How law firms test your commercial awareness throughout the application process

October 2, 2021


4 min read

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Commercial awareness is a buzzword that never ceases to mystify applicants. Countless articles and books exist breaking down what commercial awareness “actually is” (for example, see LittleLaw’s articles here, here and here). Nevertheless, commercial awareness remains an important skill to demonstrate throughout the application process and law firms will be testing applicants in different ways at different stages in the journey to getting a Training Contract.

Application form

Law firms often test applicants indirectly on their commercial awareness in application forms with questions like “why have you chosen to apply to X law firm?”. Such questions present opportunities to demonstrate specific knowledge about a firm’s specialist practice areas and recent deals which can be linked to an applicant’s experiences, thereby demonstrating commercial awareness.

Other times, applicants encounter questions requiring them to discuss a recent news article that has interested them. This is a clear chance to demonstrate commercial awareness, and a law firm will expect a candidate to select their news article carefully, tailoring it to a firm’s interest. For example, if a firm has a strong tech focus, a candidate should not choose an article relating to family law.

Video and telephone interviews

Most video and telephone interviews centre around competency questions but candidates should always be expected to be tested on their commercial awareness at this stage too. 

Whether it be dropping in a link to a firm’s recent deal in an answer and explaining how this might impact on the wider legal industry, or linking some work experience to an understanding of how a firm’s clients operate, there are small opportunities throughout these interviews where a law firm will test candidates’ commercial awareness.

Preparing for these interviews like a face-to-face interview is the safest bet, as applicants might encounter some curveball or technical questions.

Assessment Centres and Face-to-Face Interviews

The main areas that law firms will test applicants’ commercial awareness at these stages is via presentations, group exercises, written exercises and case study exercises.

For presentations and group exercises, candidates are generally provided with topics relating to the business world, therefore a foundational understanding of business and its links to the legal world and the specific firm will work to any candidate’s benefit. 

Case studies and written exercises often test a broad range of knowledge relating to legal and commercial issues. The best way to prepare for these (on top of doing practice exercises at home) is to brush up on key areas of law and business. Examples include mergers and acquisitions, private equity, debt and equity finance, and stock markets. A basic understanding of these areas will help any candidate engage well with a case study exercise and will demonstrate commercial awareness to a law firm. The law firm will likely want this understanding to be linked to their practice areas, so a comprehensive grasp of a law firm’s practice areas will come in handy here.

For face-to-face interviews, law firms will be testing candidates in a similar way to the video and/or telephone interview stage. It is important for candidates to be able to describe their thought process. Guides such as this provide a list of possible commercial awareness questions that may come up.

Vacation schemes

By this stage, a law firm will know that a candidate has commercial awareness skills. However, it is still necessary for candidates to continue impressing and showing these skills off. 

Law firms will continue to test commercial awareness in a variety of ways on vacation schemes. For example, whilst Q&A sessions provide an excellent opportunity to find out more about a firm and its practice areas, it also provides vacation schemers with an opportunity to demonstrate their tailored research into a firm’s commercial practice.

Furthermore, the work often set during a vacation scheme (likely to be assessed) provides a chance for vacation schemers to apply any legal and commercial knowledge they already have. 

Even informal discussions over a coffee with those at the law firm can present opportunities to impress using commercial awareness.

Most vacation schemes end with an interview during which a firm will likely test for commercial awareness in a few ways. A candidate might be asked about a firm’s competitors, or about what they have learnt on the scheme, or about the wider impact of a piece of work completed. Therefore, it is vital to keep up with both the wider business news and the firm’s internal news bulletins every day.


LittleLaw’s collection of short, easily digestible articles presents an easy way to develop your commercial awareness which will help best prepare you to be tested in the ways explored in this article. 

Candidates should also listen to podcasts such as the FT News Briefing and Watson’s Daily. For more in-depth guides, books such as ‘All You Need to Know About the City’ and ‘All You Need to Know About Commercial Awareness’ are very useful for expanding on those trickier areas.

Report written by Edie Essex Barrett

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