A key component of being a commercial solicitor is understanding the clients who you work for. Amy Leech, a trainee solicitor, tells you why thinking like a client is important for business, and how it can help you develop your commercial awareness.
Commercial clients are businesses just like law firms, both primarily exist to make money and they often rely on one another. One difference being that, unlike a commercial business, a law firm really needs to know how the client thinks to ultimately provide an excellent service, to gain further work and to strengthen their relationship with the client.
Most people will advise reading a newspaper regularly or signing up to receive updates via email/social media, however by far the best way of developing commercial awareness is working within a client's business. I am currently on my second client secondment as part of my training contract. By becoming part of the client's team, you learn so much about how the business is structured, how they like to receive legal advice and among many other things, how they want to be treated by their law firm and lawyers.
For many members of a business, the law can be seen as a blocker or hurdle to get over in order to carry on with or expand their day-to-day business. The business needs approachable lawyers who talk business sense. They don't necessarily want to know about a recent piece of case law or the specifics of an amendment to a statute, they want practical advice. A lot of commercial decisions carry some degree of risk and clients want to know which risks they are navigating through, but ultimately it will be their decision to make.
In-house legal teams are often specialists in their business and industry, but usually don't specialise in a specific area of law. So clients are very often pulled in many different directions on a daily basis. They have to manage various priorities and expectations resulting in a lot of pressure sometimes being placed on key individuals and in-house legal teams. In-house legal teams especially at busy times have added burdens from the business, with them often acting as the 'middle man' between the business and external lawyers. These individuals and in-house teams want lawyers who will be honest with timescales and who excel at managing expectations.
Clients rely heavily on their law firms and lawyers. They want to be seen and made to feel like they are your only client. They want to be a priority, especially when an urgent situation arises. Even when there is not a pressing issue, clients like to be remembered and listened to - whether this is over a friendly lunch or a more formal networking event.
It must be remembered that each client is different and as a trainee solicitor you will come across many types during your training contract. My advice is to embrace every opportunity to get to know your client and don't be afraid to ask to be included in networking events, client meetings and secondments. You will be surprised at just how much you learn and how far that extra effort to understand the client goes.one day it could be you bringing in and managing your own clients!