​Junior lawyer life-hacks: commercial awareness

On top of excellent academics, a strong set of extra-curricular activities and plenty of legal experience, most firms now demand commercial awareness as part of their recruiting process.

It seems like a bit of a buzzword to the uninitiated, but to a modern lawyer commercial awareness is every bit as essential as legal knowledge. Understanding what your clients do and the context in which they do it is critical – providing effective advice requires a lawyer know the aims, motivations and issues of their client. And guess what – this doesn’t just apply to “business law” disciplines. All clients will expect you to have an understanding of the wider world and how their matter fits into it.

Commercial awareness is also about more than just client care. Junior lawyers aspiring to partnership in their future should consider that a law firm is a highly commercial entity. How you and your activities fit into the firm should be at the forefront of your mind as you seek to progress in your career – management of deals, teams and departments in an economically viable and profitable manner will be expected of more senior lawyers. 

I don’t intend to spend any more time talking about what commercial awareness is here: there are plenty of articles discussing commercial awareness and its applications in detail. I would like to tell you some simple tricks that will help you to get tuned into the kind of information you need to know to keep you ahead.

Read widely

The more context you have, the better. There are several sources that cover a broad spectrum of news and events – such as The Economist, The Financial Times or Bloomberg Businessweek. Get as much of this kind of material as you can. Even if you don’t understand all that much of it at first, you will find that in a short time you get used to seeing the jargon and themes used in such publications. This will translate well to day-to-day use in your career. I like to try to fit this in on my daily commute – if you are a driver, BBC Radio 4 has some excellent news and current affairs programmes.

Configure your social media

Social media is a massive boon to anyone trying to stay up to date. It takes a little time at first, but you can configure your Twitter, LinkedIn and other platforms to deliver you a feed of high-quality news from a range of sources. Try following individuals or groups in your practice area, or in the industry of your clients. You will find that this leads to your feed being constantly updated with relevant, current information – on Twitter, this is even broken down into 140 character headlines, making it really easy to absorb!

Use your contacts

You may well have friends or family who work in business or other non-legal industries. Take the time to ask them about their jobs. Get to know the concerns and motivations they have. Understanding their practical needs will allow you to extrapolate to clients. No-one wants to talk about work all of the time, but conversations in the pub about a friend’s job are (hopefully!) not too onerous.

Be committed

Unfortunately, this is one area you can’t ‘cheat’ on. Building solid commercial awareness requires you to get to know and keep up with what is going on in the world. A short burst of activity before a job interview or client meeting won’t fool anyone – there is no substitute for real understanding and depth of knowledge. Thankfully, using the tips above (and the time-saving tricks you will pick up yourself) it is easy to keep on top. 

Kieran van Bussel is a trainee at Michelmores

Start getting commercially aware with…

  • What the FT? Find The Financial Times daunting? Never fear: Lawyer 2B explains issues behind the news stories in simple terms.
  • Kinder’s casebook: The Lawyer’s litigation reporter examines trials in the news
  • Lawyer 2B’s Deals Tracker: Keep up to date with which law firms are working on the biggest deals in the market