Articling Application Prep: Your Commercial Awareness Strategy
Updated: Mar 7, 2020
On Sunday I started a week-long series designed to prepare you for articling applications. We took a look at why writing your applications with a cohesive and personal narrative in mind is important and I outlined key steps you should start thinking through well before the July application deadlines. Today, we look at step three: developing commercial awareness.
Commercial awareness (CA) is important to your ability to write a good cover letter that can convince its reader of your passion and knowledge in your legal interest area; it's also important to your ability to talk about your interest area in an interview or at networking events. Commercial awareness is the critical layer sitting atop your in-class, historical case knowledge, that allows you to apply that knowledge to what's happening in the legal space right now. It shows employers that you are engaged in current legal and market developments and understand that what you learned in law school is always subject to change. Commercial awareness is the critical backbone supporting your personal narrative both on paper and off.
There are plenty of tools you can use to help you stay abreast of what's going on in the legal world outside school. While it may seem that you have enough reading to do around school and exams, you should treat CA as another class by taking 20-40min a day to read news on topics and markets relevant to your practice area. This isn't going to break your time-bank; trade-out your Facebook or Instagram time if you have to.
Which brings me to my second suggestion on developing your commercial awareness strategy: have a dedicated news app. I know Facebook can be a great source of news but its also a great source of distraction and having your news mixed-in with engagement, wedding, and baby announcements isn't terribly efficient. For your 20-40 min of CA time each day, use a dedicated news feed app like FlipBoard or Feedly to cut out all the other distractions and focus-up.
Once you've committed to an app and a daily time allotment, it's time to start building your newsfeed. Here are my top things to consider/remember:
1) Vary your sources: You should have feeds from multiple news papers of all different political affiliations (left, right, centre) and news organizations of different sizes (big papers, trusted indie blogs, academic journals, etc.). News sources that are both local and international and from different countries provide interesting perspectives as well!
2) Get a legal perspective: You should also have some dedicated legal news sources like law journals and industry magazines to provide legal commentary on current events. Sites like Above The Law or Canadian Lawyer Magazine help you develop legal commentary on the news you read and learn about the legal industry.
3) Pick key topics: Many apps will let you create separate feeds/boards for news topics; I know Feedly also has some pre-defined feeds on hot topics as they are covered across a variety of news sources. This is incredibly useful for focusing your reading and narrowing down the fire hose of news you will inevitably collect. Creating topic-specific feeds also makes you to think about how your key legal interest area interacts with other legal practices and I'd encourage you to have smaller feeds on these areas as well.
News papers and blogs aren't the only way to keep up with the world around you. Podcasts are also brilliant and provide the added bonus of allowing you to multitask while developing your commercial awareness. For instance, my personal Saturday morning routine includes housework and a listen to the Financial Time's Politics podcast which sums-up the week's developments in Parliament (which is all Brexit these days unsurprisingly). I'll also listen to my favourites while I'm doing weekly meal prep, taking a shower, laundry, etc.
If you are a new to the world of podcasts, here are a few more that make my regular listen list:
1) What Next (slate) - a daily cast that takes hot-topic news stories and puts them into perspective with commentary from key thinkers and social movers.
2) Financial Times News In Focus (Financial Times) - key daily coverage of a front-page worthy FT story with commentary from experts and thinkers.
3) If/Then (slate) - a weekly look at key technology developments and how they change society and challenge the law.
4) Beyond Billables - a podcast by lawyers for lawyers but also great for aspiring lawyers to learn about the challenges to the legal industry and how its responding/changing.
5) What Trump Can Teach Us About Con Law - a fun look at the legal challenges Trump's actions present to the American Constitution.
No matter how you develop your commercial awareness, make sure your strategy is tailored to your interests and needs. Hopefully this post has inspired to make a start at becoming a timely, well-informed, student-at-law.