Let’s set the scene:
- You’re about to go into a commercial law firm for an interview for either a training contract or a vacation scheme;
- You know or you’ve been told that you will need to display a sense of ‘commerciality’ when discussing your future career with those who might be able to give you a contract or a place on the aforementioned scheme;
- You are worried – after all, what the hell is commerciality?
- You have been frantically reading the Financial Times in the hope that this might ease your nerves.
- You sweat a little at the thought of the inevitable question, ‘what do you think commerciality is?’…
First step on the ladder to commercial success: Stop worrying.
Second step on the ladder to commercial success: Stop reading the FT out of guilt/worry.
Third step on the ladder to commercial success: take some time to think about what it is you are about to do.
‘Think about what?!’, you might ask, ‘I need to get busy preparing, not thinking about preparing!’. Wrong. Sure, preparation is vital in almost every facet of professional life – and commerciality is no exception – but prepare in the wrong way or fail to prepare before commencing your preparation, and you are preparing to fail. Simple.
What should you be thinking about as a student or career changer applying for a legal job or a position in a commercial law firm to show your commerciality? You should be thinking about answer the questions:
1. Why do you want to work in business?
2. What is it exactly that commercial lawyers do that suits your interests and abilities?
3. What have you done in the past and what do you intend to do in the future that shows a real interest in business (not just law)?
Let’s answer these questions in turn:
Question (1): A career in business?
Commerciality at your level is simply about showing hunger and drive for the career you are choosing. You have chosen a career in business. Not in the media, the arts or in medicine. In business – pure and simple. You might be practicing as a solicitor, but you are helping others to do business. In fact, as a junior commercial lawyer, your commercial goals are relatively simple:
For external clients (i.e. the people that pay the fees): remove and/or provide solutions for any legal obstacles that might prevent your clients from doing business. To do this, you need to make it your business to understand their business and the environment that moulds their business. As a junior lawyer, your exposure to external clients might be limited until you’ve proven yourself internally so it is important to focus on a commercial approach when providing a service…
…for internal clients (i.e. the people you work with and need to impress every day in your firm): make it your business to understand how every piece of work you undertake and every interaction you have impacts on the bigger picture (the deal, the matter or the transaction…) to provide a service of excellence to everyone you work with.
Everything you do as a lawyer in a commercial law firm is done for business reasons. You’re not in law school any more. Telling someone about a Supreme Court case decision is interesting but irrelevant unless it has a tangible effect on the work you and your colleagues might do. Think of yourself as a car. Your engine is the law, it powers everything you do. Your steering wheel is business, it guides everything you do. Your chassis is your brand as you work, it leaves everyone with an impression of you (slick or ugly) and ensures or undermines your success. If you have a clever idea, think of the business ramifications before you open your mouth and talk about it.
Question (2): How are you suited to commercial law?
Does money (not earning but working with it) excite you? If you are not passionate about how money affects society at large, commercial law isn’t for you. Especially if you haven’t considered the sacrifices you’ll have to make for success in the profession. Commercial clients, especially large companies, expect advice whenever they want it. This means your senior colleagues will expect your help whenever they want it too. This means you probably won’t be leaving at 6pm much. You won’t be watching the One Show (maybe that’s a blessing). And the successful junior commercial lawyer shows enthusiasm for every aspect of the job, even the duff bits late at night that make you question your own metaphysical existence. Being a commercial lawyer can, if you give it your all, be a highly rewarding and intellectually satisfying job. Resent the demands placed upon you and you’ll be miserable. It’s a lifestyle choice. But it is a choice.
Written by our Guest Writer, Steve Weiner, author of “21st Century Solicitor: How to Make a Real Impact as a Junior Commercial Lawyer”. For more details about this book click here: 21st Century Solicitor
(Copyright – Steve Weiner 2011)