All About Commercial Awareness

Updated: Jul 24, 2020


Hello everyone! Let me introduce myself: I am Hannah Roleston and I am so excited to be joining Legal Jargon as a News Hunter. I am originally from Northern Ireland but decided to attend university on the mainland. If anyone is undecided about where to go to university, I thoroughly recommend the University of Dundee. I have had an amazing two years there, full of friends and opportunities and I am so gutted that this will be my final year as a law student.

I decided to join Legal Jargon team as it is an amazing platform to bring people together, support each other and encourage each other. More specifically I decided to apply to become a news hunter as over the years I have developed a love of commercial awareness. The question on a training contract application, “Tell us about a news story displaying commercial awareness”, petrified me but over time this fear turned into an appreciation and passion for seeking relevant commercial awareness stories in the news. I want to help others who feel their commercial awareness is lacking and this is the aim with anything I write for Legal Jargon.

Working with the other news hunters for Legal Jargon, I will be in charge of producing a weekly news round-up. This will be published every Friday and will compile a comprehensive run down of the previous week's commercial news. Throughout the week I will also be publishing articles on a variety of topics, from the big news stories of the week to hints and tips and resources to help you with answering commercial awareness questions. Legal Jargon understands the struggles of getting into the legal profession given that many of us are still trying ourselves. Due to the vast competition in the field it is very easy to feel alone, inadequate and unsure about your future. But that is why Legal Jargon is here, to help make the process as smooth and stress free as possible. This is why I am making my first article centred around hints and tips to answering commercial awareness questions.

Before answering any question on commercial awareness, it is paramount that you understand, ‘What is Commercial Awareness?’

What is Commercial Awareness?

Commercial awareness is the understanding of how industries and businesses work. At the end of the day law firms are businesses and firms stay profitable by adding value to their clients. Ultimately, it is about knowing what is going on in the world and analysing the way it might impact on your chosen sector or company.

Where to find a commercial news story?

There are many, many resources that can be used to find a recent commercial news story. Below are several resources that provide excellent access to commercial news stories that I have used in the past and thoroughly recommend:

  • A law firm’s website

  • LinkedIn

  • Bright Network

  • Legal Cheek

  • Any Instagram pages / Podcasts

  • A simple Google search

  • and of course … Legal Jargon

Understanding a commercial news story

Once you have found a story that interests you the next hurdle is understanding what the story actually says. Let’s say you come across a news story about a recent merger that took place.

Ask yourself:

  • Who are the main parties?

  • What do you think were the risks involved with the merger and how would they have been mitigated?

  • What is the actual process of a merger?

  • Do you think the merger will have positive / negative consequences? – explain why

  • How was the firm involved?

  • What value did the firm add to the transaction?

How you can improve your Commercial Awareness

  • Join a club or society – Does your university have a Commercial Awareness society? If not, why don’t you be the person who creates one? It is the perfect opportunity to learn about Commercial Awareness and broaden your connections all in the one place.

  • Part-time jobs – I have worked as a waitress in several establishments over the years. It was only until I started university that I made the wider connection that I was working within a bigger company. Trying to anticipate what was needed for the restaurant in the weekly stock orders I was displaying Commercial Awareness without even knowing it! Having a part-time job is an excellent opportunity to improve your Commercial Awareness by taking an active interest in the business as a whole.

  • Start a small business.

  • The Open University has several free courses centred around Commercial Awareness. The courses are easy to complete and once completed you will receive a ‘Statement of Participation’ which will look good on a CV.

When it comes to commercial news and making links to the business or sector you hope to work in, there’s a few key questions employers can ask.

Tell me about a story you’re following in the news and how will it impact on [company name/sector name].

The story you pick

It doesn’t matter what story it is, but here’s a few tips on what to pick:

  • Something that genuinely interests you, not just something that you think will impress.

  • A story which has been in the news multiple times, giving you plenty to talk about.

  • Nothing too complicated – it’s better to choose something easy and fully understand it, rather than trying to explain a story you’ve not got to grips with completely.

  • A story from the last six months.

  • Something you can relate to the business/industry in multiple ways.

Structuring your answer

You want to be talking for a couple of minutes with this answer. Follow this five-point plan to structure your answer:

  1. Tell them about the story.

  2. Tell them why it has interested you.

  3. Tell them one way it could impact on the business/sector.

  4. Pick out another way it will impact.

  5. To take your answer to the next level, tell them how they could potentially alleviate this impact or make the most of it (depending on if the impact is negative or positive).

Closing Thoughts

  • Don’t panic! – Improving your Commercial Awareness is a process. It is a marathon, not a sprint. Ease yourself in, start off with a story that interests you and then you can gradually build up your understanding of more complex business issues. No one expects you to read the Financial Times or Economist cover to cover. I certainly haven’t!

  • Your interests – Read commercial news stories that link to your interests. This will make them much more enjoyable to read and you will tend to take a lot more from them.

  • The better picture – Remember everything is connected. Don’t just take a commercial news story at face value, constantly ask ‘why?’. This will help you to create your own opinion of the story, making you stand out amongst the other applicants that have just recited a story in the news.

Hopefully you have found these tips helpful and you feel more confident about tackling a commercial news story question.

Check out the other blogs published on Legal Jargon and make sure you look out for the commercial question of the day.


Hannah Roleston is a final year law student at the University of Dundee. During her time at university she is an active member of the University of Dundee Mooting Society and spends her free time playing hockey. Hannah is an aspiring solicitor with a passion for Commercial Awareness.

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