Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer accurately sums up in one sentence what Commercial Awareness involves – “Understanding the business benefits and commercial realities from both an organisation’s and the customer’s perspective.” (So in other words, a lot of understanding, and a hell of a lot more perspective).
However, a commenter on Legal Cheek offered an equally good definition:
Commercial Awareness is a combination of knowing what issues are currently affecting a sector, then applying that knowledge to take both a proactive and reactive approach in understanding how that can affect consumers and organisations.
How do I become Commercially Aware?
The truth is, you can’t teach someone to be, or how to be commercially aware. I could spend hours talking about what to read, assimilate and learn in relation to companies, the legal sector and/or future developments. However, this all means nothing unless you can tailor it in a way that’s best for you. And how do you do that? Well, funnily enough that forms the basis of my 3 ‘wise’ tips:
1. Find your own interests
Read about commercial and legal matters that appeal to you. Ultimately, you want to work in an area of law that you enjoy, so why not start now? Okay, on occasion you may need to widen the scope of what you’re reading to gain a better understanding of the broader legal industry and to avoid becoming ‘narrow minded’, but don’t let that deter you from what you have interests in. You’ll find in the long term that reading will soon become less of a chore, and more of a recreation.
2. Make it regular
Flicking through the Guardian Law once a week will not make you commercially aware, nor will having a £12 student subscription to The Economist that you purchased to seem more “rah” (trust me, we’ve all been there). [Rosie: I’ve just done this- am I cool yet?] It must become part of your life. The best way is to try to perceive the situation from the eyes of your ‘client’. Would your ‘client’ be able to trust your understanding of what kind of business he/she owns, and where it wants to be in the future? Would your ‘client’ rely on your knowledge of key issues that are ongoing in that industry? Would your ‘client’ be satisfied with your understanding of the legal sector you are working in?
With the way the legal sector is going, the standard of the questions posed by clients is increasing; they want and expect more, which means that in turn, so do law firms.
3. Reflect and ask questions
It is one thing to read an article about Nestlé trying to trademark the KitKat, but another to really understand the challenges in IP Law that they face (such as the policy of ‘distinctiveness through use’). You need to challenge yourself. Read an article, and then write down a list of questions you might have – this will always lead to further reading in finding the answers to your questions. If you don’t know, reach out and ask. This may even start a forum of debate which can be interesting in developing ‘perspective’.