Introduction: how to develop your commercial awareness
Commercial awareness is a skill that law firms talk about a lot but it is actually something that employers in a variety of different sectors ask candidates to demonstrate. In essence, it’s about having an understanding of: business, the business world and the environment in which businesses operate.
In relation to law firms, it means having an understanding of the firm’s clients but also being aware about the impact that different factors have on the law firm’s business. It’s important to remember that law firms are also businesses and have similar issues to their clients: cash flow, profit, loss, assets and liabilities.
Commercial awareness is not something that will come overnight but the good news is that it is possible to develop it and then demonstrate it to a prospective employer.
Here are some top tips to develop your commercial awareness:
(1) Do a vacation placement or work experience at a law firm – this sounds like an obvious one but what better way to show a prospective employer that you understand their business than actually working in it! If you can’t get onto a formal vacation placement, how about asking your local firm if you can come and spend a couple of days helping them?
Developing an understanding of the business of a law firm doesn’t mean you have to do legal work. By just being present at the firm and observing what is going on, you are learning about how the firm works. If you have an opportunity to spend time in the Finance Department or Marketing Department, go for it! Be proactive, observe what is going on around you at the firm and make a note of your experience.
(2) Do a part-time job – you can develop your commercial awareness by working in any business. Do you have a job in your local shop? You’ll be learning about sales, stock control, customer service and business development. The shop might be selling shoes rather than legal services but at the end of the day, you’re still in a business environment and learning about how a business works.
Don’t be afraid to bring in examples from companies other than law firms when you are drafting answers to application questions.
(3) Read books about entrepreneurs – reading books about business (for example: an autobiography of an entrepreneur) can be an excellent way to gain an insight into how the business world works. In addition to being an interesting read, you’ll learn about how someone has set-up and grown a company. Also, someone you are reading about might be a client of the firm you are applying to!
Applicants are often required to demonstrate their commercial awareness during interviews and they sometimes have to do a commercial awareness case study. A typical training contract interview question is: what risks and opportunities does this start-up client of ours have? It would be great in the interview if you answer this by bringing in real examples from the business world.
(4) Have interview coaching – speaking to a professional and organising some interview training and commercial awareness coaching can be a great way to develop your commercial awareness and improve your way of thinking. Remember: practice makes perfect! Our experts have been through the interview process so have an insight into assessment day questions and how to approach answer them.