‘It took me finding a training contract to discover what commercial awareness actually is’

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A first-seat trainee on what she learnt along the way

My quest for a training contract pushed me to consider what commercial awareness actually is and attempt to come up with an explanation more tangible than some of the articles that I read during my journey.

While we have all seen the phrase banded about in job descriptions, everyone appears to know that they want to be commercially aware but nobody appears to really know what it is or how to actually be it. So, before you add it on your CV and risk getting caught out in an interview by somebody that actually does know what it is, let us put an end to this mystery and consider what commercial awareness means.

Its meaning, I think, is three-fold:

Current affairs

Lawyers advise their clients on matters governed by political, economic and social factors, and therefore staying up to date with current affairs is paramount.

Ideally, you need to be reading a broadsheet newspaper daily or the equivalent in appropriate online reading. The Guardian has a great general news platform online, as does the Financial Times and The Independent. You also need to be reading legal articles and latest legal news daily as well as keeping up with any legal reform/suggested reform that may be happening. The best websites for this are Legal Cheek, Law Society Gazette, and more.

These websites are easily accessible online and can send you updates if you subscribe. It really could not be easier. These topics are potential discussion points that may come up in an interview, and more generally show you are taking an active interest in the field in which you already work.

Being business-minded

A law firm is a business like any other and will have the same issues as any other business: how can we build new or stronger client or third-party relationships; how should we divide our profits; how can we better manage our cashflow and stay solvent?

The days when lawyers could just be good at law and advise clients are long gone, we now need to be more business aware and always thinking about the bigger picture of how the practice is actually run. Don’t think “the partners will think about that so I don’t need to”. Wrong, you do need to. With any luck you will become a partner one day and it will be a much easier transition if you’re already considering these things at a lower level.

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Until that glorious day, you need to convince them that you have the tools to think independently and above your pay grade and pre-empt problems that might occur or what you might be asked to do. You need to make yourself appear valuable to them. Be pro-active, if you know that your firm’s GDPR policy needs some work, make some suggestions about how it could ensure ongoing compliance.

It’s all about the clients

You need to be able to predict how the two above sections might affect your client or your client’s business.

You are far more valuable as a lawyer and are even under a duty to act in the best interests of your client — you cannot do that if you are not properly informed. Clients now expect their lawyers to know in-depth details on how a business functions, what are the key considerations for profitability and growth, and how best to make use of the resources available. You ought to be able to pre-empt how any of the above could affect your client or your client’s business and advise them accordingly. If you think that Brexit or the potential changes in interest rates might affect your client or your client’s business, you have a duty to consider this and inform them.

Got it?

Commercial awareness is a necessary skill for all lawyers, whether they work in a commercial environment or whether they work in crime or family law. Commercial awareness is not something that happens immediately, it starts with your legal training and continues to develop throughout your career.

If you are doing all of the above then I think you can say with a straight face that you are commercially aware. If not, I wouldn’t go there if I were you.

Caroline Daniels is in the first seat of her training contract at a law firm in Sutton. Her interests are: company/commercial law, property litigation and family law.

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Third seat trainee

This whole commercial awareness is such a meaningless buzzword, like lawtech and alike. HR are the only people who care about you demonstrating it and your actual added value comes in the hours you put in during your training contact, not your knowledge about some obscure recent deals or ‘exciting’ regulatory developments.

You basically stop reading the business press once you get your TC offer.



100% this. Once you start your TC, your life turns into an endless rigmarole of long days and ball-achingly boring tasks. Enjoy.



Hardly exhaustive hours at DWF. Stick to what you know such as churning out generic insurance work from 9 to 5:30.



What’s the NQ pay at DWF? I really want to work at a top firm, and be based in the Walkie Talkie! Yay!




This article must be one of those crappy side quests you need to get the key to the Boss room…



When you get to the Boss room, you will find that the baby boomer partners have spent all the gold…



“Be pro-active, if you know that your firm’s GDPR policy needs some work, make some suggestions about how it could ensure ongoing compliance.”

Really? You, the trainee, have spotted something that other practising lawyers have not?

One time out of ten you might be right.

The other nine times you will probably be wrong – and you will have made yourself look either hopelessly naive or insufferably irritating.


Jon Valentine

Agreed. Practising lawyers should never be questioned.


Legal wife

I think you’ve missed the point she was trying to make which I think was that it pays to be a bit more pro-active. Your literal interpretation of an example given is just silly.


Dr Frankenstein

‘The best websites for this are Legal Cheek, Law Society Gazette, and more’…LEGAL CHEEK?! The only awareness I have had through LC is that that Labour and Jizz Corbyn are knuts!


Lady Gale

Yet you all still read it every day.


Man on the Clapham Omnibus

Is it bad I no longer read LC articles and scroll straight to comments?


US Associate

This is my life once a nutshell. But at least reading LC comments is billable.



“if you know that your firm’s GDPR policy needs some work, make some suggestions about how it could ensure ongoing compliance”

Worst interview tip ever.


Jon Valentine

It’s not an interview tip, champ.



What is GDPR?



Giant Dick Power Ranger.

You’ve heard it here first brah.





BPTC student

“The Guardian has a great general news platform online”

“legal articles and latest legal news daily … The best websites for this are Legal Cheek”

Oh bless, poor snowflake child.



You are a BPTC student…you can’t give any blessings!



To be fair The Guardian has the best and most accessible (and free!) website, whether you like its slant on things or not. The Telegraph website has far too many adverts, and that’s before we get to the utter car crash that is the Daily Mail side bar.



Commercial awareness is such a cliche piece of shit.

Your client needs the most economic solution to resolve their problem. Throw in some reputational/brand management aspect and that’s all you really need to know.


In-house senior

I agree, and from my experience even in a law firm you don’t really appreciate what ‘commercial awareness’ is. It isn’t just reading articles or knowing about the industry, and when you go in-house and work with Commercial directors and sales directors who don’t give two shits about your Durham degree or where you trained, then you will begin to understand. Commercial awareness is knowing that the deal must be done but the proposed structure exposes the business to too much risk, so an alternative must be proposed. It’s realising that even though you can legally work on project X, the reputational damage to the company may be too great. It is acknowledging that sometimes the simplest way to get the deal done is the best, and that clients don’t need you to charge us £300 an hour for a trainee to research into alternatives to present to us in your advice memo just so it looks more thorough.



I understand your point surrounding ‘reputational’ damage, but surely coming up with alternatives, using your commercial awareness, will be less beneficial to the firm if the economics are less.






Hah only idiots will think that the guardian is of any use



Agreed. Those same idiots probably mix up the future and present tense too.



“Caroline Daniels is in the first seat of her training contract at a law firm in Sutton.”


Your mum

Yes, let’s personally attack someone new to the profession and put everyone else off ever writing an article. Nice work.





Hey, Commercial Awareness

Any in-house lawyer will tell you that private practice lawyers have no “commercial awareness”. A job in the real world is the only way otherwise please stop trying.


Asking the real questions

Where’s Sutton?



Is it near the coalfields?

Not sure – just guessing.



“You are … are even under a duty to act in the best interests of your client” – shocker!



“The Guardian has a great news platform online” – lol – the poor snowflake still doesn’t realize that the Guardian is the fakest of fake news. (Hint: they always switch of comments whenever they know they are REALLY faking it.)


Legal wife

You spelled “realise” wrong. And “off”. Tough words to grasp I know.


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