One recent addition to the challenges you may face on your road to a training contract, vacation scheme, or paralegal role would be commercial awareness questions. Whilst good grades are always a great way to sell yourself to a firm, often companies are now looking for more than just a good student. They want someone aware of the wider commercial world. This rise in attention to commercial awareness in the recruitment process can be attributed to two main factors.

What is Commercial Awareness in Law?

Commercial awareness in law means understanding how businesses operate and the broader commercial environment they work in. For lawyers, this includes:

  • Being aware of current deals, transactions, and issues in the business world that could affect clients.
  • Understanding clients’ organizations, industries, competitors, goals, and challenges to provide customized legal advice that aligns with their business interests.
  • Recognizing the business realities that law firms face, such as client relationships, profitability, and competitiveness.
  • Keeping up with economic, political, and social developments that could impact clients or the legal sector.
  • Using commercial thinking to provide advice that adds value, reduces risk, and identifies opportunities for clients.

Commercial awareness is highly valued because it allows lawyers to tailor legal advice for maximum relevance and impact on a client’s business goals. It is an essential skill for lawyers, especially in commercial/corporate law, as clients expect advisors who truly understand their business drivers beyond just legal technicalities.

Commercial Awareness Law Interview Questions

In an interview, you are likely to encounter one of these five categories of commercial awareness questions:

  1. General Questions assess your general knowledge of the wider commercial landscape and interests, with no specific focus. The simplest and hardest to predict of the bunch, these questions will typically be along the lines of “Describe a recent commercial issue or story that you have been following?” It’s important to remember these questions are normally used to assess no specific commercial knowledge in particular but rather your general knowledge of the wider commercial picture and your interests.
  2. Firms-Centred Questions test your understanding of the hiring firm, its work, clients, and position in the market compared to competitors. Arguably one of the most important ones, you do not want to be ill-informed when answering questions on the firm you’re applying to. When it comes to discussing your hiring company, you must tread carefully with your answers as your interviewer will typically already know everything about their firm in detail, making it easy to get caught up.
  3. Industry Questions evaluate your grasp of the key issues, trends, and developments impacting the specific industry you are interviewing for. Typically, when it comes to questions centred around the industry you’re applying for, legal or other, the interviewer will be looking for more than just general observations. Such as “What do you think are the challenges facing the legal industry?” While it’s all good to identify the impact COVID-19 has had on the market, what will demonstrate knowledge in these questions is specific examples. Legal recruitment seems to get more competitive every year – learn more about the Watson Glaser test to stay ahead.
  4. Applicant-Centred Questions gauge your opinions, decision-making, and past demonstrations of commercial awareness as an applicant. Similar to the creative questions outlined below, applicant-centered questions are less about your commercial awareness and more focused on understanding you from your interviewers’ point of view. These questions will typically ask for your opinion or decision regarding past, present, or future actions, e.g., “How have you demonstrated commercial awareness in the past?”
  5. Creative Questions allow you to provide an insightful response showcasing your personality and thought process on an open-ended, creative prompt. Fantasy and imagination are the only guiding lights to these types of questions, and we mean it. Not all firms will have this type of question, but don’t be surprised if you get asked a question about how you would approach drafting a will for Spider-Man!

How to Answer Commercial Awareness Questions Step By Step Detailed Infographic

How to Answer Commercial Awareness Questions in Law

In order to maximize your answer during the interview, you must answer different types of commercial awareness questions in different ways.

Try to focus on a point or case that interests you and demonstrates said interest in whichever part of the industry it may be or aspects of commercial awareness. This gives the interviewer an honest depiction of your interests. When answering general questions that offer so much freedom, it’s important not to fall into the trap of straying off on a tangent. The interviewer wants to test your knowledge and learn more about you, but there is always a limit. To ensure you stay on topic, try to employ a method known as ‘SWOT’ analysis.

