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Developing your commercial awareness with your student law society

updated on 28 April 2021

Your student law society plays a substantial role in helping you to boost your employability. A key aspect to this is commercial awareness, but as a concept it is quite often difficult to know where to start.

Why is commercial awareness important for aspiring lawyers?

Commercial awareness is broadly a skill of critical thinking that is tested by law firms often in applications, sometimes during psychometric testing, and nearly always in video interviews or assessment centres. Ergo, it is important to know and understand why employers have this expectation of aspiring lawyers to be commercially aware.

Most importantly, the skill reflects the expectations of legal practice. The role of a lawyer is to provide legal advice to your client, but this is not a duty fulfilled in a vacuum. Any advice a lawyer provides to their client is framed within a backdrop made up of from an analysis and evaluation of the wider context. This context includes the background to the matter at hand, the client’s own business, the party that the client is dealing with, and any political/economic/social factors affecting the industry/sector that the client operates in. In order to provide this advice convincingly, commercial awareness is absolutely integral!

Based on your understanding of this wider picture, you would be able to present options to your client so that they can pursue a plan that is best for them and their business. Accordingly, you do yourself a favour too! Through considering the wider picture, you demonstrate your passion or desire to want the client to succeed, and from a business development perspective, your firm would also be appreciative if the client comes out happy on the other side!

Translating this into how you may present yourself at interview, in a case-study exercise you are effectively the lawyer providing advice to the client! To separate yourself from other candidates, try to apply your knowledge of current affairs, market trends, and the way businesses operate to the case-study facts. Doing this through applying PESTLE or SWOT is a great start and shows to the interviewing partner that you are already thinking like a lawyer, showcasing a high degree of critical thinking and problem-solving.

How to boost your commercial awareness

Once you can appreciate why you should be commercially aware, you will want to know how to develop it. People often nod straight towards the Financial Times as the first port of call, but the key to being commercially fluent is to find resources that:

  • work for you in terms of allowing to you to proactively engage your critical thinking; and
  • actually interest you – the commercial world is vast so you have scope to engage with the business stories in the sectors that actually matter to you.

LawCareers.Net is a fantastic place to start with this – you can sign up to the LCN Weekly email, which features a wrap-up of the week’s key stories written in a digestible manner. If you prefer bite-sized updates you can also receive daily emails from Finimize – this makes for a good pre-interview read, and encourages you to think about the wider industry/sector a story takes place in. Or, if you prefer listening to the news, there are a whole host of podcasts to explore including the Today programme on Radio 4 and Economist Radio.

This article doesn’t have the space to list all the resources you could use, but remember, whatever you pick, consistency and engagement is key!

Your student law society

Skilling up is not an individual endeavour; your law society is there to support you, providing opportunities for you to further, and apply your knowledge.

If your society hosts firm events during the milkround season, make an effort to attend some of these. As the focus of these presentations is to provide insight into the application process, there will inevitably be a discussion on commercial awareness. Use these opportunities to talk to graduate recruitment to find out how they assess commercial awareness in their assessment framework, and what they expect from candidates. This means that you can prepare developing your commercial awareness in a manner that you can then easily apply at an assessment centre case-study. Also talk to any trainees at the event – these are people who have recently gone through the process and therefore will have invaluable insight as to what resources they found useful, how they applied their knowledge during the assessment process, and also how they are now applying that knowledge in practice. If you can understand the practical importance of commercial awareness like this, you will be able to present yourself in a much more coherent and ‘natural’ manner when in a case-study exercise.  

At the core of your society will be a network of like-minded individuals – make use of these connections! Engage with your society to reach out to other aspiring lawyers, and form a peer group so that you can discuss the week’s commercial updates and hold each other accountable for staying on top of current affairs. And don’t forget to make use of the society committee too – often these members have additional insight into how best to showcase your commercial awareness because they work closely with firms throughout the year, and sometimes will have experience themselves at interview, for example. The insight you receive from fellow students is likely the most candid and useful advice you will receive.

Ideas

At Manchester University Law Society, we made commercial awareness our commitment this year. Understanding that student-to-student insight is more member-friendly, we hosted a presentation breaking down everything to do with commercial awareness. This acted as a landing for a three-stage competition where members were able to put their knowledge to the test. If you’re a society committee member thinking about how you can more proactively support your members’ employability, I cannot vouch enough for providing a similar opportunity – members are reliably introduced to commercial awareness, are able to understand their strengths/weaknesses and get the chance to know other aspiring lawyers.

Hafsah Nawaz is the treasurer of the Manchester University Law Society – the society won the award for Best Society for Commercial Awareness at the 2021 Student Law Society Awards.