Like Shearer or Keegan, Muckle's a Newcastle icon.
2017 may have seen Newcastle's football team secure promotion to the Premier League, but when it comes to the top legal teams in Newcastle, Muckle's own magpies provide some tough competition. Scoring a healthy 5.2% rise in revenue for 2015/6 (up to £12.1 million), this Geordie firm has maintained its strong position in the North East. And just like many a manager in that beautiful (well, sort of beautiful) game, Muckle makes ample use of team spirit. Yes, our interviewees were quick to draw our attention to “the team ethos running through the firm; people here are sociable and enthusiastic – we all want to get involved and work together.” A look at Muckle's website will leave you in no doubt as to the vibe this firm is looking to give off: everything from its rainbow colour scheme to its chatty tone to its pictures of lawyers clutching hobby-revealing objects points to the affable, more personal angle Muckle is coming from.
“The focus is on continuing to do what we do well.”
But don't go mistaking Muckle lawyers for a bunch of softies: they mean business, after all. Together they earn top Chambers UK marks in the North East for banking and real estate work, holding steady against regional rivals Ward Hadaway and fending off competition from large national firms like DWF. They also pick up high praise for corporate, employment, IP, restructuring and social housing work – pretty impressive considering Muckle has 67 lawyers all beavering away under just the one roof. And when it comes to the future, an 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' approach is taking centre stage, according to our interviewees: “The focus is on continuing to do what we do well – there are no signs that we'll merge or look to expand in terms of location.”
Time to Muckle down
Trainees are simply “put into the first seat” without expressing a preference. “As you progress you have mid-seat meetings with Kevin Maloney [head of graduate recruitment] and talk through how you're getting on and the kind of areas you might want to do, so you have more of a say.” It seemed to work out well, with trainees telling us that “our opinions and views are taken on board, and they are good at helping you to get experience in something you're interested in.” Seats in corporate and real estate were particularly common.
Muckle's corporate finance team covers a range of “the typical corporate stuff: share purchases, mergers, asset purchases, joint ventures, etc...” The work comes from a number of sectors, but particular strengths include motor retail, energy and pharmaceutical matters; the group recently helped County Durham-based Quantum Pharma as it looked to boost its business by way of a £15 million fund-raising from new and existing investors. Other clients include national wholesale business Kitwave, North East-based wealth manager Fairstone and the University of Newcastle. We heard that “as a trainee you're working on due diligence, drafting the ancillary documents and managing the disclosure exercise. On one deal, however, the partner came in and asked me if I wanted to have a first look at the main purchase agreement; he didn't have to involve me but he recognised it as a learning opportunity.”
In the dispute resolution team trainees can be found doing “the typical trainee tasks like preparing bundles and reviewing documents to determine which information is privileged and which can be shared.” On top of that sources reported drafting a mix of letters before claim, witness statements and claim forms, as well as attending client meetings: “Often a client will come to us and say 'we have these issues,' so we'll start to collect background information and report back on the likelihood of a claim's success.” Some also ran their own “simple, low-value files with supervision – like those tied to unpaid fees, for example.” Matter values can soar into the millions though, with the team recently acting for the Caribbean Premier League – which hosts an annual cricket tournament – as it pursued a £2.5 million contract claim against a franchisee. Sport is a strong sector for the team, which has worked for Sunderland AFC, but it's also well known for its IP work. Of late the group also represented a member of Duran Duran during a claim concerning US copyright law and its applicability to English music publishing agreements.
“We'll start to collect background information and report back.”
Real estate encompasses finance, portfolio management, and residential and commercial development work. “You do run files as a trainee – often for landlord and tenant matters, so it's things like new licences or lease renewals.” This involved plenty of client contact and a file-load of around 20 at one time, but “not everything happens at once; it's quite slow. Some files I've not worked on for three weeks.” Away from managing these files, there were “bigger projects where you do due diligence and reports on title for our development work. On the finance side you're also carrying out DD for the purpose of reporting findings to the banks that might be investing.” The department's recent work for Belfast-headquartered construction company McAleer & Rushe Group is a good example of those bigger projects: it involved advising on the £100 million (plus) Newgate Centre Redevelopment, which will replace a former shopping centre in Newcastle city centre with a hotel and student accommodation.
