How to hone your commercial awareness, with Peter Watson
Legal Career Tips
For the last instalment of our Junior Lawyer Lunches, we were thrilled to be joined by the notorious Peter Watson, CEO of Watson’s Daily.
Commercial awareness is a justifiably recurring theme for these events, and we couldn’t think of anyone better to share their advice than Peter Watson himself!
In this handy summary we cover some of his top tips from the session, from learning how to conduct effective commercial research, to quickly gleaning the essential “so what” from a news story - all of which will be invaluable in helping you to further your legal career.
What is commercial awareness?Commercial awareness is the appreciation and understanding of how companies and industries operate in the wider environment and, most importantly, how they make money. The way in which organisations make a profit informs both how they run on a day-to-day basis, as well as any bigger decisions they may need to make. This is ultimately what forms the basis of anyone’s understanding of the commercial landscape.
Why is commercial awareness important?If you are currently studying law, commercial awareness will help you to understand what you’re being taught in the classroom by providing you with real-world examples.
If you’re one of the lucky ones to have already made your way into the legal industry, commercial awareness is essential when it comes to being informed on which career path you’d like to follow.
It’s also a great way to ensure that you always have something valuable to say in client meetings. This in turn is useful for business generation - by knowing what you’re talking about, alongside having a genuine interest, you will develop faster, better relationships with your clients.
Most of all, by improving your commercial awareness, there’s no doubt that you will feel more confident in answering any quick-fire questions that may come your way.
However, it all comes down to applying your knowledge. Anyone can be commercially aware with enough research and fine-tuning, but it’s what you then do with this information that really matters!
“Anyone can be commercially aware with enough research and fine-tuning, but it’s what you then do with this information that really matters!”
How to decide which sources to useThere are hundreds of different places to get your commercial fix, including Watson’s Daily of course, but here are some good places to start:
Newspapers - newspapers are a great source of information when it comes to developing your commercial awareness - they have a level of accountability, and often cover various aspects of a story. However, it’s important to read various newspapers to broaden your perspective as much as possible.
Journals - industry-specific journals are great, but unfortunately there is often a cost attached. However if you have access to a journal already then do make sure to take full advantage of this great source of information!
Podcasts - podcasts are a great way to improve your commercial awareness if you prefer to listen, rather than read. However, we would recommend sitting down and taking notes to ensure you really get the most out of it.
TV - documentaries such as Panorama can be a really great insight into the commercial world, but try to take the information they deliver with a pinch of salt. It’s very likely that the stories will be exaggerated to make for more engaging viewing.
How to choose which stories to readThe media is a constantly churning machine so there are going to be a lot of stories which will add very little value to your commercial awareness journey. Here’s three handy tips to help you decide which stories are useful, and which are simply filling the news-cycle void:
Relevance - ask yourself, is this story being talked about in current affairs/news? If not, then it’s likely that it’s not worth your time.
Prevalence - is everyone talking about it? This isn’t just about having FOMO, it really is essential to ensure that you have an opinion on all of the most popular, trending topics. (Top tip: in order to grasp the prevalence behind certain stories, it’s important to read a variety of different sources. One or two just won’t cut it unfortunately!)
Impact - does this story have global implications? Is it affecting multiple industries and/or organisations? If so, make sure you’re up-to-date with all the latest developments so you’re ready to talk at length on the impactful topic at hand.
How to improve your commercial awareness
Step 1: TimeYou need to allocate serious time if you want to improve your commercial knowledge. Think about what time you can allocate every day. Once a week, once a month or the night before an interview/meeting just won't cut it, you have to put in the legwork to see beneficial results.
Step 2: FocusWhen it comes to conducting commercial research, it’s vital that you have focus. Most people don't know where to start - so they don't. A handy tip is to try and start with a sector that you already know and understand (for example, retail) and then expand your knowledge from there.
Step 3: DiscussFor the third and final step, you need to discuss what you know. You can spend hours and hours reading commercial information, but if you don't talk about what you know, you won't really be truly aware of what knowledge you have vs. where the gaps in your understanding are.
Although it is important to discuss what you know, it’s also important that you don’t lose all of your friends by boring them to tears with your commercial knowledge, so make sure to chat with like-minded people who have a genuine interest and who know what they’re talking about. These will be the best people to bounce around your ideas with to really solidify your understanding.
“You can spend hours and hours reading commercial information, but if you don't talk about what you know, you won't really be truly aware of what knowledge you have vs. where the gaps in your understanding are.”
How to measure your progress
Step 1: KnowledgeIn this first stage, you’ll need to take time to understand all of the basic building blocks in the commercial world - including, but not limited to: the role of the top companies in each market, financial bodies, regulators, basic economics, and the role of The Bank of England.
Step 2: HistoryOver time, you’ll find that you’ve read so many different articles and pieces of information that you’ll start to recognise that what is happening now has already happened before. Acknowledging these echoes from the past will help you to hone your commercial awareness and really cement your knowledge.
Step 3: MysteryIn this final stage, you’ll be ready to get out your crystal ball. At this point in your commercial awareness journey, you’ll have so much knowledge that you’ll be able to use your understanding of past and current events to help you predict what will happen in the future. This is where the true magic happens, and where you can profit from your newfound commercial wisdom.
Once you've cracked these three steps, you’ll be unstoppable in the legal world. Clients will be desperate to hear your commercial predictions, travelling from across the globe for your commercial knowledge.
In case you couldn’t tell, we truly believe that having strong commercial awareness is invaluable for any legal professional, so get ahead of your peers and head to Watson’s Daily now, or check out our very own Jacob Darcy’s latest Commercial News Roundup: Surges, Slumps & Stagflation and up your commercial awareness game today!
- Sign up to a future Junior Lawyer Lunch - you know, you’re missing most of the fun of our Junior Lawyer Lunches by only reading the summaries. Why not sign up to attend our next one?
- Commercial News Roundup: Surges, Slumps & Stagflation - here’s our latest roundup, where our resident commercial king, Jacob Darcy, runs through the latest news from across the legal industry.
- How to be commercial as a lawyer - in this handy guide, we cover four of the best theories on how to drive positive commercial outcomes for your organisation.