How To Be ‘Commercially Aware’

The term ‘commercial awareness’ is something that is in constant circulation in the legal world, and something incredibly desired by law firms when seeking candidates for legal roles.

I definitely think this is something that is overthought and overcomplicated. Demonstrating commercial awareness is simply being able to analyse how businesses operate, how they make money and how the wider world is impacted. That’s it! This will partly come from reading the news regularly.

If you’re wondering the ways in which you can become ‘commercially aware’ then read on and read my tips below:

Read the news

So, reading the news is definitely your first step to developing commercial awareness. I allow notifications from the news apps on my phone, such as BBC News and The Guardian so I can be kept up to date of any breaking news and also the main news of the week.

It can seem overwhelming at first but now I flick through the news a few times a day and it seems like second nature. I may be on a break from work or have a spare 5 minutes where I choose to get my phone out and catch myself up on everything that’s been happening in the world. If you can, take a few minutes to really think of these questions: Who is affected by this? What does this mean for the job market and the economy? For the future? The wider world? How does this news story correlate to another I have read recently? How are the clients / customers impacted, and what knock on affect does this have? What does this mean for any competitors’ businesses?

My favourite news sites are:

  • BBC News – This is very easy to read and digest. You can allow notifications which give you breaking news updates too, meaning you can be one of the first to hear about a breaking news story!
  • The Guardian – Another great news site that is easy to read and understand.
  • The Financial Times – This is a platform that is slightly more difficult to understand and can be more ‘wordy’ than others, but is definitely worth trying to get our head around. It requires a subscription but is usually available through your university which enables you access to the subscription for free!

Note – stay away from tabloid newspapers which focus on celebrity gossip and television drama. Broadsheets and quality press (such as the ones listed above) tend to give more news, analysis and opinion with more formal and measured language on more sophisticated topics.

Get work experience

Work experience is another great way to gain commercial awareness. This does not need to be work experience in a legal industry, in fact it might even be more beneficial to gain work experience for a company such as a retail business. You’ll be set targets, you’ll be aware of competitors, you’ll have to work to a deadline and you’ll have to make the company money through sales and great service.

Legal work experience is obviously great too, though. Gaining work experience in a law firm can be extremely valuable as you can gain an insight into how they operate which, of course, will help you understand the law firm more and therefore develop your commercial awareness.

Understand that law firms are businesses

Understanding that law firms are businesses will help you to bring your work experience, knowledge of recent news stories and your own analysis of this together. Law firms operate to make money and make their clients money. This is how a business operates and how businesses make profit. Apply your work experience to understanding the firms competitors, who their clients are, how they make money and targets that may be set. By understanding how recent news stories may affect the firms profitability (such as the coronavirus pandemic with job losses, redundancies, furloughed staff, closed offices, the move to online learning and having to adapt quickly to this to survive), this will develop your commercial awareness.

Listen to podcasts

Podcasts are a great way to develop your commercial awareness, especially if you struggle to read news stories throughout the day or if you are short for time.

Some great podcasts I always recommend to people who ask me are listed below! (with a brief summary):

  • Wake up to Money by BBC5Live – This is a great one to listen to if you are an aspiring commercial or corporate lawyer. This podcast is around 40 minutes long on average and covers all things business and personal finance news. It delivers recent news stories and brings in guests to speak to where they discuss how their own businesses may be affected, how the wider world is affected and what this means for the future.
  • FT News Briefing by The Financial Times – The reason why I’m such a fan of this one is because of how short it is. They are only ever under 10 minutes long which enables you to gain a brief understanding of each major news story and how this affects the wider world.
  • Watson’s Daily – Peter Watson has great subscription plans to help develop your commercial awareness. Peter Watson narrows down each news story for you in a clear and concise way, and even delivers them straight to your inbox! He has an app called “Watson’s Daily” which you can download (depending on which plan you have signed up for). I would definitely recommend subscribing to one of his plans if you haven’t already, and they’re completely affordable! A WIN for law students on a budget.

How do you stay commercially aware? Let us know below!

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A future trainee solicitor encouraging and supporting social mobility, and showing you anything is possible.

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