Before you even get your training contract, 'commercial awareness' is a phrase you will have seen on websites like the Lex100 and the Student Chambers, as law firms stress how important it is that their trainees possess this crucial quality. In the context of the trainee recruitment process, you are often asked to prepare a presentation on a particular company as part of an assessment centre, or comment on a recent article in the business press in an interview, but how does this translate to your training contract?
I am currently sitting in TLT's Banking & Finance team, and this particular seat has given me an excellent opportunity to consider what commercial awareness means. Running a banking transaction necessitates that you have to understand your client's business to enable you to anticipate and plan for their commercial needs. In the context of a renewable energy finance project, something that TLT specialises in, this means that as a trainee you have to understand how the finance aspect of the project fits with the construction and planning parts. Anticipating when your client will need the funding, and for what purposes, be it paying a contractor or purchasing the lease of the land to build the project on, is important and understanding these wider commercial considerations of the project will make your contribution that much more rewarding.
The Banking & Finance team at TLT are always very good at explaining the wider context of a transaction, helping to improve my commercial awareness and allowing me a wider appreciation of my role.
Clients also want to see that you can think beyond the purely legal aspects of their needs. Giving commercially pragmatic advice and offering a way to resolve your client's problems, rather than merely telling them the bare legal position is especially important in a banking transaction where your client may be willing to concede or negotiate a contentious point in order to progress the wider project.
More generally, I think it's important to understand how a law firm operates as a business when you start your training contract and what your role is within that business. Remembering that even at a junior level you are not just there to draft legal documents but to help clients with their commercial needs and thereby generate business for the firm is important. One of the parts of being a trainee which I enjoy the most is picking up the phone to a client and talking through a particular issue. This may mean you have to think on your feet at times but it is still the best way of generating confidence in your work building relationships.
Louis is a trainee in our Bristol office and joined us in March 2013 having studied Law at the University of Bristol and the LPC at BPP in Bristol.