Commercial Awareness – what you need to know before your interviews February 17, 2014Posted by Stephen Gurman in : Commercial Awareness, Interview , add a comment
by Karen Gui
Commercial awareness in the context of Vacation Scheme or Training Contract selection processes has two components: (a) the business of law; and (b) the businesses of clients and the environment they operate in. However, the most important thing to bear in mind is this – ‘commercial awareness’ describes a way of thinking. It is not just about facts and figures, textbook knowledge, or reading every issue of The Economist cover to cover.
The Business of Law: Whether you want to work in high-end corporate transactions, Public Law, European Competition Law, Commercial Real Estate or private client work dealing with the legal problems of ‘normal’ or ‘real’ people, one crucial issue remains the same – every law firm is run as a business, every law firm is looking for future partner potential in its trainee solicitors, and every law firm uses its Vacation Scheme as a pre-selection process for Training Contract candidates (think of it from the firm’s point of view as a ‘try before you buy’ approach to trainee selection).
Therefore, what they want to know is: Do you know how a law firm is run as a business, the hourly-billing fee structure, time-sheets, what roles are played by non-fee earners, the challenges faced by law firms in an environment where clients are demanding more services of better quality for lower fees? When you see the initials ‘ABS’, do you think ‘Anti-Lock Braking System’ or do you understand that this refers to the ‘Alternative Business Structure’ introduced by the Legal Services Act 2007? More importantly, are you aware of how the liberalization of the legal market via ABSs has the potential to radically change the way legal services are provided? Then there’s the commoditization of legal services – certain activities that were previously billed at hourly rates are now being ‘sold’ to clients for a fixed fee, such as document due diligence, for example. The following are some articles that can help you better understand the business of practicing law, whatever area you’re interested in, but this is by no means an exhaustive list:
Legal services pricing: http://www.legalfutures.co.uk/blog/legal-pricing-stop-using-c-word
How lawyers can avoid extinction: http://entrepreneurlawyer.co.uk/tag/commoditized-legal-services/
An example of a global firm (Allen & Overy) reining in its costs by moving all support roles into Belfast: http://bit.ly/1h4A7un
Be big, be niche, or die: http://bit.ly/MRmC3N (an article by Sir Nigel Knowles of DLA Piper)
Law firms are using this to be flexible and cost-effective – Legal Process Outsourcing (LPO): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_outsourcing
Commercial awareness tips from trainees and recruiters: http://bit.ly/M5VVHZ
The Business of Clients / the Business Environment: It is one thing to understand what the law has to say about a particular situation the client is facing, but it’s another thing to be able to understand that, given the client’s business needs or economic environment it finds itself in, the legal response can be adjusted to provide the best outcome for the client. For example, your client may have every legal right to sue for non-payment of products sold, but does a major record label want to be known for suing ten-year-old girls who don’t understand the difference between ‘streaming’ and ‘downloading’ the latest Justin Bieber single? What does the client wish to achieve and are there other, more business-friendly ways to enable the client to meet their objectives?
Everyone knows the Greek, Spanish and Portuguese economies are performing poorly, but can you spot that there are opportunities for business, for example in debt-restructuring, bankruptcy administration, and litigation or dispute resolution? Are you aware that Greece is attracting a huge amount of investment from Chinese shipping companies because its ports and other maritime assets are needed by the modern ‘Silk Route’ into Europe, and that these have been recently acquired by Chinese companies at bargain-basement prices?
The key to understanding this facet of ‘commercial awareness’ is to find out what sectors of business the firm’s clients generally operate in. If most of its clients are in financial services and banking, can you tell the difference between investing in Equity versus investing in Debt? Look at the firm’s recent headline deals (or cases or projects) and gain an understanding of the role the firm played in the transactions and the significance of the firm’s role, as well as the significance of those transactions, in the business world.
What you need to show is that not only are you capable of providing accurate legal advice (eventually as a qualified lawyer), but you are also capable of finding the most practical solution to the client given all their legal and commercial considerations.
