Commercial awareness exercises in law firm interviews


Many law firms require candidates to undertake a case study at the final interview stage.  There is not one single format, so it is advisable to ask the recruitment team what you can expect.

Below are some general points and tips we have put together from feedback from students who have gone through the process and what firms have told us.

Bear in mind that recruiters are always trying to improve their processes, so focus on the skills they are looking for and how to demonstrate your motivation, rather than on preparing for specific types of exercises.

What are these interviews testing?

  • commercial awareness
  • ability to think logically using common sense and in a structured way
  • ability to identify the key issues from a lot of information
  • ability to summarise
  • time management
  • dealing with pressure and resilience
  • interpersonal skills
    • communication, could include written work, presentation and rapport with interviewers
    • negotiation
    • motivation – are you enjoying this even if you feel slightly nervous?

Types of exercise

These vary from firm to firm and can be part of an individual interview or a group exercise – you can check with the firm. The material could be given to you in any of the following formats:

  • a paragraph which may be about a current affairs issue or something specifically legal, read and then discuss
  • an article from, for example, the FT
  • a one or two page client scenario
  • a bundle of documents, likely to be a merger or acquisition, an IPO

Tips for the paragraph and article exercises

  • Read carefully
  • Identify 2 or 3 key issues – think about political and economic aspects
  • There may not be an obvious connection to the law firm, the interviewer may be wanting to stretch you intellectually and see how you think, whether you have an opinion that you are able to defend
  • If the article has been reproduced by the firm and is set out in numbered paragraphs, this is so that you can refer to the paragraphs by number in the discussion

Client scenarios and ‘bundle of documents’ exercises

Possible scenarios may include a client (or a potential client) who is considering merging or acquiring another company, or a client who is being acquired by a competitor. The amount of material and time you are given will determine the level of detail you are expected to cover. In general it is advisable to cover as many aspects as you can broadly, rather than cover only one or two in great detail.

You may be asked a general question such as ‘what advice would you give to the client?’ or three or four specific questions.  For the latter it is most important to address all the questions rather then focussing on one and ignoring others.

Some firms will give you anything between five and 20 documents to read and answer one or more questions. You may be asked to give a short presentation followed by a discussion with the interviewer(s).

Documents may include

  • summary of the situation – this could be in the form of an email or letter
  • client or competitor strategy
  • financial statements
  • information about employees, equipment or other assets (such as property)
  • contracts, leases, licences
  • litigation, possible actions, non-disclosure
  • regulatory information

Tips for document exercises

  • Read the question(s) carefully and follow instructions
  • Flick through quickly to establish the contents and make sure you look at the back page. You may even find an index to help you
  • Take a minute to plan your time and leave enough to produce a presentation or at least review your thoughts before the interview
  • Manage your time
  • Use a highlighter
  • Identify key elements relevant to the question(s)
  • Don’t forget to consider whether the deal should even be done, is there a deal breaker, is there another option (particularly with disposals)?
  • Consider risks to the client and/or to the firm
  • Structure the presentation: beginning, middle and end which should be short summary with recommendations
  • Watch grammar, spelling and punctuation

Preparation for these types of interviews

  • Keep up to date with current affairs including areas of business that interest you
  • Know how to read a balance sheet
  • Have a broad understanding of mergers and acquisitions and how they are structured
  • Know the difference between a share and asset sale
  • Learn some basic business language
  • Have a clear idea of the firm’s practice areas and what type of work they specialise in
  • Revise contract law (if you are a law student)
  • Understand the basics of a contract (if you are not a law student)
  • Be clear on the importance of technology for all businesses 
  • Good resources for city and global firms are books by Christopher Stoakes

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