A practical perspective on ‘commercial awareness’

29 November, 2017

This week, the trainee solicitor blog team caught up with Ed Dickinson, in his first seat with the employment team. Read on for his perspective on commercial awareness.

Commercial awareness is a term that irks most training contract applicants: employers require it; its meaning is seemingly obvious; yet the lack of it is often the reason cited for a failed application.

What does it really mean to an employer, why is it so important, and how can you demonstrate that you have it?

Commercial awareness could be defined as having an understanding of a business and the economic and political landscapes in which it operates.

Indeed, employers may expect you to know what is on the front page of the business section (of a paper or on-line), your views on Donald Trump, and they may even expect you to know the current sterling/dollar exchange rate (all previous interview questions I faced).

However, having knowledge of current affairs is just the tip of the iceberg – you need to be able to apply what is happening in the world and explain the impact on a firm’s clients. By really understanding how a client’s business is affected, you as a law firm can add value for that client.

My current employment seat has highlighted the practical need for commercial awareness. There have been multiple high-profile cases in the media surrounding the status of ‘self-employed’ individuals, including Pimlico Plumbers, Olympic track cyclist Jess Varnish, and Uber drivers. https://www.crippspg.co.uk/employment/worker-status-and-the-gig-economy-taxi-for-uber/

Our clients have acknowledged the media attention and engaged us about the employment status of their staff. Having followed the developments of each case in the media and drafted articles about them, I have been able to assist clients in reducing their potential exposure and in making wise commercial decisions.

OK fine, I get it, but how do I show that I have it?

Well, evidencing commercial awareness can come in two forms: the first is conceptual understanding by explaining the theoretical impact of an event on a business, both in the short and long term; the second is through practical experience. During any business-related experience – be it working as a waiter in a restaurant, serving on the committee of a university sports team or interning for two weeks – you have had an insight into providing a service or product to a customer. Be creative, analytical and specific in explaining how something you have done (however small) has had a positive impact on a customer. Explain why you did what you did and what the effect was.