On Commercial Awareness

Law graduates need very practical linguistic skills, i.e. communication skills, both written and oral, since lawyers and trainees need to be able to communicate effectively both with colleagues and clients. Therefore, language accuracy and ability to draft legal documents in plain English are key. One of the skills that recruiters test when screening applications and at interview is a candidate’s spelling, punctuation and the ability to use correct grammar. An application littered with mistakes is an immediate turn-off and may not be considered because of this, advises Matt Bryan, graduate recruitment officer, Trowers & Hamlins on www.targetjobs.co.uk. The most challenging language problems which all law students have and must master are: the correct use of prepositions and collocations. Polish students will also have to concentrate on articles, countable and uncountable nouns and development of plain language writing skill. As Catherine Mason noticed Polish students display a tendency to use long, complicated, sentences full of empty unnecessary words. The example Catherine Mason gave to follow was George Orwell whose simple style and text structure may serve as an excellent example.

At an interview candidates can expect some very practical tasks to do, e.g.:

  1. Translate an indemnity clause from a commercial contract;
  2. What is wrong with the sentence: … your e-mail from 25 May;
  3. Advise a client on how to start a business in Poland.

Task number 3 above tests another skills which recruiters are looking for in law graduates is commercial awareness, which is a term that refers to a student’s  general knowledge of business, their business experiences (or work experience) and, specifically, their understanding of the industry which they are applying to join. Students will need to know some basic general commercial principles to be able to answer general commercial awareness questions, such as being able to explain the difference between a private limited company and a public limited company. They will also need to be able to discuss differences between Polish or European Union and common law systems, e.g. what taxes are paid, employment law issues, finance options for a new business, liabilities for debts, etc. They will also need to know about any current major global economic issues, and their impact, or potential impact, on their employer’s business sector. Therefore, students should read publications such as Financial Times, BBC News, The Lawyer, as well as news about Poland in English (e.g. www.thenews.pl, www.newzar.wordpress.com)

A web portal www.wikijob.co.uk gives the following examples of typical commercial awareness interview questions:

  1. Describe a company you think is doing well/badly and explain why you think this is so.
  2. What do you think are key qualities for a company to have to be successful?
  3. What significant factors have affected this industry in recent years? (The Sarbanes-Oxley Act is a key factor for accounting and especially audit.)
  4. What do you understand of the role this firm plays in this industry?

An attempt to develop students’ commercial awareness was made by me by means of a blog for Polish students of law (www.englishforlaw.edublogs.org) in which they discuss current economic, political and legal issues.

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