Here’s a useful article from the Ultimate Law Guide about how you can evidence your commercial awareness at the interview: http://bit.ly/1cpI1H0
If you’re not sure what sources to get stuck into, click on the following link, but be warned – keeping up to date with current affairs and business news should be a habit in order for it to be useful at interviews. Binge-consuming the news just before an interview is unlikely to be very helpful! http://bit.ly/MFPSK3
Just like transferable skills, commercial know-how is transferable too. If you’ve been reading up about high profile City deals but at the interview you’re asked to discuss football clubs being forced by law to cap their spending on players to ensure fair play instead – DON’T PANIC. Business is business – Richard Branson sold music and magazines long before he got involved in aviation, financial services, and space tourism! Breathe, relax by thinking of the interview as a conversation rather than an exam, and apply the knowledge and skills you already have to the task at hand.
Finally, remember that ‘commercial awareness’ is a way of thinking. It involves understanding the whole environment that you, the firm, and your future clients operate in, and being able to generate ideas or solutions that take into consideration all the relevant factors. Now bravely go forth and be commercially aware!
The Importance of Being Earnest February 11, 2014Posted by Stephen Gurman in : Interview , add a comment
By Karen Gui
It’s normal to feel a bit nervous going into an interview – your future depends on it to an extent, and you know you are being evaluated by your responses. That’s enough to make even the most confident candidate feel at least a little bit nervous. While having a total meltdown obviously isn’t going to do you any good at an interview, the surge of adrenalin in your body when you are nervous is beneficial because it makes you mentally sharper – you process information more quickly and your reflexes are faster. This is the evolutionary ‘fight or flight’ response that has ensured our survival as a species. More pertinently, being and appearing alert at an interview is a good thing. It’s far more attractive than appearing lethargic or spaced-out.
Assuming you are (a) going to refrain from hitting the interviewers; and (b) not actually going to flee the interview no matter how tempting this may seem, then a top tip for managing the ‘fight or flight’ response and successful interviewing is to be authentic. This means being earnest / sincere / honest / true to yourself. It does not mean being naive (i.e. lacking in wisdom or judgement). Being authentic is helpful in at least two ways. Firstly, you’re not trying to be someone else, you’re not acting, so you don’t have a script to memorise and stick to – this takes a huge burden off your mental and existential load for the interview, saving you energy to focus on the things that really matter. Secondly, by being authentic you are more likely to come across as genuine and therefore trustworthy – a priceless attribute all employers look for because nobody wants to work with a dishonest person.
However, don’t confuse authenticity with naivety. Exercise good judgment, focus on the positive, and demonstrate the skills the interviewer is looking for. For example, imagine you’re interviewing for a Training Contract in a City firm. One of the questions you are likely to be asked is, “Why do you want to be a corporate lawyer?” The following are examples of honest but naive answers:
Naive answer #1: “Because I want to earn lots and lots of money! I want to live in luxury, have a glamorous life and become highly influential in society. Basically, I want to achieve great wealth and social status.”
Naive answer #2: “Because I don’t like to deal with the messiness of human relationships the way one has to in Family or Criminal practice; I would detest having clients cry to me about their marital or child custody issues, and I am determined to stay as far away as possible from the unwashed masses of the criminal justice system.”
It should be obvious why these two honest but naive answers aren’t going to help any candidate secure a job, but if you don’t know why, please make an appointment with your careers service. They will be happy to enlighten you as this is an important part of your employability skills development. The following are two examples of authentic and helpful answers to the same question. Note that they focus on the candidate’s positive motivations for choosing corporate law. Do compare them with their naive counterparts above.
Authentic answer #1: “I am attracted to corporate law because what happens in the City has a significant impact on the rest of society and not just the parties directly involved in a transaction. For example, your firm recently acted for energy supplier BrightLight plc in its takeover of BigBill plc. Shareholders of BrightLight benefited as the transaction increased the value of the company. In addition, the takeover enabled BrightLight to lower the price of electricity for vulnerable customers such as pensioners and the disabled, thereby conferring much needed financial relief to these hard-pressed groups. Knowing that the work I do can have far-reaching social impact is a great source of motivation and pride for me. This is why I want to practice corporate law.”
