Commercial Awareness – What does it really mean?

A simple google search on commercial awareness rewards you with a variety of definitions ranging from “it’s about knowing what’s going on in the world and analysing the way it might impact on your chosen sector and company” to “it is to the world of business what night-vision goggles are to midnight assaults: with it, you can operate on a professional level, but without it you won’t know what is going on, and your chances of survival are slim”. While poetic, neither of these are particularly helpful in unpicking what this important term really means. In a nutshell, commercial awareness is not merely having an awareness of what is going on in the business world generally, but also what is affecting your firm’s clients and the lawyers you work with.

Every article, blog or post you read will have its own variation on what it means to be commercially aware. In this blog I aim to give a trainee’s perspective on how commercial awareness fits into the working day.

Balancing the needs of your client and your firm

One thing that has stood out throughout our training is the importance of balancing the needs of the client with those of the firm. It is of course essential that you provide the best possible service for your client. However, in order to continue providing valuable services to clients you must always consider your firm and how the work can benefit them. If you are providing work at a lower standard, but at a higher price than your competitors, your clients are not likely to stick around for very long. On the other hand however, if you sell your services for less than they are worth, you are unlikely to be able to provide your services sustainably.

Cost effective workflows

As a trainee you probably won’t be considering cost of work or the profitability of the firm as a whole. Nevertheless, it is always good to consider what work you are doing and why you may be doing this. Often as trainees you are given tasks that are fairly simple compared to what a partner might do. You may be asked to carry out research on a certain topic. The research itself may not make the firm money, which is why it is better for a trainee to do it, however, it is really useful for other lawyers to have the information you find.  Being able to carry out research with the lawyers in your team and their clients in mind will help you carry out the tasks given to you as effectively as possible.

Considering your role as a Trainee

Trainees will be required to cover an array of different areas while undertaking their training contracts. In one seat they might predominantly be dealing with individuals, and in another companies. Private clients and corporate businesses will have different needs and even as a trainee it is important to consider the work you are doing; how is it benefitting the client, and how is it benefiting the firm overall?

Key points to take away:

  • Commercial awareness involves an understanding of the current topics affecting the business world, and how these impact on your firm and your clients.

  • Being able to consider what your client’s aims are and those of your team can help you establish what information you need to look out for.