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Commercial Awareness for Aspiring Lawyers

by Charles Nwabueze
Reading Time: 5 minutes

At the end of the course of your study, you look back and see that you have achieved a ton; you have garnered excellent work experience – both law-related and non-law related experience, you graduated with excellent grades, and you even had a couple of awards. You feel good about the chances of your applications being successful when you start applying. Then you start applying and most of the law firms you apply for have a section on commercial awareness. You are confounded, what is commercial awareness you ask or what is commercial awareness? You have come to the right place as this post will expound briefly on

  • What is Commercial Awareness 
  • What is Commercial Awareness for Lawyers 
  • The Importance of Commercial Awareness 
  • How to Increase your Commercial Awareness

What is Commercial Awareness?

There are many names for commercial awareness: business acumen, business awareness, commercial aptitude or organisation awareness, and according to the Cambridge Business English Dictionary commercial awareness is, “the knowledge of how businesses make money, what customers want, and what problems there are in a particular area of business. Essentially commercial awareness is an understanding of how businesses and industries work. It’s about being aware of what is going on in the business world and deciphering how it might impact your chosen sector and organisation. Commercial awareness is vital in most professional roles but possibly more in the banking, finance, accountancy and law industries. So while this post is geared towards aspiring lawyers, non-legal students can learn from this post. 

What is Commercial Awareness for Lawyers?

Commercial awareness in law means understanding the way law firms make their money and how their clients’ businesses operate. A commercially aware candidate will stay up to date with daily happenings and developments in the business and commercial world and how it affects law firms. Being a lawyer in today’s world is fundamentally different to a lawyer of two decades ago; today clients expect that the lawyers they come to should be able to have an in-depth knowledge on how a business like theirs is run & how their industry functions, the key factors for profitability, growth & development, and how to make sure that they become foolproof for whatever the future may bring. 

Consequently, commercial awareness is a vital skill that law firms look for when giving out their programmes like training contracts and the like. Since the firms will be investing a lot of resources in you, it only makes sense to them that those they offer their contracts to are those who can demonstrate that they’re up-to-the-minute with political, economic and social developments; those that will keep up with being commercially aware after their training. 

The Importance of Commercial Awareness

Firstly, commercial awareness provides a boost to your performance in any role you may find yourself in at a law firm (or any other organisation). By being commercially aware, your understanding of the [legal] sector that you work in, the knowledge of how your role (and senior colleagues’ role) helps your organization compete, will help you offer excellent solutions to your clients, decisions, help develop your reputation as someone that will go far in the [legal] profession and increase your chances of being retained. Secondly, if you display that you are commercially aware in your dealings – applications, networking events – with law firms, you will be painting yourself positively different from the numerous aspiring lawyers that those law firms encounter. Furthermore, as intimated earlier most law firms, if not all see commercial awareness as a must-have for their recruits. To those firms, a recruit that is commercially aware will be tuned into what makes the firm tick and will be willing to sacrifice the time to satisfy their clients’ needs. 

How to Increase Your Commercial Awareness

Law firms and related industries do not understate the value of commercial awareness – they want to see it in their candidates. In the legal field, it is an important attribute that can make the difference between becoming and not becoming a lawyer. So if you start now to develop this enviable trait and make a habit of remaining business savvy, great benefit will be imparted on your applications and career. 

  • Research: One of the easiest ways of gaining commercial awareness is through research. Through your research, you should be able to find the relevant information of the law firms you are applying to and their clients. The research could be as simple as reading the business section of your local paper. Other places that offer a gold mine for commercial awareness include The Economist, The Times, The Guardian, Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, Legal Business, Sweet and Maxwell website and BBC News website. I’d like to state that if you have an interview for work experience, your chances of excelling will not increase because you read the Financial Times for the first time the night prior. 
  • Work Experience: If you have not already started looking for work experience, you need to start looking for one with immediate effect as this is the best way to increase your business acumen. The experience does not necessarily need to be legal-related for it to count. For example, if you gained experience in the hospitality business – a hotel or bar – you would have been allowed to gain an insight into how the business was run, the clientele, their competitors, was the business making profits or losing money, how the laws affect their industry, what they did to get customers to keep coming, and so on. Vacation schemes, mini-pupillages and voluntary work should also not be discounted as they offer you real-life experience as to how those organisations work
  • Listen and Watch the News: The global village we presently live in moves at an incredible pace, one minute there’s peace; the next minute you are watching the news that another country has invaded another country. One moment you are living in peace and comfort, the next moment you are living in a pandemic-looking world. It is therefore paramount that you keep up to date with what is happening around you even though the news may not be business or legal it might still have a domino effect on the legal world and your sector. So instead of doing a movie marathon always why not spare a moment to watch the news and listen to radio and podcasts. Some excellent choices include BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, World at One and PM, FT News Briefing podcast, Business Daily podcast, BBCs 1 and 2, CNN, and Bloomberg

Most importantly, in your quest to gain commercial awareness you should have the perspective that commercial awareness is not just the knowledge of things – though it plays a part – but it is a way of thinking. And if it is a way of thinking, it will take time to develop. Simply put you will not acquire a business sense in one night rather it will take a series of investments in the abovementioned steps to get to the stage where you will be able to see some major information and be able to see ways it affects your sector. 


Charles is a writer, practising lawyer and personal trainer who loves learning and developing himself. He graduated from Middlesex University, London with eight first-class grades in the second and third years of his law degree, and received a postgraduate offer from Cambridge University. He loves strength training, boxing and encouraging people to succeed in their pursuits (legal ones)


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