How to boost your commercial awareness

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By Legal Cheek on

Legal Cheek explains…

Commercial awareness — everyone talks about it, but how can you actually develop it?

We’ve compiled our top four tried-and-tested (yes, in training contract interviews) tips for commercial awareness success.

1. Consistency is key

If your studying style is last-minute cramming, I get it. However, you are going to have to switch things up when it comes to building commercial awareness. The problem with trying to grow your commercial awareness a week before your interview is that you can miss out on the big picture, by not being aware of how trends in a certain space have developed over the past few months.

And, at the end of the day, being able to spot and discuss developments over time is a big part of commercial awareness, because this mirrors what clients are ultimately looking for from their lawyers. So, once you’ve decided when to apply, start building your commercial awareness in the month or two before. You don’t have to spend hours each day on this, a little goes a long way.

Whether it’s reading a news bulletin in your inbox everyday or listening to a podcast covering world news and business developments, pick the modes of learning which work best for you and spend 20 to 30 minutes a day engaging with this information.

Over time, you will start to see links and trends forming. It’s also helpful to supplement this by attending virtual and in-person events featuring law firms, as commercial awareness will undoubtedly be covered, and you can get a sense for how lawyers specifically are dealing with market happenings and better contextualise your knowledge.

Moreover, building this information up consistently will mean that it starts to become internalised and comes more naturally to you as a matter of discussion in interviews, so you present yourself more confidently.

2. Active not passive

Secondly, it’s important not to get complacent about absorbing information. The crucial part is to actually engage with what you come across and learn to think critically about what the implications might be.

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Once again, this does not have to be done in an elaborate way — realistically, you cannot make notes on what you read or hear everyday, much less review all this before an interview. Instead, it’s much more achievable to analyse the information you’re receiving through a mental SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, Threat) analysis.

Think about why a certain piece of news might be relevant to a law firm or particular practice area, the kinds of clients it would impact and how they can take advantage of (or find their way out of) the situation at hand. This is where attending law firm events can be valuable, since it allows you to build up an understanding of different practice areas and their processes and priorities. Through this, you can connect the dots and develop a more nuanced perspective. Integrating these thought processes into your everyday for a few minutes a day will also be helpful in interview scenarios where you’ll very likely have to confront something new and think on your feet.

3. Zoom in, but don’t forget to zoom out

While you might have a specific sector or practice that you’re interested in, don’t limit your commercial awareness to seeking out developments in these areas alone. It’s important to also have a broad knowledge of things going on in the economic and political world more generally, so that you can contextualise information you receive in case study questions.

Whilst ‘zooming out’, it’s also important to make connections between the information you come across and its impact on law firms as businesses. There are plenty of online resources available to give you the tools to understand how law firms operate, and it’s a good idea to get familiar with these concepts. Thinking of your commercial awareness as having two prongs, one which is client-focused, and one which is law firm business-focused can be a helpful way of doing this.

4. It’s all relative

This might sound obvious, but it’s fairly easy to get lost in the weeds with commercial awareness, making you lose sight of how you actually plan to utilise it all — in the context of a law firm. So, keep this at the forefront of your mind and make a conscious effort to consider that angle when you’re reading, listening or watching your information sources.

To take one example, a common interview or application question tends to be how a certain market development will impact the firm. To answer this, you would likely need to have an understanding of the firm’s priorities, its clients, the regions it operates in and any new practices it is seeking to grow. Having a skim of firm press releases can be a good starting point to glean this information. Has it opened up any new offices in past year? What practice areas are new partner hires from? This also links well with the ‘law firms as businesses’ prong of commercial awareness and ensures that your perspectives are well-rounded.

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