Coronavirus and Commercial Awareness
The bad news is… social distancing. Your treat cupboard and toilet roll supplies are dwindling faster than you’d hoped. You’re unsure whether your friendships, relationships and family ties can withstand weeks on end of such close proximity, or alternatively of living solely off video call contact. You’re almost too far gone down the road of binge TV-watching and by some miracle, you’ve even found yourself missing Brexit!
For some of you, coronavirus may have meant lost opportunities networking, the postponement of vacation schemes and other programmes run by firms. The good news is, there’s a tonne of resources to get stuck into wherever you are, whenever best suits you, to keep your current awareness in prime condition. Plus, there are lots of interesting things happening to watch out for! Working from home and social distancing is a challenge! Retaining some routine and productivity goes a long way to helping cope with the current situation. With that in mind, here are some tips on staying commercial awareness savvy as well as sane whilst cooped up at home!
Staying Savvy: Top Sources for Commercial Awareness
There’s a good reason the FT always makes it to the top of these lists (and it’s not because we’re getting commissions – certainly I’m not! Other financial news providers are available!) Universities may have a subscription allowing you free access to articles. If so, get on the website, set up a series of notifications and preferences so you can access materials specifically of interest to you, and start reading! If you’re new to the FT, bear with it! Start with a sector, topic or company which interests you, be disciplined in getting up to speed on what’s happened already and in reading articles which relate to your chosen subject. Then, start branching out!
Keep reading articles, and reading around articles, and soon enough you’ll begin to understand more and more of corporate mechanics, keep up-to-date with market trends, and understand some of what law firms and their clients will be working on.
Virtual internships are a great way to get lots of the benefits of shadowing in an office, whilst self-isolating, or social distancing! Linklaters launched the first of these virtual internships last year and other firms, such as Pinsent Masons and White & Case, are now offering similar opportunities.
These programmes usually require you to participate in a series of tasks which are designed to replicate work given to junior lawyers, making virtual internships a good way of testing whether corporate law interests you. You’ll gauge the work of junior lawyers, and commercial beat of corporate firms and can quickly ascertain whether you’d like to apply for further opportunities, like vacation schemes, to further your insight.
Allen & Overy have recently released a graduate-recruitment podcast focussing on routes into law and options available throughout, and after, a career in law. The opportunity to get a direct insight from people who fashion the application process, read hundreds of applications, and attend networking events is invaluable! Definitely a resource to check out before, and throughout, applications.
FT Podcasts are great! (again, I don’t get a commission, I promise!) Check out daily updates and search for anything you have a specific interest in.
Harry Clark is a fellow law blogger who has a podcast called ‘more from law.’ You can access his blog and podcasts direct from his LinkedIn page, following the hyperlink provided.
Linklaters have recently launched a podcast series, specifically on technology and innovation within the legal profession. The podcasts are very accessible, and a great way to stay informed on what’s happening at the forefront of development!
This is a good resource for up-to-date commercial awareness insights. As for the FT, set preferences to tailor your feed and notifications to your own interests.
Usually not free, although check whether your university has a digital subscription allowing you access. The Economist usually offers slightly shorter pieces than the FT, typically covering a broader range of topics. They also have a good ‘Espresso’ function which is a very quick summary of the top headlines which is a useful breakfast resource to set you up for the day!
Most people are a little quieter than usual but many are still just as keen to help give others an insight into the work they do! Millennials can often feel nervous to pick up a phone, but let me encourage you to speak to professionals you’ve met (perhaps drop them an email and ask for a convenient time slot, or their availability first) – people will be happy to help you where possible! Alternatively, send people emails and ask for advice and insight to improve your knowledge and experience.
What to Look out for?
It seems that at home, it’s coronavirus, in financial news headlines, it’s Covid-19. The main point is, it’s covering the headlines, whether you’re watching TV, scrolling social media, or using the above commercial awareness sources. The crisis offers some good opportunities to build up your basic knowledge of corporate law and economics - key aspects of knowledge to use in applications and work experience in future.
With regard to corporate law, you can consider the business repercussions of the virus. Consider which types of businesses are most likely to be affected (think about those who rely heavily on cash flow which is currently drying up - e.g. hospitality, catering, leisure…). Watch the FTSE100 and FTSE250 (find out what these terms mean and have a look at what kind of companies are on these lists). What are markets doing? What steps are corporations taking to deal with the crisis? Consider impacts of the crisis for employees, debts, taking on more debts and any duties owed to shareholders.
