Demystifying Commercial Law for Non-Law Students
Updated: Jan 29, 2021
Pursuing a career in commercial law is hard enough for us lawyers, and there is something particularly daunting about it when your academic background is so far removed (seemingly at least) from the career.
Some students have expressed concerns that since they are not studying law, they are disadvantaged in the race for training contracts. I am here to demystify this area by talking about how this disadvantage may not exist at all, and importantly giving you some sources of information to begin your journey into the career.
The starting point is to outline what a successful future trainee looks like. Though it is more complicated than this, I have boiled it down to being hardworking, analytical and a team player who is commercially aware. What will strike you about three of these attributes (perhaps even all of them) is that they have nothing to do with law. These skills are developed in all academic study, and of course in the roles and responsibilities that you undertake throughout university.
But let us talk about being commercially aware. This might be something a non-law student turns around and says to me, “surely, you need some legal knowledge to be commercially aware”. It would be disingenuous of me to say that no legal knowledge is required to be commercially aware – at least for an aspiring solicitor. However, it would also be wholly inaccurate to say that legal knowledge is crux of being commercially aware.
Being commercially aware, I suggest, has two parts. The first is having a grasp of current commercial issues that impact businesses (law firm’s clients), and how businesses go about tackling such issues. This is equally as difficult for both law and non-law students to grasp; such an understanding in fact requires dedication and analytical ability to consume and synthesise information. Here are some of my recommended sources of information:
FT News Briefing on Spotify
Bloomberg BusinessWeek Podcast on Spotify
The Economist Radio
Written media (Financial Times for example)
Blend various sources together to get insights into similar issues from different perspectives, and form your own view on the trajectory of markets and companies. Have a look at one of our other articles, written by Bolaji Cole, on ESG which displays the sorts of insights needed from a commercial lawyer.
The second part is understanding the mechanics of how a deal works and being solution oriented. You may notice that companies often go into debt to finance an acquisition for example. Being commercially aware means that you can discuss the various ways in which companies go into debt and why they may decide to take out a loan instead of issuing more shares. This is again something that a law-student as well as a law student would need to work towards. What matters here is the extent of your curiosity and the detail of your research. Here are a few resources I recommend:
“All You Need to Know About the City” by Christopher Stoakes
Investopedia – useful for specific insights
Law firms also produce reports and briefs which can be useful summaries
Though you will come across various legal issues such as comparing a warranty and indemnity, this knowledge is accessible through dedicated research. I have given you several sources which you can use as stepping stones to become commercially aware. Studying law is not a condition of being commercially aware whereas detailed research, analysis and curiosity are. For any non-law student or even law student for that matter, I recommend that you treat commercial law as a module in itself. Commit to it and put the work in to see success.
Look out for the next article in this series, which will take a commercial story and teach you how to approach it.