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Meet the recruiter

Ellie Ballinger

Ellie Ballinger

Ellie Ballinger (she/her) is the trainee recruitment executive at Slaughter and May. She is based in the London office and has been at the firm for nearly two and a half years. 

Does your firm run a vacation scheme?

We run a number of opportunities for students and graduates to learn more about our firm and a career in commercial law.

I am currently planning the winter workshop which takes place across three days in December. This involves a mixture of presentations, interactive sessions and panel events. The 2021 workshop will be virtual and is for finalists and graduates.

The spring scheme is new this year and for first-year law students only. We hope to be able to run this in person. This scheme is designed to help first-year students work out whether they want to pursue a career in commercial law and to develop skills that will help them to achieve this goal.

We also have our usual summer work experience scheme (for penultimate-year students) and our open days (for first-year students). We are planning to run these in person in 2022.

Finally, we have our virtual insight programme (on the Forage platform) which is open to everyone and can be completed whenever.

How important is your vacation scheme as part of the recruitment process?

A large proportion of our summer scheme students will secure a training contract with us, but they must still apply and be interviewed at the end of the scheme. We don’t assess people during the schemes as we want the students to learn as much as possible about our firm and a career in commercial law without having to worry about being watched.  

We have a large trainee intake (around 85 per year) so still have plenty of room for direct training contract applicants as well. We don’t require applicants to have completed a formal work experience scheme with us or any other firm in order to be considered for a training contract position.

What is your favourite part of working at Slaughter and May?

I really like the way the firm approaches recruitment. It’s quite a straight-forward and personal process. Applicants submit a CV, cover letter and complete an online form.  

There aren’t a million stages to the process – for example, we don’t have situational judgement tests or video interviews – which is a reflection of Slaughter and May’s more personal approach to the recruitment process.

I also think the firm’s culture is great – I would describe it as friendly but not ‘fluffy’. Everyone is incredibly nice and reasonable, works hard and is focused on doing a good job. There isn’t a competitive feeling though – everyone works together to get the job done.

What key skills does your firm look for in candidates when they apply?

Excellent analytical ability makes up a big part of the key skills we look for in candidates. It’s also important for them to be able to think on their feet and persuasively discuss their ideas and arguments.

We want candidates to demonstrate that they would work well in a team because Slaughter and May has a very collaborative culture. There is no room for competitive personalities. Interpersonal skills are essential – we want to feel confident that we can put our lawyers in front of our clients. This is incredibly important because the clients are essentially our business.

In terms of attitude, we look for resilience, drive and a sense of humour. 

How is the firm adopting the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE)?

Our first intake going through the SQE route to qualification will be in September 2023.

We will be putting our future trainees through the City Consortium Solicitor Training Programme (CCP). Slaughter and May has worked with several other City consortium firms to develop the CCP, alongside BPP University, which is designed to get candidates prepared for SQE1 and SQE2. 

After completing SQE1 preparation, candidates will sit the SQE1 exams. This will be followed by the Plus Programme, similar to the Legal Practice Course electives and aims to enhance our future trainees’ knowledge regarding what we do and to prepare them for their training contract with us.

Students will then complete their SQE2 preparation before taking their SQE2 exams, followed by their training contract (ie, two years’ qualifying work experience, or QWE).

We will still require non-law students to study the Postgraduate Diploma in Law at BPP University to ensure that they have the foundational legal knowledge before they begin their SQE prep. 

Should candidates use examples of non-legal work experience in their applications?

Yes, definitely! While legal work experience is a good way to demonstrate your interest in a career in commercial law, any type of work experience helps students to develop transferrable skills, which they can then apply to a career in commercial law. Candidates shouldn’t discount their job at Tesco because they don’t think it’s relevant to a legal career – we want to know about all your experiences.

How important is it for candidates to show they have researched the firm? What key things about your firm should any good candidate be able to talk about?

This is an extremely important part of the process in creating a successful application. Slaughter and May has several characteristics which make it unique, including:

  • our multi-specialist approach;
  • lack of target billable hours;
  • international network of relationship firms; and
  • organic growth.

Candidates should understand why we manage our practice in this way and how this might affect our lawyers. We aren’t expecting candidates to be experts on the firm but knowing what we do and why we do it is very important. 

How important is commercial awareness and how can candidates show they have this skill throughout the recruitment process?

Candidates must show that they have an interest in the commercial world because they will be working with businesses as a commercial lawyer. Candidates can demonstrate their commercial awareness in their cover letter by talking about a deal they found interesting and why that was.

At interview stage, candidates are given a news article 20 minutes prior to the interview and are required to discuss this article with the partners during the interview. Having a general awareness of what is going on in the world and how businesses work is important to demonstrate during the interview.

How did the firm adapt to covid-19?

In terms of trainee recruitment, we were pleased with how quickly we were able to adapt our activities once it became obvious that in-person events wouldn’t be an option for some time. We ran all our interviews and programmes virtually and received positive feedback from candidates about their experiences with the firm. In a more general sense, the firm was great at sending weekly update emails, and Microsoft Teams was introduced very quickly around the start of the pandemic, which made a massive difference to our interactions – this definitely helped everyone to feel connected.

As awful as the pandemic was, it has been a great driver for change. The firm launched its new way of working which enables most employees to work from home 40% of the working month (20% for trainees who mainly learn by osmosis) and also introduced a more relaxed dress code which everyone welcomed. As restrictions have eased, I’ve enjoyed being back in the office and seeing people in person again.

What advice would you give to anyone interested in a career at your firm?

Study hard – because of our multi-specialist approach, candidates must demonstrate that they can pick things up quickly and have intellectual agility.

It’s also important for them to be themselves. We hire people not robots. We want to see what candidates are like as people; we want a diverse mix of lawyers working at Slaughter and May because this allows for diversity of thought. 

What's your guilty pleasure?

I am slightly obsessed with true crime. I’ve watched all the true crime documentaries on Netflix and I also listen to the ‘My Favorite Murder’ podcast on repeat.