Linsey Fadiga, second-year law student at Edinburgh Napier University, looks at commercial awareness - what it is, how to get it and how to prove you have it!
What is commercial awareness?
Commercial awareness is all about being up to date with what’s happing in the business and legal sectors. It’s critical to understand how these markets interplay and influence the clients of legal employers, or your own business, depending on the environment you work in.
It is about understanding different factors that affect business success and taking a more commercial outlook on certain situations.
Why do law firms require it?
Legal employers look for candidates who are commercially aware as they need to offer clients more than just legal expertise. They need their employees to understand their clients’ business in the context of the wider marketplace, so that when advising on issues they can consider both legal and commercial factors to find innovative solutions tailored to them.
Legal employers expect candidates to have some knowledge about how a business runs, who their competitors are and what the key issues are that affect their business both in the short term and in the long term. It is important to know how changes within the company or a business will affect customers or clients and how their needs will be met.
How do I get commercial awareness?
Just like everything else in life, you have to work to get it. Commercial awareness is improved over time through persistence and application. It can be developed in various ways:
- Reading newspapers and journals
Keeping up to date by reading newspapers such as the Financial Times and the Telegraph can help improve your commercial awareness. It can help you understand what is going on in businesses.
If you are not used to reading newspapers, getting to grips with the content may be a bit overwhelming, convoluted and even a bit boring (!) amongst other things. However, once it becomes a habit, you will begin to understand the different areas of businesses and their issues.
- Working or volunteering
Having a job can help you improve your commercial awareness. It will help you understand how a business works and you will see how a business deals with different issues.
You can gain commercial awareness by working any job; it does not have to be in the legal sector. By working in a different sector, you might actually gain first-hand experience of problems your future clients could have.
Having summer placements or internships can also be valuable when it comes to understanding commercial awareness, as you experience real-life scenarios. You can also ask your colleagues, or other key contacts, questions to deepen your understanding and broaden your knowledge base.
Questions you could ask or think about:
- What is the organisation and what services do they provide?
- Who are its customers or target market?
- Who are its competitors?
- What are its current business issues?
- What impact does it have on the industry/customers?
- What are the trends in the legal marketplace and how do these affect this business?
How do I prove commercial awareness?
There are many ways to prove that you are commercially aware. Research is the cornerstone of commercial awareness. The more you know about a company or topic, the easier it will be for you to answer questions surrounding it.
I am not talking about knowing every single detail about them; rather, have an over-arching understanding of the business or organisation. This can include how it runs, how it makes a profit and who their target market or competitors are. Be up to date with any new developments within the business, including being aware of any emerging trends.