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Denis Viskovich

Founder and Chief Judge, BIUCAC

Commercial awareness

Opinion
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Commercial awareness

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Denis Viskovich explains how he’s levelling the playing field to make it fair for all students seeking to join commercial firms

Since leaving the world of corporate law and investment banking three years ago, I’ve been a visiting lecturer at three non-Russell Group universities teaching commercial awareness to law students. The three law schools I have been involved with understand that providing commercial awareness to students is vitally important.

However, some non-Russell Group law schools fail to recognise the importance of commercial awareness and provide no teaching or insights into developing this skill. City and commercial law firms tend to recruit students from Russell Group universities as they receive 82 per cent of training contracts.

The lack of commercial awareness training puts many non-Russell group law students at a disadvantage; yet I have been extremely impressed with the talent, hard work and commercial focus shown by the students I have taught at the three law schools. By not giving them any commercial awareness skills, some non-Russell Group law schools are impeding the chances of their students succeeding in the interview process at City and commercial law firms.

I’ve had many law students bitterly complain that they fail in those interviews because they have not been given any guidance or teaching on commercial awareness or business acumen. One student angrily told me: “When I asked a senior law school lecturer for some guidance on how I should go about obtaining more commercial awareness, she disparagingly told me that I should just read the business section of the BBC now and again.”

There seems to be either a complete lack of knowledge at senior level of the critical importance of teaching their students some commercial awareness and business acumen skills – or an unwillingness to actually do something about it. So late last year I decided to do something about the situation and founded the British Inter University Commercial Awareness Competition (BIUCAC 2020).

It was established to make a positive change by providing opportunities for students to develop commercial awareness; and aims to highlight the overlooked talent at non-Russell Group Law Schools by levelling out the playing field. Along with nine students from Essex University law school, I am running a non-profit, student-led competition to promote opportunities for students studying at non-Russell Group universities to enter the commercial law sphere.

BUICAC 2020 will take place in October and November this year. Law societies from 24 non-Russell Group universities are going to participate in the competition and it is anticipated that there will be between 1,500 and 2,000 law students competing in round one.

The two key aims of the competition are to shine a torch on the huge talent at non-Russell Group law schools; and to try to help promote a level playing field for all law students who want to obtain training contracts at City or commercial law firms. The playing field remains so unfair in modern Britain in 2020 and that cannot be right. It must be changed.

Most law firms I spoke to about the competition when seeking sponsorship were extremely enthusiastic about supporting the aims of the competition. I have received sponsorship from 12 of the leading City and commercial law firms in the UK, including Fieldfisher, BCLP, Simmons & Simmons and White & Case who are providing some fantastic prizes for some of the 12 competition winners including a vacation scheme and work experience.

I would strongly encourage more City and commercial law firms to become involved with the competition for 2021. The competition will become larger and enable more students from non-Russell group universities to showcase their commercial awareness directly to the commercial firms in the final round.  

Denis Viskovich is the founder of BUICAC. He is a former City lawyer and visiting lecturer at the University of Essex law school biucac.com