Is commercial awareness really that important?

Over the last few years, commercial awareness has become a real buzz word in the legal industry, and to some degree you will be assessed on this in your applications, online assessments, and during assessment centres.

Chelsea, a trainee solicitor in Shoosmiths’ Birmingham office discusses what we mean by “commercial awareness” and how you can begin to develop it.

Gaining commercial awareness is a crucial skill to obtain, and being more commercially aware will give you a huge advantage - not only as a prospective training contract applicant, but also throughout your career.

In my own experience, commercial awareness isn’t something you can simply revise or quickly grasp, a true understanding will take time. Why not think about when and how you can increase your knowledge – there’s no better day to start than today, right?

What is Commercial Awareness?

Commercial awareness is all about understanding how businesses and industries operate and how certain changes in the world can impact their business. Over the past few years, the world has seen some huge changes, some include, Brexit, the Covid-19 pandemic, the living and energy crisis, advancement of AI technology, and high street shop closures. The list is truly endless. Commercial awareness is about looking at the wider impacts of these events and asking questions. What does this mean? What impact does it have now? What impact might it have in 5 years’ time? How can a business protect itself against a similar event in the future?

Why do I need commercial awareness?

  • It can help you stand out against other applicants and/or employees.
  • It allows you to predict future trends and pre-empt challenges businesses may face.
  • It gives you a well-rounded view of the industry.
  • It helps to build strong and trusted working relationships with Clients.

What do you mean sometimes knowing the law isn’t necessarily the answer clients want?

Since starting my training contract, I have really grasped how commercial awareness is used in practice. Shoosmiths’ clients are given answers that go beyond the legal impact. They understand their clients’ businesses and explain the wider commercial impact of matters. Shoosmiths don’t hold lectures on this, it’s all done through engagement, secondment opportunities and getting to know how a client’s day to day business operates. That’s why it is important to engage with what’s happening around you through your experiences.

My tips for developing commercial awareness

  • Listening to legal and business podcasts.
  • Reading news updates, other legal and business blogs and subscribing to updates or commercial awareness programmes. There are some great resources available for free. Whilst reading or listening to a news story or article, think about how it impacts businesses? Why not also approach your employer, friends, and family and ask how a particular matter has affected them.
  • Network and use social media tools, like LinkedIn to your advantage - comment, share, like and ask people questions. Your feed will soon be full of useful information.
  • Try to gain as much work experience as you can, whether legal or not. This is so important to build a rounded view of businesses and how they work.
  • Get involved with any volunteering or pro bono opportunities if they are available.

My final top 3 top tips for success

  • Start now! Don’t wait until writing your applications, attending interviews, or assessment centres to start developing your commercial awareness. My top tip would be to start today. Even if its 10 minutes a day, everything will help in the long run. If you do live a busy life, why not listen to podcasts whilst completing housework, on a train, or walking the dog – trust me when I say, you don’t need more time; you just need to think about how you can use your time smarter.
  • Have confidence! You won’t know everything, you won’t understand everything straight away, but do not let that defeat you. Everyone is different but there is always room for self-growth if you work hard.
  • Find topic areas that truly interest you. If you enjoy a topic, you are far more likely to absorb information and think about the wider picture and impacts it may have.

You may also be interested to read our blog where we discuss why AI matters in your job applications.

If you have any questions you can email us at [email protected] or have a look at some frequently asked questions here.

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This information is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. Please contact us for specific advice on your circumstances. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024.



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