When discussing a recent issue or story, consider the following:

Strengths: what strengths were presented, and how did those involved handle them well and demonstrate the characteristics they needed?
Weaknesses: how did it present weaknesses within the current systems?
Opportunities: did this recent event present any new opportunities, and are they of interest to you? If so, how?
Threats: did this recent event threaten any of the current companies, and how?

This method can be further applied to all commercial questions. However, you must have the foundation beforehand going into the interview, which provides you with the tools to form an educated and well-thought-out answer.

The best way to demonstrate your knowledge of your hiring firm is to show a deeper knowledge of why the business does what it does and the type of clients that it caters to. These questions will typically concern recent matters that the company has handled publicly and will look like the following example: “Discuss a recent deal of our firm that interested you”.

It is also beneficial to do research on the competition of the firm because this is something that will stand out to recruiters. Mentioning the competition is a great opportunity for you to show off your knowledge of the industry and the practice area. This will allow you to discuss the many differences you’re aware of between their businesses and just why you want to work for the company you’re interviewing for.

For a well-researched applicant, this is an opportunity to use any of your knowledge of other businesses you prepared beforehand. You must be well-versed in the industry and practice area's ongoing hot issues. This is not an easy feat, and you won't get by just by reading recent news. You need to be subscribed to niche publications and follow leaders of the practice area on social media.

When answering this type of question, you can include how a particular example could impact the business or industry in which you’re hoping to work. Employ the SWOT analysis mentioned earlier to give you a plan. This will show the interviewer that you’re not just reading articles and going about your day but looking deeper into the commercial scene and how it could have a greater impact or act as an opportunity for that particular company.

Your focus when answering these should be to honestly represent yourself and, if possible, make it unique to impress your interviewer. Although there is clear freedom in answering this type of question, you must keep in mind that the interviewer should understand your answer. From your answer, the interviewer should understand your logical reasoning, your thought pattern, and see the value in your answer.

Other than maintaining these goals, try to make your answer memorable. Of course, it is impossible to have a unique answer to every single question, but here, you can really get an advantage by having a unique answer that is based on you, your studies, your life, and your experiences.

When answering creative questions, you should try to give an honest answer and be yourself when thinking of a response. Don’t necessarily say something that might come across as confusing or strange, but think about how your answer tells the interviewer what you’re like as a person. At the end of the day, that is the goal of interview questions such as these, and you have to consider how you want to come across to your prospective employer. Typically, answers to creative questions can quite literally have no creative limit. For example, “What would you do as prime minister?” try to stay open-minded when answering, but also keep in mind how your answer represents you to your prospective employer!

Commercial Awareness Examples of Questions for Interviews

Commercial awareness isn’t something that can be learned by reading a newspaper or glancing at the firm’s About Us page online. It is a skill that needs to be developed and should be practised continually if you want it to become natural. Below, you will find answers to sample questions about commercial awareness:

Tell us about a news story that you have found interesting and why? (General Question)

One recent news story that I found very interesting is the rapid adoption of AI in legal tech, especially the partnership between leading AI companies and law firms to streamline contract analysis. For example, the collaboration between Luminance and some top-tier law firms has been groundbreaking. This story is interesting because it highlights the intersection of technology and law, showcasing how AI can enhance efficiency, reduce costs, and minimize human error in legal processes. It also raises important questions about the future role of lawyers and the ethical implications of relying heavily on AI, such as data privacy concerns and potential job displacement. This development emphasizes the need for law firms to adapt by integrating new technologies and continuously updating their skill sets to remain competitive.

What opportunities do you think law firms have in the near future? (Industry-Centred Question)

Law firms will soon have significant opportunities to expand their services into emerging markets, particularly in technology, cybersecurity, and environmental law. For example, the growing need for data protection highlights the demand for specialized counsel on compliance and risk management. As businesses increasingly prioritize sustainable practices, law firms can provide innovative legal solutions that help clients navigate complex regulatory landscapes. Additionally, the trend towards digital transformation in the legal sector offers firms the chance to adopt advanced technologies like AI, enhancing service delivery and client engagement. However, firms must also address challenges such as staying ahead of rapid technological changes and ensuring robust data security measures to capitalize on these opportunities fully.

