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Baby steps towards commercial awareness

Baby steps towards commercial awareness

Sian

30/10/2019

As application season draws closer, the dreaded phrase ‘commercial awareness’ beings to haunt law students. In this post, I set out my top tips for breaking down your quest for awareness in order to make understanding commercial events a lot less daunting.

Breaking down the term

I would define ‘commercial awareness’ as having a solid understanding of developments in the business and commercial world and how they affect corporate clients. While this seems broad, being commercially aware does not require you to be an expert on every single aspect, event or company within the commercial field. Instead, I focus on three things:

  • understanding the basic elements of the field;
  • following news and developments within this area; and
  • understanding how these may affect the work of lawyers and the needs of clients.

Understanding the basics

Nothing is more stressful than opening your first Financial Times article and being faced with 100 terms and words which you do not understand, such as ‘private equity’ and ‘investment vehicles’. Sadly, there is no quick fix to understanding these terms. However, there are a multitude of resources on the Internet which can explain things clearly.

To help with this, I recommend creating a glossary of terms and definitions and adding to this as you come across new ones. When I come across a phrase that I don’t understand in an article, I google it and usually find a short YouTube video which explains what it means. I then add the term or definition into my glossary, which can I refer back to if I come across the term again later and have forgotten its meaning. It takes a while, but you eventually build up a basic understanding of what the field involves.

Following news and developments

Little and often is the best advice I can give for staying up to date with the news. Take advantage of any subscriptions which your university or employer offers; for example, I utilise UCL’s online subscriptions to the Financial Times and The Economist. I would also strongly suggest signing up to the newsletters dedicated to your areas of interest, such as market forces or M&A. Doing this ensures that the top stories of the day will land in your inbox without you having to search for relevant articles.

I dedicate around 45 minutes to one hour each evening to reading the news. By doing this daily, you can follow deals and news closely and understand the processes of the field. Developments happen every day and keeping up to date with these changes as they occur means that you develop a much deeper and technical understanding of what is going on.

Linking events to client needs

It’s all well and good understanding how low interest rates affect borrowing, but it is much more insightful to be able to know what this means for clients and the advice that they will seek from lawyers in response. Although you can often come up with the answer to this on your own, there are a wealth of resources which can point you in the right direction. For example, the Corporate Law Academy’s newsletters always link news stories to their effect on commercial lawyers and businesses.

Commercial awareness really isn’t as daunting as it initially seems; by breaking it down into smaller steps and tackling each one, you will slowly but surely get to grips with commercial developments. Remember – you are not expected to be an expert!