Future Lawyer Blog

Allen & Overy Focus on Law: How to develop and demonstrate commercial awareness – Ghazi AbuYounis

Ghazi reports on the Allen & Overy event on Commercial Awareness, held at the City Law School in November 2010.The speaker was Sarah Nickle, Graduate Recruitment Officer.

What is commercial awareness?

It is an awareness of the events occurring in the business world.
Awareness of legal advice, the risks attached to business’s transactions
Awareness of how close the field of law is that of business. Law firms operate by adopting business procedures.

Key for us students to understand is that clients expect lawyers to know (thus be aware) of what’s happening around them – particularly in relation to the economy. Thus knowledge is a vital quality for any good lawyer; the better the knowledge the better the advice. Commercial law is all about advising parties.

Economic awareness encompasses knowledge of different law firms, the effect of the current economic situation on the performance of the business.

Knowledge of the legal sector is vital: In particular any recent enactment/amendment/repeal of Acts of Parliament and their effect on the legal and economic sector.

Remember – expressing legal sector awareness is vital when applying to training contracts and vacation schemes. You need to convince firms that you understand how business works for them. Look for changes in the business’s objectives, or their approach in completing their aims, then compare those changes to the current legal and economic situation.

Look for changes in the economic state: particularly the recession and determine its relevant effect on the current business situation. Ask yourself:

– How would you deal with such a problem?
– What is the business approach you recommend and why?
– How will your approach improve the current state?
– And taking it to a higher level, how will your approach help in achieving the business’s objectives?
– Can you propose further objectives for the company? (…but make sure what you propose matches the company’s policy).

Other things to consider:

– Assess competition when looking at the legal sector: what are its threats?
– How can they be overcome (e.g. setting strategies).
– To what extent is the company suffering from competition?

A fundamental tool for a lawyer to acquire is putting him/herself in the client’s shoes. Thus it is vital to know how the client’s business operates, what is his company’s policy? Thus the advice given matches exactly the company’s nature, all this is achieved by gaining some awareness.

When applying for training contracts…

Look at the deals the law firm is dealing with, this will give you an idea of who their clients are, what sort of problems are they encountering, what type of deals are they trying to bring into force, etc…
The key to this however is going beyond those deals and establishing their importance to the operation of the firm.

Keep yourself up to date within the legal sector generally, as well as your area of specialism: Look at various publications, attend law career events, gather information from reliable sources.

When gaining commercial awareness, ask yourself questions:

-What happened? – Identify the issue
-Why did this happen? – Identify the reason for it occurring (maybe consulting some previous history), this helps understanding the current situation more.
-What will be the effect of what happened? – Identify the consequences which will occur as a result of what happened; try analyzing this in terms of effect on the economy, and legal sector.
-If the issue considered was handled, do you agree with the way it was handled? Why? If yes, suggest why you liked this approach, if no, suggest ways in which you can improve this, firstly state the threat this will impose, and state how (the threat) can be overcome (through your approach),

-Law firms prefer consulting different views around the issue, so try seeing the situation from various approaches, and state why the views differed regarding the same issue. With which do you agree? Disagree? Why? Threats imposed from different views? If you agree with none, state your own.

Share your experience with law firms –They like to hear from you, what you did, how have this benefited you? How have it impacted the way you think? Why do you think this is important? What would you like to further peruse in? What is your interest? Why?

An obvious point, but many still fall at the first hurdle. Remember it is vital to research the firm you are having an interview with ‘inside out’.

? Gain knowledge on what impacts the firm
? Read about the firm in various publication, not just their website
? Look and research their strategies, add or subtract from them.
? Find trends in legal industry – E.g. recently mergers are increasing in the industry, state why they’re increasing, identify the problem, and go around it, analyze it, and relate it to the law firm’s objectives.

Keep an eye on trends…

There is a rise in ‘Specialisation’: firms specialise in certain sectors more than others, they are focusing their interests. Know about these sectors, let them know your opinion about this (what you think of each one/ is specialising in shipping for example a good idea?).

Increasing instances of insolvency – Look at trends in redundancy payments/takeovers/employment depts: the threats they impose on the life of the business.

Look at deals in relation to economic terms, effect of recession on the pursuance of the deal.

Allen & Overy gave a final few tips on gaining this elusive commercial awareness:
• Allocate daily time (15 minutes a day) to listen, read, or watch the news.
• Consult different sources to avoid bias,
• Look for patterns,
• Remember to outline the significance of what happened, and analyze it in terms of putting some self-input.
• Take a minimum of three news stories, each from a different category (Sport, Politics, Economy, etc…), follow them daily, and assess their progress.
• Always, look for news on the Law firm(s) you are applying to: here is an example of how it should be done:

Firm – Allen v Overy:

News –
– Partnership with a firm in India,

Opened offices recently in: China, Middle East (Qatar), Far East, Australia (Sidney): Look at why (reason) the firm opened an office there. In addition to the effect of opening those offices: what are the opportunities, and THREATS involved. Where else do you recommend the firm to operate and why?
Look at take-over scenarios. What part of law firm was involved?

Expressing commercial awareness in your Application

It is difficult to show how ‘commercially aware’ are you in your application: advice is to go BEYOND what’s written on the law firm’s website, thus focus on:
-The origin and impact of the firm’s goals and objectives.
-Knowledge of what’s happening in the economy and effect on business world.
-Future Projects of firm, and their impact.

Thanks to Ghazi AbuYounis, a first year law student at the City Law School, for this events reporting. Ghazi, as an asipring lawyer, is keen to learn more about the legal sector, and has kindly agreed to attend events and write them up for the Future Lawyer blog. For any clarification or request for further information, please email Ghazi.

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