By Bria Hampson
Commercial Awareness. Undoubtedly it is the buzzword for many legal students and graduates alike. When undertaking preliminary research into a legal career, commercial awareness is always placed high on the scale of importance. Yet, the ambiguous nature of the words ‘commercial’ and ‘awareness’ leads to a number of equally ambiguous definitions.
What is it?
When put simply, it is knowing or having an understanding of developments in the business world. More specifically, and more importantly, it is understanding how important world issues are affecting the legal, financial, and political domains, among others.
Commercial awareness is not merely knowing what is happening in the business world, it consists in having an appreciation for what is happening outside the business world and how it is, directly or indirectly, affecting the way business is conducted.
Knowledge of a firm’s structure, clients and recent operations falls under the category of commercial awareness as well.
Why is it important?
As a legal professional, commercial awareness is of paramount importance. Firms will have a broad range of clients from a variety of countries, where cultural nuances are some of the aspects that a solicitor need to be aware of. As a result, knowledge of global discourse is required by solicitors.
Legal advice should be considered and placed in the relevant context. During the application process for a vacation scheme or a training contract, it is virtually certain that there will be at least one question focusing on commercial awareness. It is here that you should demonstrate how your wider reading on the topic will make you the best candidate for the role you are applying for.
Being commercially aware means that, while you will be required to advise clients on their issues, it reassures clients by showing you are willing to understand how their business operates.
It is not necessary to be a commercial awareness ‘expert’, but by showing you are interested in being commercially aware, and how you will be able to use your awareness while in the employment of the law firm you are applying to, you will certainly add a valuable edge to your application.
Some examples of current commercial awareness topics that should be considered at this present time include: the “Black Lives Matter” and “Me Too” movements; the COVID- 19 pandemic; climate change; the Hong Kong Protests; and the future of Huawei. These have shaped the nature of businesses, and the subsequent legal advice offered by firms, as they influenced global discourse.
How to boost your commercial awareness
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In addition, reading business sections of newspapers (The Guardian or The Telegraph, for instance) and subscribing to more specialised business publications (such as The Economist or The Financial Times) will expand your commercial awareness.
You can also research law firms and look at cases they have been recently involved in, and don’t be shy in talking to experts and engaging in discussions with them when given the chance, such as in networking opportunities.