So you have decided that you want to be a commercial lawyer. Now what? One of the first steps, loosely put, would be to have a commercial awareness.
What then is commercial awareness?
Commercial awareness is an understanding of the business environment in which the law firms and its clients operate in. As DLA Piper, a prominent global law firm, states:
“Studying law is all about what the law is, how it was formed, how it has evolved, and the framework in which it operates. What is not taught is the difference between the study of law and the practice of law; lawyers not only practice law, but they do so within the structure and framework of a profit-making business.”
Therefore, as a commercial lawyer, you will be required to have an understanding of the business and its needs, as well as the client’s business in order to provide them with tailored legal advice and ultimately drive both businesses forward. If it is broken down, this means:
- A clear understanding of the firm’s future vision: This will essentially be what you will put into effect through your work
- An understanding of the market factors that influence the sector the business operates in: An obvious example would be the effects of Brexit. For example, an understanding of how a business operating in the exporting business would potentially be subjected to higher tariffs
- An ability to create good client relationships through this understanding: For example, this can mean having the initiative to notify the client of any market factors that would affect them and give them advice accordingly.
How can you portray your commercial awareness?
- Work experience
You may already have a commercial awareness that you are not aware of. It is key that you are able to articulate your experiences in a way that is transferable to showing a commercial awareness. For example, have you worked in the fashion retail before? You may have received an insight into how a shortage of a certain fabric has increased the pricing of a clothing item. Have you worked in the service sector before – how was the business run?
If broken down, any experience would tell you how:
- The vision of a company
- The needs of the business and the client
- Seeking relevant work experience
A key focus should be to gain relevant experience once you are aware that you want to be a commercial lawyer in a specific sector. This could mean considering the client you might be dealing with in your sector. For example, if you want to practice in the energy sector, it might be helpful to work with a company such as Shell (one of the biggest oil companies) where you will be exposed to their vision, how their business is run and their business needs. Understanding the client is key, as highlighted before.
- Building relevant skills
As you must be aware already, there are many transferable skills to being a lawyer – it is almost endless. Therefore, you can use these skills, and gain more, to highlight your ability to fit into the firm. For example, consider building your teamwork skills as commercial law firms may require several solicitors on one project.
Broken down, this means:
- Identifying what skills are required to be a successful commercial lawyer
- Consider which skills you are missing and ought to build on
- Writing a sector-focussed blog
An unconventional idea is writing a blog on the sector you take an avid interest in to highlight that you are commercially aware of it. For example, if you look over the ‘Academia’ section on this website, you will see a clear interest in specific sectors. A blog can also allow you to express your opinion on certain occurrences which can, again, highlight to the recruiter that you are enthusiastic but, more importantly, aware of the intricacies within your sector.
It is vital that you understand the environment you want to work in by staying up to date with it. It is definitely a difficult task to keep up to date and you will not want to read on some days. I would suggest that you become aware of a sector you take a genuine interest in because it will make keeping up to date, on the rapidly moving business world, bearable. Furthermore, look below in the ‘Podcasts’ section where you can listen to, rather than read, updates on current affairs.
Be sure to overlook the following sources to stay up to date and commercially aware:
Staying up to date with current affairs is difficult. However, the following have informative and well-written sources to make it somewhat easier for you.
|The Economist||You have to, however, pay for much of this detailed information. Try the student subscription maybe, or use your free reads fastidiously.|
This is the place for you if you take particular interest in the financial sector.
Again, full access has to be paid for. But, it includes high-quality commentary on current affairs.
|The Times – law section||
A detailed section on just law (3887 articles were available when I checked on 15th July 2018.
Though targeted to the general public and not the expert, it can serve as an apt foundation for further research.
Covers an array of articles on law, and order.
A highly-regarded law section.
Podcasts can be a great way to consume information. It means you do not have to read! You can plug in your headphones and listen to it whilst you walk, workout or, if it you prefer, when you are cooking!
|Financial Times Politics||Keep up to date with the weekly politics. Hosted by Sebastian Payne, who is joined by many prominent guests for a comment.|
|Financial Times News||
Hosted by Katie Martin, highlighting key current issues and their consequences. They are short and informative.
|The Economist Radio||
A daily podcast of current issues hosted by different individuals.
|Today, Explained – Vox and Stitcher||
A more casual and humorous podcast but informative on current issues (good backing music and commentary)
|Remainiacs – The Brexit Podcast||
I rather put it how they do: “Remaniacs is no flim flam Brexit podcast for everyone who knows that leaving the EU won’t be un morceau de gateau. We’re not sick of experts and we won’t shut up and get over it’”. It is a discussion and commentary type podcast, with vulgar language and humour.