As with any industry, the law profession seems to get more competitive every year. Whether it’s the Watson Glaser test, the ever-increasing importance of vacation schemes or the challenging interviews you’ll be facing, you should prepare yourself for these hurdles if you wish to undertake the journey to become a lawyer. 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 can be attributed to the technological growth in the business world, with many once high street and city firms now dealing with clients all over the globe. As a result, firms need lawyers that are aware of the wider business world and able to effectively communicate their knowledge of this when dealing with clients. When you are going through the demanding process of applying to a firm, you will likely face commercial awareness questions designed to assess your knowledge of wider commercial matters within the law and potentially other industries. For this reason, it’s important to be prepared.

How to Answer Commercial Awareness Questions

When dealing with commercial awareness questions the first step in answering is to first understand what type of question it is and what the interviewer is looking for. Generally, these questions can fit into 1 of 5 categories which each present their own unique challenges.

General questions

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 what your interests in it are. Try to focus on a point or case that interests you and demonstrates said interest in whichever part of the industry it may be.

This not only gives the interviewer an honest depiction of your interests but is also much more fun to research beforehand as no one wants to read about something they have no interest in. When answering general questions offering so much freedom it’s also important not to fall into the trap of straying off on a tangent. The interviewer wants to test your knowledge and know more about you but there is always a limit. To ensure you stay on a topic try to employ a method known as ‘SWOT’ analysis. When discussing a recent issue or story consider:

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

Firms-Centred Questions

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 in detail everything about their firm, making it easy to get caught out. 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.

They will typically concern recent matters that the company has handled publicly such as “Discuss a recent deal of our firm that interested you”. You should also research into the competition because this is something that will stand out to recruiters. Mentioning the competition is a great opportunity to show off your knowledge of not just the company but who the company works alongside. This will allow you to discuss their approach to them and the many differences you’re aware of between their business, and just why you want to work for the company you’re interviewing for. 

Industry Questions 

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?” Whilst it’s all well and good to identify the impact covid-19 has had on the market, what will demonstrate knowledge in these questions is specific examples. Often the interviewer may mention existing companies as examples other than where you’re applying. For a well-researched applicant, this is an opportunity to use any of your knowledge of other businesses you prepared beforehand.

But don’t just stop there, include how this particular example could impact the business or the industry you’re hoping to work in. 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. 

Applicant-Centred Questions

Similar to creative questions which are outlined below, Applicant centred 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 over past, present or future actions, e.g “How have you demonstrated commercial awareness in the past?” Your focus when answering these should be to honestly represent yourself and if you can try to make it unique to impress your interviewer. Other than maintaining these goals try to have fun and engage with your interviewer, after all, they were probably in your exact seat at one point too.

Creative Questions

Arguably the most fun of the lot, when answering creative questions answered by interviewers 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, 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 isn’t something that can be learned by only reading a broadsheet newspaper or glancing at the firms 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 are some common questions for which you can test your skills and prepare answers for in preparation for your interviews.

Example Questions

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

What opportunities do you think law firms have in the near future? (industry-centred)

Discuss a recent deal of our firm that interested you? (firm-centred)

What new law would you introduce and why? (applicant-centred)

How have you demonstrated commercial awareness in the past? (applicant-centred)

How does our firm compare to our competitors? (firm-centred)

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

By Louis Bellman