Commercial awareness

Those dreaded words. I get asked a lot about “what is commercial awareness?” and “how do I become commercially aware?”. Commercial awareness is a skill you must have going in to certain applications and definitely by the time you get to an assessment centre or interview.

What is ‘commercial awareness’?

Commercial awareness is (probably) best described as an ‘awareness’ – aka ‘knowledge’ – of the business world and how certain events affect the industry you’re applying to. In this case, it’s the legal industry. For example, how will a merger between two law firms affect the market? Look at the latest deals and transactions in the corporate world.

To me, commercial awareness is more of an ongoing research task – it’s constantly keeping up with the news, events, and the likes and then considering how the legal sector will be affected. You won’t know everything that is happening in the world and indeed, some of the events can be quite technical so you won’t fully understand it all, but that’s not the point. It’s ‘commercial awareness’ not ‘commercial expertise’.

As long as you have a basic idea of the business world and how it can be affected – you’re on the right track.

Where should I look?

I’ve compiled a list of the top websites or pages that I used when trying to become more commercially aware. Click on them to take you to the website or page:

  • Any newspaper or app – I used the BBC News app
    • Get the app on your phone and set filters on the kinds of stories that pop up
  • Finimize
    • The provide a daily newsletter that explains what’s happening in the world of finance in 3 minutes and without any jargon
    • Also comes as an app
  • Some subscriptions sites like The Economist and The Financial Times
  • Watson’s Daily
  • Commercial Awareness for Students
    • This is a Facebook page that regularly posts about the latest news and events
    • It is also has a legal flair with posts on law firm and universities
  • Little Law
    • A website for students, run by students posting blogs on the latest legal transactions or news
    • You can also follow them on Facebook
  • The firm’s website
    • The firm you’re applying to will usually have a section on the latest deals and transactions that they’ve worked on
  • LinkedIn
    • There was always bits and bobs popping up on people’s profiles or being published by journals etc
  • UKSC blog
    • Blog about cases appearing before the UK Supreme Court started in 2009; written by barristers from Matrix Chambers and solicitors from CMS.
  • The In-House Lawyer
    • Have a look at their ‘Legal Briefings’ section and their magazines
  • The Corporate Law Academy
    • Have a look at their ‘Commercial Knowledge’ section
  • Brexit-related commercial awareness
    • Inside Brexit – Lawyers from Norton Rose Fulbright look at the effects of Brexit on areas including finance, life sciences and regulation.
    • Brexit Hub – Ashurst’s lawyers on the effects of Brexit on financial services, real estate, energy and other sectors.
    • Waiting for Godot – Blog by tax barrister Jolyon Maugham; mostly about Brexit these days.
    • Brexit Blog – Insight and analysis from barristers at Monckton Chambers on subjects including trade, EU law and Article 50

Don’t panic…

It’s always easier said than done. It takes time to build up your commercial awareness and it’s one of those things that becomes more interesting the more you understand. You might even come across a particular issue that you find more interesting and want to develop a deeper knowledge of that.

As I’ve said, you need only an awareness and you do not need to know about every single deal happening in the legal sector. Focus on what areas the firm you’re applying to specialise in and how they specifically are affected.

Good luck!

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