Skills Session with Freshfields : Commercial Awareness – Ahou Hamedani

Author Ahou

Being a first year student is a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. There are so many decisions to make in addition to the overwhelming amount of workload and information that is thrown at us. The year has just begun and I already feel like time is flashing before me and it is just a matter of time when we will be in our second year and having to apply for vacation schemes and training contracts. As an international student I had no idea what vacation schemes and training contracts were until I started here at City.

The Law school system in the UK is quite different compared to Canada, where I am from. I quickly began to realize that the most effective way for me to get an idea of what’s to come would be to attend a few of the many workshops and events that are available to us.

I had attended an event at Freshfields a few weeks back where I got plenty of useful information and a better understanding of a legal career in London, so when I heard that Freshfields was holding another event at City I jumped at the opportunity. I have always been interested in commercial law so the fact that the event was based on ‘commercial awareness’ was an added bonus.

Commercial awareness is one of the main criterion that commercial law firms look for in their potential future lawyers. But what is commercial awareness and how can one acquire such thing?

What is ‘commercial awareness’?

Jessica Booker, the trainee recruitment manager at Freshfields was the perfect person to elaborate on the concept since she interviews people every hiring season to see if they have commercial awareness or what she likes to call ‘commercial insight’. She sees the word awareness as something that you can teach yourself, whereas having insight is more of a skill.

You must have the interest and intrigue in commercial issues in order to fill this requirement. Although many candidates come into interviews having read newspapers and thinking that they are up to date with commercial news, many lack commercial insight. What does this mean? In Jessica’s experience she has interviewed many people who do not have a ‘genuine’ interest but a fake interest. You might think that you’re not interested in business news; well the harsh reality is that commercial law is probably not right for you. However if your difficulty is that you don’t want to read the Financial Times from start to finish, well that’s not what firms like Freshfields want you to do either. Jessica mentions that the best thing you can do is to follow business news that relate to your interests. Interested in football? Follow financial news related to football clubs. This will slowly get you interested in other areas related to financial news and you will build the skills that you need to analyze and grasp financial concepts. This is as simple as picking up the metro on your ride to university and reading one or two sections that interest you.

What are firms like Freshfields looking for?

Another misconception that law students have according to Jessica is the fact that they think all law firms look for is an extensive amount of knowledge. If firms were strictly looking for knowledge then there would be no interview process, which at Freshfields consists of three different interviews! Firms are looking for potential and the ability to learn. These skills can be showcased through what Freshfields calls ‘Career Milestones’. Career milestones were created in order to assess lawyers at the firm and they are the perfect way to see what is going to be required of you as a lawyer at the firm.

There are 7 Career Milestones:

Freshfields at City

1. Technical Skills
2. Client Relationships
3. Being a Business Advisor
4. People & Team
5 Project Management
6 Business Development
7. Personal Skills

Lawyers at Freshfields are constantly assessed in the above areas. Jessica believes that all seven areas directly relate to having commercial insight , most importantly client relationships, where you will need to be seen as an expert in your field. In order to be seen as an expert you have to be able to research your client and be aware of what is going on in their field of work at all times.

In order to be a business advisor, you will also need to be aware of the business world and be familiar with economic and commercial matters. Last but not least, in business development, where you must attract new clients or get new work from existing ones, you will need to know what is happening in the market specific to your clients. Therefore, we can see the importance of commercial insight and learn that in addition to all our readings at university, there is a lot more to be done.

Additional ways of building ‘commercial insight’:

Other ways which Jessica sees helpful in building commercial insight are:

Extracurricular Activities – where you build commercial insight in a small case but using the same principles
Volunteer work – you will need to advise many clients once you start your job as a lawyer and doing something like pro-bono work will give you the necessary skills
Attending events on campus – good way to absorb more knowledge

You can also look for information online and join Linked-In in order to network and get information in a professional setting. Some good sources of information are:

The Lawyer2B
Lawcareers.net
Allaboutcareers.com (legal section)
• BBC website (Robert Peston’s Blog)

My thoughts:

I can not emphasise enough how much the events and workshops I’ve attended so far have helped me. We are very lucky to have so many events organised by The City Law School and our various societies and should take full advantage of them. This event alone helped me realise that commercial law is for me and I met many wonderful people and made many connections. You never know whom you can meet at an event that you attend; you could very well meet your next employer.

Best of luck to you all and hope to see you at the next event!