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A commercial awareness webcast was held by Lawyer 2B on Wednesday evening, in association with the University of Law.
Expert panellists from magic circle firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and legal publisher LexisNexis joined University of Law careers service team leader Marc Steward for the discussion.
The panel discussed the definition of commercial awareness and how candidates could accrue it, while also taking questions from readers.
Webcast panel, left to right: Marc Steward (careers service, University of Law); Rich Simmons (editor, Lawyer 2B); Sophie Gould (LexisNexis); Michael Haynes (trainee, Freshfields)
Freshfields trainee Michael Haynes told viewers: “To me, it seems that there are at least two aspects to [commercial awareness]. There is understanding the context in which you are practising law… that requires you to take a very different approach to the solutions you find and the advice you give than you would if you were answering an essay title at university.
“There is also the fact that you are working for clients, who are businesses. It adds real value to what you do if you can provide legal advice in a way that is digestible and helpful to those clients. They are not always interested in the answer and its legal justifications; they are really interested in the answer and what that means for their business.”
Sophie Gould of legal publisher LexisNexis advised students to build a bank of commercial knowledge by reading around deals that their prospective firm had worked on.
She added: “A lot of it is common sense. For me, it is about being a detective - asking questions. When you ask questions, more arise. Anybody you know in the commercial world, go and talk to them.”
In response to the question of how law firms measure candidates’ commercial awareness during application processes, the University of Law’s Marc Steward told viewers: “Generally a lot of firms will ask what qualities are needed in a commercial lawyer. They will also ask about current affairs.
“The key thing is that you will be asked about [commercial stories you have written about in your application] at interview, so you need to know them inside out. It is not just enough to copy something verbatim off a website: you will be asked about it, you will be asked how it will affect the firm’s clients.”
Haynes reassured students that their technical knowledge did not need to be fully developed by interview stage.
He said: “You do not need to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the workings of the City. Each firm has their own way of testing.
“We would look for some tangible interest, past saying that you read the FT, such as saying ’I read the FT, I saw this story, I looked into it and was fascinated by X, Y or Z’.”