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Answering the question ‘Why Commercial Law?’ is one that students dread most. The reason many people struggle when trying to answer it is, most likely, due to its open-ended nature; there seems to be an infinite number of ways in which you could approach the question! However, the truth is, the question is actually trying to ask you for some very specific pieces of information, which I shall happily reveal to you now…
Before we dive into the main points, you need to be aware that you may get a subtle variation of the same question. For example, you may be asked why you are specifically interested in commercial international law or what makes you think that you are particularly suited for a career in commercial law. Fortunately, these variations can all typically be answered using the same processes as will be mentioned here.
The one major exception to this is if you are asked ‘Why corporate law?’. Corporate law does slightly differ to commercial law in that corporate law is to do with the dealings of clients’ businesses (e.g mergers & acquisitions, restructuring, etc.) whereas commercial law is everything undertaken by a law firm in the city. So ensure your answers reflect that subtle difference in questioning!
🤓 What is commercial law?
Before you even begin writing, you need to know what is meant by commercial law. If you don’t know what it is, how are you supposed to demonstrate that you are interested in pursuing a career in this area?
Commercial law, as mentioned above, is any work a law firm will do within the city and will typically involve working on contracts, trusts, finance, banking, tax, etc. You will handle a range of corporate deals as a solicitor, each lasting between 1 and 6 months depending on the nature of the deal itself. As a trainee your role will be to create the first draft of documents, undertake due diligence, research technical issues, and help manage different aspects of transactions.
Check out this article from Shearman & Sterling if you want to find out more information about what a typical trainee will do in a commercial law firm: ‘What Do Trainee Solicitors Do?’
🤨 Why this question?
You should also understand why you are being asked this question. What is the reason the recruiter is interested in finding out your interest in commercial law? Only once you’ve put yourself in the shoes of the recruiter and truly understood the question should you begin to write.
One of the key reasons is because law firms invest a lot of time and money into training individuals. They don’t want to pay for your GDL/LPC (which many city law firms do!) or waste hundreds of hours of their partners’ time if you’re not invested in them for the long term. So, this is predominantly a question about motivation. In other words, you need to show you have the ambition to pursue a career in law, a genuine passion for a legal career, and the attentiveness to find out why their particular firm interests you.
1️⃣ Your Ambition For Commercial Law
When answering this question it’s therefore crucial to demonstrate that you have the ambition to pursue a career in commercial law. One way you can do this is to demonstrate the range of legal experiences you have had over the past few years that have confirmed your interest in law. When you do this, try to actually demonstrate specific actions you took during your work experience and the results that you achieved, and how that would be of benefit in a commercial law setting.
For example, instead of simply saying “I worked alongside the tax department and enjoyed the experience”, dive deeper mentioning that you “filled in a CT600 form and achieved X, Y and Z for a client”. When talking about your experiences you are trying to demonstrate an ambition and motivation for commercial law, and not just use it as an opportunity to name drop all the cool stuff you’ve done.
2️⃣ Tell Your Story
Most people when they answer this question give very generic responses, often simply regurgitating the law firm’s website or marketing material. For example, it’s shocking how many applicants think that they are crafting a great answer to this question by telling the recruiter that they are “driven to work in a global law firm with hundreds of international offices and ambitious colleagues”. This tells them absolutely nothing about why you want to work in commercial law; it only tells them that you are proficient at using copy & paste!
Instead, you need to tell your story and be genuine. What was the thing that initially grabbed you interest and led you down the legal route? The plan is to be original! Spend some time thinking about the initial trigger that set you along this path and the different steps you have taken to get to where you are today. Telling a compelling story about why commercial law is your calling is emotionally appealing for any recruiter and it shows them that they are the next logical step in your career plan.
Furthermore, build upon how your skill-set and character matches what they are looking for. In other words, have a think about the competencies that they expect from you (which you can find on any city law firm’s graduate recruitment website) and demonstrate you have these. Again, don’t just cite the competencies, but build a picture of how your extra-curricular interests and work experiences have enabled you to build up the skills necessary to be a great commercial lawyer. Some of the most original and effective answers are those that demonstrate how they have developed long-lasting client relationships before and the results that they achieved for that client!
3️⃣ Focus On Them
Lastly, the law firm wants you to demonstrate why you are interested in commercial law from their point of view. This is perhaps the most difficult thing for students to realise, as the generic nature of the question would suggest it requires a fairly generic answer. However, at the end of the day, your job is to demonstrate that you are the correct fit for them and the best way to do this is to tailor the answer to them every single time.
Having said that, this question doesn’t ask you why you want to work at that particular law firm, so ensure you don’t start answering the wrong question. Keep everything focused on ‘why commercial law?’
The best way I find to do this is after demonstrating your general interest in commercial law and the career pathway it offers, highlight the ways in which their firm can help you develop as a commercial lawyer. For example, you could mention the structure of their training contract, their reputation in certain practice areas, or their ongoing learning/mentoring opportunities. By doing the correct research you can show why you want to pursue commercial law, especially at their firm!
✍️ Answering The Question: Step-By-Step
The first step is to think about your reason for pursuing commercial law. What was it that hooked you initially? Write this down on a piece of paper at the top of the page. Your job from there is to create a chain of events that led you to where you are today (i.e. sending this application to this law firm). For example, it could be that the initial hook was when you ran your own website-building business at the age of 14 and had to create a contract for new clients, and appreciated the detailed nature of the work. You then decided to get some work experience at a law firm to experience how contracts are constructed in that setting. This led you to a discover a new fascination in how businesses can save money by drafting properly written contracts and so you sought some more work experience in banking/finance. And so on until you reached this point today! This step is all about knowing where you are in the big scheme of things and ensuring the law firm you are looking at is the logical next step in your story.
The second step is to match competencies. Write down all the experiences you’ve had over the previous few years (non-law, law, paid, unpaid) and give each experience a skill/competency developed. For example, your part-time work as a bartender could demonstrate teamwork. Once you have this list, find the competencies the firm you are applying to expect and circle the relevant ones that match up. You’re going to want to include these within your answer.
Finally, follow the structure above: demonstrate your ambition for commercial law, using your story to make what you say emotionally compelling, and don’t forget to support your interest in commercial law by focusing on them.
You’re more than likely going to be asked this question at some point, whether it be on the application itself or at interview, so it’s very important you understand how to approach it properly. Students will normally approach this question in a bland and boring way, so if you can inject some personality into your answer and provide unique insights into why commercial law is right for you then you’re already on to a winner!
By the way, if you’re applying for legal jobs right now, you may like to check out my Law Application Masterclass ebook 🙂