How Getting Experience With A Small Business Can Improve Commercial Awareness

*This is a guest blog post from Thomas Quincey. Find out how to write for us >>

When applying for training contracts, the requirement that puzzles would-be trainees the most is “commercial awareness”.

As law students, theory and application are our bread and butter. Making business decisions is not.

There is, therefore, a challenge to become commercially aware presented by the application process.

What Level Of Knowledge Do You Need?

It is important to remember that the firms are not asking for you to become the next Lord Sugar.

They are asking that you learn how the business world works, demonstrate an understanding in the application process, and ultimately implement some commercial decision making into your client service and, just as importantly, their firm.

Do not forget, a training contract is just the first step. In the future, you could be on their management team.

No Substitute For Experience

You can do all the reading in the world and still be puzzled by the workings of the business universe.

It is something best understood through experience. This includes part-time jobs, for instance, in the retail and service sectors.

Recognise when a commercial decision is being made, analyse it, and think what effect it will have.

For example, a new menu comes into use:

  • Why was it developed?
  • Have the prices changed?
  • How will it affect new and regular customers alike?

These are the questions that even a minor change in your work’s operation should pose. This is commercial awareness.

Explore Other Small Business Work Experiences

With most law firms serving more than just the leisure industry, it is useful to have other experiences to use as talking points in your applications.

Many of us have a friend or family member in a business, no matter how big or small.

Many smaller businesses are in fact delighted to have people come in and see what they do. Write to them, ask to come in and learn.

Playing The Business Person

I visited a small IT business, through a friend of a friend. From the outset, I was required to think like a businessman.

Issues that do not arise during legal study were suddenly at the forefront of my consciousness; profit margin, stock levels, and customer service. These are problems that require management and insight.

By shadowing an actual businessman, you can learn far more, much more quickly, than you can by foraging through the internet in search of a definition of commercial awareness.

Great Preparation For Your Training Contract

Furthermore, these are issues you will be applying once you secure a training contract.

Not only is a placement with a small business an invaluable addition to your CV, not least because it shows a desire to learn in your own time, but it also exposes you to real life, business decision making that is applicable in the legal sector.

Is my firm making enough profit, do we have too many computers (or not enough), how are the clients being cared for, and how can we improve?

Get A Grasp On Commerciality

Ultimately, commercial awareness remains an abstract that cannot be strictly defined.

It can, however, be enhanced through a placement with a small business (even a corner shop!), in order to show that as a future lawyer you have a grasp of the commercial decisions to come, and the challenges that lie ahead in your professional life.

Thomas Quincey

Thomas has just completed the LPC at Northumbria University having converted from History, which he studied at Newcastle University, obtaining a BA and an MA. He is now studying an LLM based on commercial contracts through Northumbria Law School. He has travelled around Ghana and works once a week at his local Citizens Advice Bureau. He has a particular interest in Banking and Finance Law. If you would like to discuss this article further, contact him on twitter @quinceytom or via Linkedin at ThomasFG Quincey.

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