Discuss a recent deal of our firm that interested you? (Firm-Centred Question)

One recent deal by your firm that caught my attention is your advisory role in the merger between two major tech companies, ABC Corp and XYZ Inc. This merger involved complex cross-border legal issues and regulatory approvals in the US and EU. This deal is particularly interesting to me because it demonstrates your firm’s expertise in handling large-scale, multifaceted transactions and your ability to navigate intricate legal landscapes across different jurisdictions. Specifically, the firm’s successful negotiation of antitrust clearances and resolution of data privacy concerns were key highlights. It also underscores your firm’s commitment to staying at the forefront of the technology sector, providing clients with cutting-edge legal advice and innovative solutions. This deal not only solidified the merged entity’s market position but also set a precedent for future tech mergers, showcasing your firm’s leadership in the industry.

What new law would you introduce and why? (Applicant-Centred Question)

I would introduce a new law mandating comprehensive data privacy protections for consumers, particularly addressing the collection, storage, and use of biometric data. With the increasing use of biometric technology in sectors such as banking and healthcare, it is crucial to ensure that all sensitive information is safeguarded against misuse and breaches. This law would establish clear guidelines for consent and stringent penalties for non-compliance. For example, recent incidents of biometric data breaches have highlighted vulnerabilities that existing regulations do not adequately cover. By filling these gaps, this law aims to enhance public trust in digital technologies and ensure that technological advancements do not come at the cost of individual privacy.

How have you demonstrated commercial awareness in the past? (Applicant-Centred Question)

As a law student, I demonstrated commercial awareness through a project during my internship at a local law firm. I recognized that onboarding was taking longer than industry standards, so I analyzed market trends and gathered client feedback to identify inefficiencies. By implementing a new digital platform, we were able to reduce onboarding time by 40%, significantly improving client satisfaction. This project required a deep understanding of client needs and market dynamics, and I faced challenges such as resistance to change from staff. However, by conducting detailed training sessions and highlighting the long-term benefits, I gained their buy-in even as an intern. The success of this initiative not only enhanced the firm’s competitive edge but also positioned it as a forward-thinking and client-focused organization in the legal market. This experience underscored the importance of aligning operational improvements with broader business goals and demonstrated my ability to drive meaningful change.

How does our firm compare to our competitors? (Firm-Centred Question)

Your firm stands out among competitors due to its strategic focus on innovation and technology integration, particularly in offering bespoke legal tech solutions to clients. For instance, the development of AI-driven tools for legal research and document management has significantly enhanced efficiency and accuracy in legal processes. While other firms may excel in traditional legal services, your commitment to embracing digital transformation positions you at the forefront of the legal industry. Your firm’s strong emphasis on client-centric approaches, such as personalized legal strategies and transparent communication, ensures high client satisfaction. The firm’s robust cross-border capabilities, demonstrated by successful international mergers and acquisitions, further differentiate you in the competitive landscape. This combination of technological advances, client focus, and global reach sets your firm apart and directly benefits clients by providing innovative, efficient, and comprehensive legal solutions.

If you could bring one person back from the dead, who would that be? (Creative Question)

I would bring back Nelson Mandela. His remarkable leadership, resilience, and dedication to justice and equality have had a profound impact on the world. Mandela’s ability to foster reconciliation and his commitment to human rights are timeless lessons that could greatly benefit our current global society. In today’s world, facing issues such as social inequality, racial injustice, and political divisiveness, his wisdom and experience would be incredibly valuable. His insights could guide efforts to build a more just and inclusive society, much like how he transformed South Africa through his vision of unity and peace. On a personal level, Mandela’s life story and unwavering principles have always inspired me to strive for fairness and equality in my own life and career. His presence could remind us all of the power of perseverance, forgiveness, and the continuous fight for justice.