Authentic answer #2: “I have always enjoyed immersing myself in games and puzzles such as Sudoku, Rubik’s Cube, Chess, and Go, because I enjoy the challenge of solving complex problems. I am attracted to corporate practice because every matter or transaction is a collection of puzzles to be solved. For example, your firm is currently acting for Far Flung Co in the reorganisation of its global operations. This project involves a wide range of issues to be resolved, including tax liabilities, employment law, real estate and insurance obligations. Working as a corporate lawyer is my dream job because my problem-solving skills will be stretched on a daily basis.”
Hopefully, these examples demonstrate how you can be authentic in an interview without being naive. Do note they are just examples and you owe it to yourself to think about how you can present your motivations and evidence in the most positive light possible. Never lie and never pretend to be someone other than yourself because, as Abraham Lincoln so eloquently put it many years ago, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”
Top tips for Vacation Scheme Interviews February 4, 2014Posted by Stephen Gurman in : Interview, Vacation Scheme , add a comment
Congratulations to all of you who managed to secure a vacation scheme interview. You’ve obviously come across as being impressive on paper, but now you need to step out from behind the keyboard and impress in person.
Know your route
It should be unnecessary to say, but you wouldn’t be the first candidate to turn up late (or get lost!), so make sure that you prepare a route to the interview and work out a realistic amount of travel time. This is particularly important if you’re not familiar with the underground and need to use it to get to your interview. At rush hour, will it really only take two minutes to make that change at Bank station?
If your interview is this week or next make sure that you plan around the tube strikes, check out the Transport for London website for the latest information http://www.tfl.gov.uk/ .
Know your form
Anything which you have written on your application form or put in your CV is fair game for an interviewer to drill you on. An interview is often a conversation and the interviewer will be looking for things you’ve mentioned which make you seem interesting. Perhaps you made a fleeting mention of your interest in playing the guitar, but that might be the interviewer’s hobby. Make sure you have something to say about it. Who’s your favourite guitar player? Why? If your favourite subject is contract law, which cases stand out for you? What’s interesting about them?
Know what the firm is looking for
Once you’ve refreshed yourself with the content of your application and made sure that you can explain what you’ve written it’s time to think about what the firm is looking for in a candidate.
Helpfully, many firms explicitly publish this on their websites such as BLP at http://www.blplaw.com/trainee/index.cfm/BerwinLeightonPaisnericity/1770 . Take some time to think through how you can demonstrate to a firm that you are the sort of person they’re looking for.
Once you’ve completed the step above, it’s time to prepare for those dreaded competency questions. Do you have examples of times you’ve demonstrated the qualities the firm is looking for? It’s exceptionally hard to think of them on the spot in the pressure of an interview so take some time to brain storm in advance – then your mental effort can focus on making sure you answer the specific question you are being asked effectively, rather than on having to dredge through your memories to come up with an example.
Do remember that it’s important to sound natural in the interview and to focus on the precise question you are being asked so perhaps think of key points you’d like to make and avoid trying to memorise answers word for word.
Know the firm
When I see students for practice interviews, it’s obvious when the extent of their research is reading a few headlines on a website or in the press. Make sure that you’re not one of those candidates. If there is an interesting deal which you’d like to mention, make sure that you know more than just a few lines about it and make sure you can articulate why it has interested you.
Make use of the resources available to you to research deals. Students at many universities are able to access the Financial Times online – this can be a gold mine for information. If you’re not sure how to do this contact your library. Other useful resources are www.legalweek.com , www.thelawyer.com , http://www.legal500.com/ and http://www.chambersandpartners.com/
Finally, don’t leave all of your preparation until the night before the interview. Do you remember how long it took you to fill in those application forms? It can also take a while to be effectively prepared for an interview.
If you’re a student at UCL, King’s or QM you can book a practice interview:
UCL students – http://bit.ly/TqIoeM
King’s students – log in at http://bit.ly/VxerK5
Queen Mary students – http://bit.ly/XJJTnG
What sort of firm do you want to work for? October 30, 2013Posted by Stephen Gurman in : Legal Career , add a comment
As you will have noticed, autumn term is packed full of events on campus, there are a lot of opportunities to hear from and speak with a wide range of firms.
