Developing your commercial awareness

A key buzzword in any legal application process is ‘commercial awareness’. However, whilst firms are constantly looking out for commercially-aware application, showing you know what that means and how you can apply it is not always that easy.

What is commercial awareness? Commercial awareness is an understanding and general knowledge of current developments in the commercial and business sector. This might range from mergers and acquisitions, to new laws on tax or changes in the economy.

What do law firms expect me to know? Whilst most firms won’t expect you to know every commercial development that happens, you should have a general idea of the main stories, as well as an understanding of how theoretical changes might affect the firm. For example, if a firm does a large amount of international business, an understanding of exchange rates would be important.

How should I keep up-to-date? Reading a quality newspaper is always a good start. Look at the business and financial pages and try to keep up with stories as they play out. The Financial Times is probably the most useful as it offers in-depth and comprehensive content. If some of your friends are applying for financial careers, it would be worth talking to them about their views on the commercial world; they will also have to show commercial awareness, so you can share ideas and discuss developments.

Should I learn anything in detail? As a rule of thumb, it is useful to know one or two detailed case studies which you can then bring up in application forms or interviews. Think specifically about how you chosen case study is relevant to the law, and specifically to the firm you are applying to. Show that you have followed the case with interest, and make sure you have your facts straight!

Are they any other ways I can demonstrate commercial awareness? You probably show commercial awareness every day without even thinking about it. If you run a university society you have to think financially to make sure everything goes smoothly. You can also sign up to your legal societies, many of whom offer workshops about commercial awareness. You might also consider working at the Citizens’ Advice Bureau or going to talks by guest speakers.

Commercial awareness, then, is not easy to pin down. However, if you retain a general interest in the news and keep up-to-date with business developments, you should be fine. Remember to think about how you show commercial awareness in various aspects of your life; being commercially aware is more impressive than just knowing what it is.