Student Joel Cartwright tells us what is meant by commercial awareness and advises us on how we can gain it….
As your legal studies and legal career progresses it is vital that you develop a certain amount of business know-how. You may have heard the term commercial awareness mentioned if you have a background in business studies but it is amazing how overlooked it is by law students. There is an increasing importance placed on the mystifying term “commercial awareness” and it is a big part of why you might lose out on a coveted role. A study by the Association of Graduate Recruiters saw 67% of employers report that commercial awareness is a skill which graduates lacked.
It’s highly likely that you’re thinking “but what is commercial awareness and how do I gain it?” In short, it is the ability to look at businesses and see how they interact internally and externally. While it is not a skill that can be taught it can be acquired by developing an interest in politics, news, and the legal sector. Read reputable newspapers such as The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, The Economist, CNN, The Daily Telegraph, etc. for a good overview of commercial news on local, national, and global level. Many of these can be accessed online for small fees (or even, in some cases, for free).
Once you have gained an understanding of how businesses work you will want to hone it by focusing on aspects that interest you. For instance, a sports fan may be more interested in their favourite teams’ administration than the latest Debenhams merger. It’s of paramount importance that everything you do is of interest to you so that you get the most out of it.
Another way to develop your newly gained commercial awareness and possibly the most useful way is to network. This can be done online or offline. If you are on the fence regarding websites like Twitter and LinkedIn, I suggest it’s time to cave in and register. It is becoming increasingly common for firms to have accounts on these websites where they can interact and stay up to date with the world around them making it a vital tool for each undergraduate to have. Offline it is possible to gain work experience in businesses with excellent transferrable skills for the legal sector such as accountancy firms, local government, and banks. It is also useful to attend marketing and career fairs and to join clubs and societies.
Once you begin applying for legal roles it is necessary to put your commercial awareness into a context the company will appreciate. So get used to fine tuning your interests to suit your long term goals. For instance, if you are hoping to work for a regional legal office in Yorkshire then it’s unlikely that your impressive knowledge of business practices in Wiltshire will help you. Know your target and it will make it much easier for you to score those lucrative training contracts, pupillages, and legal sector jobs.
An abundance of material is available which is tailored to law students and can be found in the links below.
– Ultimate Law Guide
– Law Gazette
– Legal Week
– The Lawyer
– Legal 500