Understandably, many of the firms you will see on campus are the larger “City” firms. These firms have both the resources to send teams out to universities, but also a large number of training contracts on offer. These firms offer excellent opportunities to students, particularly if you’re interested in working on headline making deals or spending some of your training on an international or client secondment.
However, these “City” firms aren’t for everyone and aren’t the only opportunity out there. Just because your peers want to work in the Magic or Silver Circle doesn’t mean that you have to. Perhaps you’re not interested in the areas of law the City firms practice, perhaps you’re looking to work in a smaller team, work outside of London, or simply have a better work life balance. As these firms will tend to have less presence on campus, it’s important that you start researching them for yourself. There are a whole range of firms outside of the City, with a mixture of work from family to corporate to medical negligence.
Resources such as the Training Contract and Pupillage Handbook (the 2014 edition is now available at your careers service) and the Legal 500 http://www.legal500.com/ are a great way to start researching firms in different practice areas and geographic locations.
To get you started, you can see an insight from two different types of firm, Norton Rose Fulbright and Thomas Eggar at http://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/law-careers/2013/10/22/trainee-insight-hannah-truman-norton-rose-fulbright-llp/ and http://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/law-careers/2013/10/29/more-to-law-than-the-magic-circle-thomas-eggar/
Inn Scholarship deadlines approaching October 21, 2013Posted by Stephen Gurman in : Bar Careers , add a comment
For many people, choosing to enrol on the BPTC will involve committing to a substantial amount of fees, which are around £17,500 in London, and living costs.
However, the Inns of Court provide numerous scholarships which can help. Successfully obtaining a scholarship can be an indicator that you might be successful in your search for a pupillage, but do remember that it is by no means a guarantee.
If you’re thinking about applying for a scholarship please remember that this year the deadline is 1st November.
You can only apply to one Inn for scholarship. The Inns do check with each other to make sure that students aren’t trying to circumvent the system.
- If you wish to apply, you will need to obtain references before the closing date – academics are busy, especially as term has just started; give your tutor or employer plenty of time to prepare your reference.
- Use your peers – ask for advice from alumni from your university who went through the process last year.
- Give your application the same time and effort that you would give a job or pupillage application.
- Read the selection criteria carefully. Make sure that your answers demonstrate to the Inn that you fulfil their criteria for scholarship.
- If you’re applying for a means tested scholarship, make sure that you’ve the required financial information ready.
For advice from a barrister who has successfully applied for scholarship see our interview featured in our previous blog: http://www.careers.lon.ac.uk/blog/law/index.php/2012/10/bptc-scholarships-a-few-weeks-left-to-submit-your-application/
Other sources of funding
There are a number of different loan schemes:
Professional Career & Development Loans
This is a loan of up to £10,000 taken out with a commercial bank, but with a difference. The Skills Funding
Agency pays the interest on the loan while you are studying and for one month afterwards. For more information, see https://www.gov.uk/career-development-loans
Inns of Court/HSBC loan
This BPTC loan is a loan available to BPTC students studying full time or part time and can be used to
assist with course fees, living expenses or a combination of the two.
The loan is available to students who meet a number of qualifying criteria, one of which is having made a
scholarship application to one of the four Inns. For full details of this scheme and a list of qualifying
criteria, see http://www.barcouncil.org.uk/becoming-a-barrister/finance-and-funding/funding-and-scholarships/
Investec are offering a loan to students studying the BPTC at BPP, the loan can be up to the value of the
course fees plus 20% extra towards living costs. For details of this scheme please see http://www.investec.co.uk/products-and-services/finance-and-lending/lawloan.html
High street banks
High street banks may be able to provide you with a study loan or an interest free overdraft.
Do not borrow more than you feel you will be able to repay.
This information is not financial advice. You should conduct your own research to ensure you make decisions
appropriate to your own circumstances.
Lincoln’s Inn – http://bit.ly/TvJYKZ
Gray’s Inn – http://bit.ly/R6zjVn
Inner Temple – http://bit.ly/P7GWLS
Middle Temple - http://bit.ly/Q3WQai