What does it take to be commercially aware?
Updated: May 14, 2021
In my previous article, I was speaking to non-law students to demystify a career in commercial law. I did this, partially, by introducing a few sources of information for students to build their commercial awareness. In this article, I take a deeper dive to help students put all this information together in such a way that allows one to write and speak confidently about it in an application or an interview.
Before beginning, I strongly recommend some recent articles on our website for the commercial rigour and detail they display (and of course they are brilliant reads in their own right):
“The Future of the Silver Screen” by Bolaji Cole
“Climate Neutrality versus Plurality” by Bolaji Cole
“The Video Game Industry Locked(Down) and Loaded” by Joshua Akinpelu
Step 1: Gathering Information
The first step is perhaps the most time consuming process where you are absorbing information from the variety of sources you are using.
Let me take you through my thought process. I start off my day by listening to the quick and concise FT News Briefing (16 Feb 2021). This morning a variety of topics were covered, including Biden’s COVID relief strategy, the use of robots in the retail industry, the energy industry in America and a planned IPO.
Of these I was particularly interested in the planned IPO for Fix Price - essentially the Poundland of Russia. Having selected this area, I looked for more information and went on to read the FT on this particular story but also sought wider information on the retail industry generally. My mind jumped to Aldi and Lidl, taking on the Big Four supermarkets. My mind jumped to the recent acquisitions made by Boohoo. My mind jumped to the fall of Debenhams and Arcadia.
This demonstrates that gathering information is not a process that can be undergone in a couple of days. It requires consistency, dedication and genuine engagement with the commercial world. It is this that will allow you to, after listening to one headline, jump to 2-3 other stories.
Step 2: Linking information
Fix Price wants to do an IPO on the London Stock Exchange. Why? Usually, and unsurprisingly, it is because they think this is going to make them money. But how?
It is here where my research comes into play. One significant factor in Fix Price’s tremendous success has been the sheer number of stores it has, whilst offering a variety of products at a bargain price.
The FT identifies that the Russian populations’ reduction in disposable income has led them to turn to Fix Price. I compared this to the strides of Aldi and Lidl in the supermarket industry, being driven by lower prices than their Big 4 competitors. But then, I turned to some recent trends. Though Aldi and Lidl have seen success, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, and Morrison’s are scraping back market share through their transition to online delivery - a necessary shift in a COVID-world which Aldi and Lidl have struggled to keep up with; we can see this also through the rise of Ocado more recently.
Looking at a slightly different industry we see companies like Boohoo and Asos thriving, whilst companies dependent on the high street such as Debenhams and Topshop struggle. So could we say the long term success of Fix Price depends on their ability to reduce reliance on physical stores and footfall by transitioning to an online retailer akin to Amazon?
What I have described here is my journey from listening to a headline on the FT News Briefing, to forming an argument informed by a multitude of examples and trends. The important thing here is not only the retention of information, but the ability to be analytical in your approach and build an argument.
Step 3: Why does it matter for law firms?
After gathering my information and forming my argument, I am on the last step. I now consider how my insights might impact law firms (we are lawyers not journalists after all). This part is often the most challenging and requires more detail than I can cover here, but I’ll bullet point some questions you could explore:
To list on the London Stock Exchange, a company must produce a detailed prospectus approved by UKLA. How can law firms tackle this expensive and arduous process as well as ensuring long term compliance with the Prospectus Regulation (introduced in 2019).
Will there be any challenges for companies looking to go public in light of Brexit?
Like many others Fix Price must also manage the implications of the pandemic. In order to ensure workers are safe, they may want to make vaccinations compulsory.
Is this allowed? What circumstances is it allowed in? Could you dismiss an employee refusing to take the vaccine - is this an unfair dismissal?
How could Fix Price transition, in the long term, to being primarily an online retailer?
Would a horizontal acquisition of a company with existing technology be effective? What are the challenges to undergoing a merger or acquisition for this company?
Thinking about what a commercial story means for law firms is the icing on the cake. It is this that sets you apart from others who may be limited to regurgitating information and statistics that they found on the train on the way to the interview. When exploring these questions, think about what departments in law firms are best placed to tackle these issues, what challenges will they face and how can these be overcome.
So what does it take?
I have taken you through my thought process on a very cold Tuesday and it is designed to provide you with practical steps to become commercially aware. Stepping back however, being commercially aware requires strong analytical skills. When you read an article, ask yourself why this piece of information was included. What does it mean for companies, the industry, consumers and law firms? Almost all articles have an argument and it is your job to challenge it and come up with your own opinion.
Be proactive, analytical, and dedicated and you will see the rewards.
Fix Price announces intention to publish registration document and potential intention to float on the Main Market of the London Stock Exchange - 07:00:02 15 Feb 2021 - News article | London Stock Exchange