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4 commercial awareness hacks from a graduate recruitment expert

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By Divyansh Sharma on

Shoosmiths’ Laura Hartigan on navigating law firm websites and the importance of podcasts

Shoosmiths’ Laura Hartigan

“I often meet students who think commercial awareness is all about reading bulky finance newspapers for hours every day. However, this approach is often unsustainable. There is much more to commercial awareness than reading, you need to be able to apply your knowledge in context.” says Laura Hartigan, emerging talent advisor at Shoosmiths. “You need to be realistic with where you can get, even if that means setting two hours aside each week. Commerciality is more about making small lifestyle additions that can fit into your daily schedule.”

As a law graduate herself, Hartigan understands the difficultly of juggling training contract applications with studies and work. Ahead of her appearance at next week’s Legal Cheek event, she shares four top tips that can take you a step closer to your dream training contract.

1. Understand the business of law firms

Perhaps the most paramount thing in applications is to demonstrate an interest in the law firm you’re applying to. But commercial awareness goes beyond this, according to Hartigan. “Candidates must have an understanding of the business of the firms they are interested in,” she says. “The end goal of your research should be to find answers to questions such as, What does this firm actually do? Who are their clients? What are their values as a company?”

A good way to develop this knowledge is by looking through law firms’ websites. “There are two parts to a firm website that applicants should be aware of,” Hartigan says. “The first part is the emerging talent or graduate recruitment section. This is where you will find information related to graduate vacancies and life as a trainee at the firm. The Shoosmiths graduate page, for example, also has a careers blog where candidates can find helpful advice for applications. Reading about the role of a trainee in the firm’s broader work helps you understand the business in real life.”

The other section is the client website. “The client website is where you will often find information about the firm’s different practice areas and the services they provide their clients. There is often an ‘Insights’ section where you can access articles on latest trends affecting the firm’s clients. Written by lawyers, they are a great resource to understand what the firm is doing at the moment, and how commercial trends are impacting the sectors it caters to.”

2. Keeping on top of commercial developments

But understanding the business of the firm is not enough. “A candidate must demonstrate awareness of how the latest commercial trends play out in context of the firm,” Hartigan explains.

A good starting place is to think about the biggest topics that are impacting law firms right now. According to Hartigan, artificial intelligence (AI) is one such area capturing a lot of interest at the minute. The rise of generative AI like ChatGPT has opened avenues for automating legal services to some extent. “It is imperative from our perspective that students are aware of this trend. We have many articles around AI on our website. These serve as a good repository for developing an appreciation of how we are dealing with AI as a firm,” explains Hartigan.

Applications for Shoosmiths’ Summer Vacation Placement (England and Scotland) close on 31 January 2024

Another topic she mentions is the rising focus on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) principles. The push towards decarbonisation and net-zero post-pandemic means that law firms’ clients are increasingly conscious about ESG credentials. “Again, a helpful strategy is to read about these topics in context of the firms of your interest,” says Hartigan. “For those applying to Shoosmiths, I would encourage having a look at our ESG goals and how we are tackling this area as a business. As we also advice in this sector, it might be useful to read about any specific clients or deals touching upon ESG,” she says.

3. Making small lifestyle changes

“There is not one specific section of the application titled ‘commercial awareness’ which you can tick and move on!” remarks Hartigan. “It is more about demonstrating a way of thinking. Commercial acumen is all about developing those business-oriented thinking skills.”

Developing a commercial mind-set is naturally a gradual process. A good way to start your commercial awareness journey is by listening to podcasts. “There are a number of good commercial awareness podcasts out there,” says Hartigan. “I personally am not a big reader. The best way I consume information is by hearing conversations between people. Podcasts are such a relaxed way to build knowledge, right from the comfort of your home.”

When chatting about podcasts, we also find out some of Hartigan’s personal favourites. “I thoroughly enjoy podcasts done by Financial Times (FT), UK Law Weekly is another one of my recommendations. There are also a number of podcasts that Shoosmiths has launched. One of my favourites is ‘Journey Through a Contract’. The podcast, developed by Shoosmiths’ lawyers, is a helpful guide when it comes to basic elements of a commercial contract. It’s a brilliant chance to hear from our lawyers first-hand and understand some vital contract topics.”

4. Attending firm events

Another great way to build commercial awareness is to meet law firms in real-time. “It can feel really dauting to start on your commercial awareness journey,” acknowledges Hartigan. “Attending events conducted by firms, whether open days, law fairs or other graduate events, can offer great tips to help you prepare. Just talking with people and interacting with the business will help you understand many things about how a firm operates. Shoosmiths have a dedicated platform where you can find details of all our upcoming virtual events and webinars.”

Networking events are a good opportunity to clarify your practice area-related questions too. “While doing your research, there will often be times where you do not understand how a trend impacts a particular area at the firm. On those occasions, feel free to attend firm-related events and ask your questions to the relevant lawyers.”

Laura Hartigan will be speaking at ‘Demystifying commercial awareness — with Shoosmiths’, a virtual student event taking place on Wednesday 8 November from 4pm to 6pm. You can apply for a place here.

Applications for Shoosmiths’ Summer Vacation Placement (England and Scotland) close on 31 January 2024

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