Commerciality is King

17 Jun 2019
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Throughout the course of your career in the legal industry, firms will be testing how commercially or ‘business’ aware you are, gauging whether you can spot the opportunities and how up to speed you are with business news and trends in order to help better your client service offering (and the firm’s bottom line). Throughout university and law school, legal issues are addressed in a vacuum, and to be successful, you have to give the correct ‘legal’ answer. Whilst this is no less vital in the role of lawyers, you also need to consider that there are a variety of legal options and you need to understand client priorities and restrictions. Of course, this cannot be expected to happen overnight but instead must be developed over a period of time as you progress through the ranks and ascend the career ladder. This is why it’s crucial to begin your legal career with a focus on commercial awareness. For our blog this week, we’re sharing our top tips for staying commercially aware in your legal training.

 

What are the benefits?
Before delving into our top tips, we must first address what commercial awareness is and the benefits of this skill. By definition, this revolves around staying up-to-date with daily happenings and developments around business and commerce in the marketplace. Having this knowledge can first and foremost help to demonstrate a better understanding of your client’s business strategy and the challenges it faces in achieving this, from a commercially focused perspective. Not only can this help you to better understand your role within the firm and what is expected of you, but this can also shape your counsel,  allowing you to deliver advice that is practical and reflective of the market your client is operating in and their business needs. Consider this - a client may come to you with a dispute – it can be commercial, or it could be personal.  On the face of it, having considered the legal points, you may well advise them to pursue an action.  But what about the other ‘commercial’ considerations?  For example, this may be a key supplier to their business and litigation would destroy that relationship or damage it. Consider the repercussions if there’s a ‘gap’ in the supply chain if this supplier refuses to supply and your client cannot then satisfy its commitments to customers. Or alternatively, additional options may need to be considered for the personal dispute, whereby the client may have a good chance of success but cannot afford to finance a court litigation process. So, considering a settlement may be a better option. Having this awareness can help you to understand client’s priorities and restrictions which may impact the best course of action they should take.

 

Stay in the know
Part of staying commercially aware revolves around knowledge of the current deals, transactions and issues occurring within the business world, particularly those that will impact your clients. This can be between cities and regions and will be highly dependent on what is relevant to your client(s). This will involve staying up-to-date with key newspapers and business publications, as well as key business newsletters or blogs. For legal industry news and deals in particular, look to titles such as the Lawyer, Law Society Gazette, Legal Cheek and Legal Futures. However, your knowledge should be much deeper than this - be mindful that you will probably want to stay abreast of news and trends from sector-specific magazines and journals dependant on what area of business your client operates in. Brexit is a key consideration for this right now. We can all generally predict or estimate the ramifications of Brexit but if you understand how this will specifically affect your client’s sector, you can then provide strategic advice which addresses not only legal issues, but wider concerns that they might be facing. In doing so, you can help them to shape the strategies that they are adopting to address this in the short and long term. So, it pays to stay in the know.  

 

Know your firm (and your clients)
Commercial awareness is typically split into two categories: areas that relate to your firm and those which will impact your clients. This may differ when it comes to clients dependent on business goals and industry, however when it comes to your firm, you’ll need to have either a national or international focus, depending on your firm’s operations and scale. One of the biggest issues facing firms of all sizes is lock up, more specifically the amount of time taken from the day the work is carried out to the date the client pays the bill. After all, there are financial implications that come with this. For example, Smith & Williamson’s analysis of the Top 50 law firms’ accounts (covering 2016-2017) found that over £5billion is owed by clients to law firms and nearly £2million is sat on the books unbilled. Unfortunately, these figures are continuing to rise, so it’s critical to keep the time taken to a minimum. Therefore, when undertaking your training contract, having an overall understanding of your firm and its business is all part of convincing your senior leaders that you’ll be able to help them drive the business forward and effectively support fee-earning activity.  

 

Look to external training
As well as undertaking individual learning in this area, you can recruit the help of legal training providers, like us, to help you further your development. We currently offer a PSC elective and CPD module around Commercial Awareness for Lawyers. This one-day course can be undertaken in our virtual classroom, Live Online, or within a face-to-face environment but will ultimately provide an analysis of what commercial awareness means and its importance to lawyers.  However, as you progress throughout your career, you may also look to consider undertaking a Commercial Literacy for Lawyers course to help improve your commercial acumen and skills in the context of the matters that you handle on behalf of your clients.

 

Interact with experienced people
One of the greatest resources you will have throughout the course of your career are qualified solicitors who have been there, done that. Ensure that you align yourself with experienced legal professionals or business people to help broaden your knowledge and give you a wider exposure to commercial issues. But above all, be curious. Ask your supervisors about clients and the sector, particularly if they are sector specialists, or show an interest in your client, making time to have those water cooler chats. Who better to tell you about their sector and the challenges than your clients themselves?

 

To provide clients with the advice and legal assistance on matters governed by economic, social and political factors, it’s crucial that you stay commercially aware in your legal training. In fact, it can be a key factor when earning qualified status in order to provide your clients the best advice whilst also ensuring profitability for your firm, helping your organisation to stand out from competitors. However, this cannot be achieved overnight and will require ongoing attention as your progress through your career, getting under the skin of your firms and clients to truly understand their strengths, weaknesses, restrictions and more. As well as making an individual commitment, you can also look to undertake external training with trusted providers such as Kaplan Altior. So, for more information about our upcoming Commercial Awareness for Lawyers , Commercial Literacy for Lawyers and other CPD courses, contact us today on 02920 451 000 or email us at altior@kaplan.co.uk