Connor Boland completed his New Zealand Law (LLB) degree at the University of Nottingham, and is currently finishing his BPTC at the University of Law Birmingham and hopes to conduct a mixed practice. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the site LittleLaw which helps aspiring lawyers develop their commercial awareness.
Commercial awareness. We have all heard that weird and wonderful term thrown around at university: ‘you need to be commercially aware to get a job in law’; ‘you need to improve your commercial awareness in order to be a serious candidate’. It was up there with snails in beer bottles and men on Clapham omnibuses. Yet despite telling us we needed it, no one ever told us what it was. But that did not matter, right? We were going to be barristers and barristers do not deal with such ‘solicitor-y’ things. Well that is not the case. Commercial awareness remains as important to us as to our solicitor counterparts, and we need to stay on top of it.
Before delving into what commercial awareness is, it is important to point out what it is not: it is not simply for those practising in finance or chancery. Although it is especially relevant for those sectors, commercial awareness can be just as important for those practising in crime and family as it is for other areas. Prima facie, this may not look like the case, but like the term prima facie itself, we have to look at its meaning; if we can crack Latin, we can crack commercial awareness.
So, what is it? Commercial awareness can be split into two separate aspects. Knowing what is going on in the world and knowing why it is going on. The why is the context surrounding an event. Many people often focus on the what aspect. They focus on which company made a deal, what ruling was given or the latest statistics for a sector. Inevitably, that knowledge will always differ depending on what you are looking at. The crucial aspect is the thought process. If you can analyse why something happened, and not just know that something happened, you will have a much greater understanding, a much greater ‘awareness’.
For example, say company X acquired company Y, both of which are technology companies. Approaching this from a commercial awareness perspective, you need to know why and how this event happened: was Y performing poorly, was Y a threat to X, are acquisitions common in the technology sector, what implications does this have for competition in the technology market and what did regulators think of the acquisition. You have to look beyond the initial headline. This allows you to carry those insights to the next case and better predict, or influence, what may happen. The same principle applies to all areas of law. Looking at a family law context, it is important to understand the current climate in order to predict what decisions will be made over issues like child arrangements. For example, what is the current guidance or are there any recent cases or news stories which may affect the decision. Ultimately, what is important is being critical and knowing the context, and commercial awareness is the thought process by which you understand this context.
As you can imagine, now that we know that commercial awareness is just as much about critical thinking as it is about knowing what is happening in the sector you practise in, there are lots of ways to improve your commercial awareness. Watching the news, reading the papers, taking courses that help you develop your analytical skills; the list could go on. But we are busy lawyers and we do not have time to spend hours trawling through the internet to constantly keep on top of current events. That is where the sites specifically aimed at developing your commercial awareness come in. Specifically, I would like to mention the site LittleLaw.
LittleLaw is specifically targeted at law students and lawyers and does the hard work for you; it tells you what has happened and why it is important from a legal perspective. I know this because a friend and I started the site to address this specific point (it is an unholy fusion between an aspiring barrister and solicitor). We create short, digestible articles that are designed to be read in three minutes or less; perfect for your commute into university or to court. You can see all of the latest news on our website, littlelaw.co.uk. It is worth a ‘little’ look.