The Importance of Commercial Awareness

“Commercial Awareness”

Two words you will have heard repeatedly over and over at law school, on your LPC, when applying for jobs, on your training contract, when applying for NQ jobs. You will have been told commercial awareness is vital for getting a training contract. Yes it is. But it doesn’t stop being important. It is important every day of your training, it is important when applying for your NQ role and beyond. So what is the difference? (and what does it all mean?). Well everyone I chat to has a slightly different take and a slightly different experience when it comes to commercial awareness – but here is what I think…

Commercial Awareness for Training Contract Applications

For a trainee interview “Commercial Awareness” questions can be hard to tackle. Preparation usually takes the form of keeping up with the news, legal developments etc, but unless you get a question on something you have an interest in, it is hard to formulate an interesting and in-depth response to a commercial awareness question. As a trainee the scope for potential commercial awareness questions can be vast.

You may have read previous blogs about my various TC interviews but if you haven’t there were some Commercial and Legal Awareness questions that went down like a lead balloon – simply because I didn’t have an interest in that particular area of law.

The other side of the coin is, if you get commercial awareness questions that hits the nail on the head with regards to something you have a genuine interest in. You have an opportunity to excel, and it will probably confirm that the firm is the one for you.

Commercial Awareness on your Training Contract

Once you have secured the job you still have to be commercially aware and stay up to date with your legal updates to be great at your job (although you can get by without).

I confess that in some areas of law I am terrible at this and my eyes glaze over and words go in one ear and out the other. The things that stick are the interesting niches, the good stories and the bizarre. If I am not interested, it just does not appeal. The other problem is the sheer wealth of information. There is so much out there – working out what is relevant, what is important to you and balancing this with how much you have time to read can be a challenge in itself.

Personally, I subscribe to relevant updates and blogs in the area of law I want to practice and focus less on the rest. This has both advantages and disadvantages. I try to keep to a few key publications and cull ruthlessly if I find that I am not reading things.

Another type of commercial awareness is learning more about your clients, their priorities and their businesses. Face to face client contact and having more generally conversations with your clients if you can get it is great for this. Networking with existing clients (as well as a potential clients) is a fantastic way to learn more about their business and their needs. As a trainee don’t be afraid of asking questions. Yes you are under the spotlight, but asking questions to get a genuine understanding and using the information you are given is a great thing.

Commercial Awareness for an NQ

Finding the perfect NQ job is about finding the right practice area, finding the right fit in terms of a team and/or firm to work with, and finding the right clients to work with. Or at least client’s whose business you know, understand and can contribute to. For great client satisfaction you NEED to have an awareness of the clients and their businesses to be able to contribute.

And of course all the “on the job” aspects of commercial awareness continue to apply.

At the moment I am building up my Commercial Awareness in preparation for taking on a NQ role. A lot of this is more networking, more client contact and more “front line” work.

What is your take on Commercial Awareness and how has your Commercial Awareness changed over the years as your role has changed?