Think about the economic attempts to respond to the virus. Consider what programmes different States are putting in place and explore some of the financial products and policy solutions. This will take you some time! There’s a wealth of material, for example, on quantitive easing (QE) published mostly since 2008. Consider interest rates and try to wrap your head around the relationship between interest and inflation. Why have governments cut interest rates? Clue: when interest rates are low, borrowing is cheap and saving is less profitable, incentivising borrowing and spending. If you don’t know much on these topics, now is a great time to delve into some of these issues - use videos, beginner guides and explanatory sites to build up your knowledge base so you are familiar with these terms and tools.
Think about the impact on law firms. Which practice areas will be busy at this time? How will firms be affected by the need to work remotely - both presently, and in future? What concerns will clients have?
In short… if you can’t find anything you’re particularly interested in, covid-19 is a good topic to follow to learn more about business and economics. These are really key bodies of information to master. Make it easy for yourself and start trying to understand these concepts now (and stick with it - we’ve all been there :)
Staying Sane: Keeping Social Distancing Bearable
Within government guidelines for whichever jurisdiction you find yourself in, there are some things we can do to help ourselves stay sane!
Take a Walk/Run
This won’t be permissible for all readers, so do check government guidelines and evaluate your own health sensibly before donning your trainers.
You could go for a run or walk to one of the above podcasts, or get articles read aloud (so many sites do this now, it’s ideal for this kind of mobile learning) and set aside outdoor time as your daily commercial awareness slot. Personally, with time outside the home increasingly restrictive, I’m savouring walks to people watch, think, chill, relax and soak up some 80s pop or Motown, around my working day. Go with whatever works for you!
If you’re unable to leave your home, get creative with some exercise. You could use a simple exercise video or I even heard someone mention a virtual gym session via video call with their friends! Again, whatever works for you and keeps you active and sane!
Many law students I know were avid readers when they began the LLB, but had petered off to nothingness by the time they graduated. Take time to rekindle your love of books! Top-recommendations for the legally curious include:
Quiet! The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain (written by an ex-lawyer, so a guilt-free read for law students and others!). A book exploring the distinctions between introverts and extroverts, with regard to thoughts, behaviours and how we each achieve our best (whilst accepting we are neither exclusively introverts or extroverts). A really engaging, accessible read!
Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari (some controversial views on human rights, also making it a guilt-free read for a law student!). A history of mankind, this is a really interesting assessment of humankind’s development and the various ebbs and flows of history, helping us explain where we are now. Controversial in places, it’s an interesting and informative read!
Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman. A phycologist’s assessment of how our thinking develops, how our brain’s work and why errors occur throughout our thinking.
Blockchain Revolution, Don Tapscott & Alex Tapscott (because no list of book recommendations would be complete without some Fintech!!). This is a detailed guide but suitable for beginners willing to invest in some reading around the technicalities of blockchain. It’s a very accessible thorough view on potential applications of the technology, as well as barriers to development.
Each of the above are examples of professionals writing about what they know and love in engaging literature. If non-fiction isn’t your thing, I’m afraid you’ll have to head online for some recommendations! I’ve read a grand total of four non-fiction books in the past 15 months, and most were to improve my French - not much help for most readers!
Again, pop on a podcast, audiobook, video call, your favourite playlist or simply enjoy some quiet time in the kitchen. Whether for learning or down-time, enjoy getting creative with whatever’s in your cupboards and indulging some of your extra time in culinary adventures.
Each of the above can be incorporated into a daily routine. So many of us crave structure. It’s helpful for discipline, planning, motivation and helping quell anxiety. Try and build some structure into your day. For some, that will mean making a wonderfully colour-coded plan. For others of us, it will simply mean scheduling time to walk/exercise, read, eat, work, chat to other humans, cook and sleep. Personally, I find a to-do list (even one with the simplest tasks!) makes such a difference to my mental health when I’m low, giving me routine and purpose. Make the bed. Water the plants. Call the family. Shower. Work. Cook. Simple, but important tasks.
A routine will go a considerable way to helping, but if you are struggling, please do reach out to those around you, friends, family, or professionals at the other end of the phone.
What can you take with you as you dive back into home life during these mad times?! ‘Stay safe and stay sane’ I think is the overriding message, wherever you are in the world.
This post is in no way intended to diminish the severity of what you may be going through in the current crisis. You may have been personally affected, in terms of your own physical or mental health, financial health, or the health of those closest to you. Invest in family, friends, hobbies and down-time over the next few weeks. Learn new skills (I’m secretly hoping to re-join society as a trilingual version of myself!), rekindle old hobbies, and keep to good habits. Also try and work some commercial awareness into your routine. Use the above resources to build a better skillset and knowledge base as you move forward in your study and career.
As I heard one comedian say this week: ‘We’ll all go a little bit crazy together, and then we’ll come out on the other side!’