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Do all lawyers need to be commercially aware?

Do all lawyers need to be commercially aware?

Harry Clark


If you’re interested in any client-facing role - consulting, finance or, of course, a legal career - it’s inevitable you’ve heard both firms and individuals (like me) stress the importance of commercial awareness. However, the legal profession is broad and diverse in the types of work that lawyers do. After all, whilst both are classified as ‘lawyers’, there is a great deal of difference in what a criminal barrister does on a day-to-day basis in comparison to a trainee solicitor in a commercial in-house position. Does this mean that every type of lawyer needs to be commercially aware? This article explores both sides of this question.

Either way, it’s helpful

Like almost any other skill, being able to demonstrate a broad set of competencies and analytical abilities will be useful for any career. The legal profession is no different. As explored in previous articles, the ability to think commercially fits nicely alongside comparable skills such as critical thinking, empathy and research. All of these components help drive efficiency, creativity and client/customer satisfaction in most roles. But is this particular skill useful for all lawyers?


Again, as previously explored, commercial awareness entails not just an understanding of the business world, but of the legal one too - more specifically, how the firm or company you are working within generates profit as a business and seeks to compete with other providers in its markets. This same pattern of thinking also extends from a micro-level - how you as an individual can contribute value to the work your firm or company provides - right through to the macro in keeping up to date with the latest changes happening across the industry.

It’s also important to note just how valuable the above is to recruiters: 71% have stated that it would help a 2:1 degree candidate trump a comparable competitor with a first degree. Regardless of the content matter or subject areas you’ll be working in, it is very likely you will join some form of a commercial workplace if the primary intent of the business is to make money. Any workplace will need to be efficient in producing the optimal output from the resources it has available and an internal awareness of the business side of law goes a long way in helping with that. A basic understanding of business development, growth and accounting principles will be useful - especially if you progress into more managerial style positions throughout your career.

...and no

As the namesake suggests, a large part of commercial awareness is based within the commercial field and understanding developments in the business world. As a result, it’s highly unlikely that, for example, a sharp change in oil pricing will alter the advice you might give to a client who is looking to buy a new residential property as much as it would if you were advising a multinational car manufacturer. Clearly, there will be times when the subject matter of the external world and recent news stories will bear little to no connection to the advice you’re giving to clients in certain practice areas of industries. In addition, your role and responsibilities will play a large part in whether or not you’ll be employing this skill on a daily basis as well.

Don’t put off the importance of commercial awareness – ensure you give it the time and attention it demands prior to major application windows. Demonstrating your abilities in this field, regardless of your exact area of practice, will make you a more attractive candidate throughout the recruitment process.