercial awareness and what do firms expect?
Commercial awareness is an often overused term on campus these days, and can get students really worried and tongue-tied in interviews.
At Shearman we're looking for a genuine interest and passion in business and the ability to see problems (and solutions) from both a client's perspective, and also a law firm's perspective (we are still a business). Hone your commercial awareness skills by becoming comfortable with the language of business, writing a glossary of terms if that helps, and chipping away at news stories on a daily basis so you understand what is topical at present. Ask yourself: how would this story affect client X or client Y, and also how would it affect the law firm that I've just applied to.
Understand how law firms differ in their strategies and aims by reading trade publications regularly and try and discuss topics with friends and peers so you become comfortable voicing your opinions."
Shearman & Sterling
Commercial awareness can make such a huge difference in applications and your overall legal career. Lawyers are required to advise client's not just on legal issues but on the wider impact of economic, social and political issues.
Unfortunately commercial awareness is not something that will not happen overnight, as it is not a static concept; it is dynamic and constantly changing, therefore, it is about investing time into your routine for the development of this key skill.
It is not purely just reading newspapers or collecting lots of email alerts in your inbox. It is using the information you have gathered, to be able to demonstrate a deeper understanding and reflection of the types of industries/businesses, customers/clients, implications and benefits, recent press and terminology used. Commercial awareness is all about putting yourself in client / businesses shoes so you are able to confidently answer open questions at interview like "What changes has this industry faced recently?" and "What businesses are doing well at the moment?". Useful ways to think wider about businesses would be to perform SWOT/ PEST analysis on an industry /company of interest, as well as, reviewing company's annual report, visit employers websites and government websites."
What is the best way to demonstrate my commercial awareness and transferrable skills at application stage?
Good trainees are well-rounded, well-informed people. You should take care to demonstrate to us that you are both.We are looking for people with an enquiring mind and a profound and genuine interest in the world of international business and the commercial environment of our clients. So we will be interested in hearing your views on the latest developments.
You can prepare by reading the business press. Select news items that are of particular interest to you as these will be easier to talk about. Be ready to analyse various viewpoints on these stories. You will also be asked your opinion about topical issues, so be prepared to add your views to the debate. Remember, lawyers need to be analytical and confident when providing advice – that’s what we want to see."
Norton Rose Fulbright
When making applications, I took the approach of trying to remember that a solicitor is 'a business person with a specialist knowledge of the law'.
Thinking of yourself as a business person can really help when taking the step of not just listing your achievements, but applying them commercially. It will also assist when deciding which examples to use, for instance, whilst it is commendable that you earned a grade 8 in bassoon, a firm may be more interested that you organised and promoted a charity concert in your spare time.