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29 September 2015 |
Commercial awareness doesn"t just appear overnight. Unfortunately, it happens to be one of those things that develop over time and with experience. You will however notice that recruiters will look for signs of commercial awareness throughout the recruitment process, whether it is on the application form, during an interview or throughout an internship, so it"s important to ensure you spend time and effort developing it.
Here are a few things you can do to develop your commercial awareness:
Keeping up to date with current affairs is one of the best ways to continually develop your commercial awareness. The medium you choose is up to you but there are a variety of sources you can choose from. Pick good quality newspapers. There are a variety of usual suspects such as The Financial Times and The Economist to help keep you abreast of news in the business world.
Watch programmes that are related to current affairs, for example, Question Time and Newsnight. It is important to think carefully about the issues and challenges discussed, including the short and long term implications and how these may affect the firm to which you are applying (or its clients). Think about where lawyers might fit in. Is there a dispute that needs resolving? Are there expansion plans that will require the appeasement of regulators and the negotiation and drafting of contracts? Has a large company gone insolvent and if so, how will the employment issues be resolved?
The internet is awash with various sources that can help you research and develop your understanding of the commercial world. For those who don"t enjoy the print medium, the business section on the BBC Business News website is a good source to keep you updated with recent topical news articles and older, related articles. Likewise, it also gives you the opportunity to keep abreast of international news stories. This is important for those that are applying to global firms, as a lot of the work undertaken may involve multiple jurisdictions. Lawyers working at such firms will therefore be expected to take an interest in (and understand) the potential impact of topical international developments and affairs.
It also makes sense to research firms via their website. There is a wealth of information on there that is widely available and goes beyond the generic. For example, the DLA Piper website has a section called Insights which contains links to blogs, webinars and publications relating to practice areas, sectors, client activity and firm developments. However, remember to link this information back to you when being assessed. Don"t simply regurgitate what you have read.
Follow different firms" official pages on Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin. These pages are updated continually throughout the day and are often the quickest way to discover and keep up-to-date with current news about the firm and its clients. Let"s face it: you"ll end up checking these pages for social reasons anyway so this way you can also develop your commercial awareness at the same time!
Read through a firm"s annual report and then form your own opinions on it. Think about how you came to these conclusions and justify your reasons for them. It can also help to do a practice SWOT analysis (consider a firm"s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) or PESTLE analysis (consider the political, economic, sociological, technological, legal and environmental factors bearing on the legal/a client"s industry). This will allow you to develop your ability to think critically and to breakdown, analyse and structure the key points derived from large amounts of information (skills which are incredibly important in the context of delivering presentations or liaising with clients!).
Commercial awareness does not have to be strictly legal. Think about any role you have undertaken in a company, whether it was customer facing, volunteering etc. Think about the industry you were in, the challenges faced by the company, and how they ensured their clients" needs were met. Thinking about these things helps you to develop your commercial awareness and strengthen your answers in an interview.