A split seat covering both commercial and employment, sports, education and charities work is also up for grabs. The employment side sees trainees attending tribunals and drafting the likes of company handbooks. “You also man the helpline, where clients ring up with random queries.” Trainees take charge of responding: “People are good at asking you to draft response emails – nobody is precious about it. They're happy for it to come from you and they let you take credit where you've done the work.” The Newcastle Building Society; the publishing arm of Swedish media group Bonnier; and sweet dream-enablers Silentnight can all be found on the employment client roster. The commercial team handles “a wide variety of things: data protection, T&Cs for those developing apps, general website compliance, trademark applications and more!” Trainees found there was “a lot of bespoke drafting, which is really hard at first, but it brings on your drafting skills so much.”
BEAM me up
This trainee echoed the general view on supervision: “All of the partners I've worked with have been supportive and approachable. Before I start a piece of work, they will go through the background and the context. They also sit down with me afterwards and run through their comments.” Sources also found that they'd built good relationships with other fee earners during their seats, boding well for formal reviews: “Whether it's constructive or positive you will have heard it already as the whole team feeds into those appraisals.”
So just how chummy are things at Muckle? “Everything is open plan – nobody has an office, including the managing partner. The culture is one where you can walk up to anyone and they'll make time for you. Overall the firm puts a lot of time and effort into getting the atmosphere right.” So a bit of firm fun is never far away. The BEAM (Be Engaged At Muckle) team shoulder some of this responsibility; as well as organising multiple social events they provide “random little perks: there were cupcakes on everyone's desk one day and on Pancake Day there was a van outside with free pancakes.” The social calendar includes a Christmas party, and a quiz night entirely organised by trainees: “We got given a budget and nobody asked what we were going to do with it!”
“Everyone still works hard and wants to be the best,” but a more reasonable hours-expectation guides these efforts: “I tend to get in around 8.30am and generally leave at 6pm. We don't work late unless we absolutely have to.” Trainees had encountered spells where they left around 9pm, but, in true Muckle fashion “they will try to get you out of the door early over the following days.” That wasn't the case come qualification. The retention process was “stress-free and happened early. The jobs were just there for us.” The firm kept on all four qualifiers in 2017.
The firm recently aided in the effort to get Parkour recognised as a sport. Par for the kours.
How to get a Muckle training contract
Vacation scheme deadline: 31 January 2018 (open 1 November 2017)
Training contract deadline: 31 March 2018 (open 1 November 2017)
Muckle receives a roughly equal number of vacation scheme and direct training contract applications. In total, between 200 and 230 candidates apply for the four trainee spots on offer. The same form is used for both routes.
“The application form is crucial, so we look at it very closely,” graduate recruitment head and partner Kevin Maloney tells us. “We look for people's personality and attitude coming through, and how they come across as an individual. We also want to see a genuine motivation to want to work at Muckle.”
Prior work experience is a plus, though it doesn't necessarily have to be legal. “We always tell candidates that any work experience you've got is relevant, especially if it demonstrates client service and other transferable skills,” says Maloney.
Between 30 and 35 vac scheme applicants and 30 to 35 training contract candidates are invited for an interview, which takes place with two members of the graduate recruitment team. Maloney assures us that the 45-minute ordeal is “generally quite relaxed: we ask lots of questions but it's not an interrogation! We're interested in getting to know them better, in getting a picture in our head of what they're really like and whether they'll fit in at the firm.” Successful vac scheme applicants then progress to the scheme while direct candidates go straight to the assessment day.
The vacation scheme
Around 20 to 25 vacation scheme slots are available each year, split over four week-long stints at the end of June and the beginning of July. Those who make it onto the vac scheme kick off their week with an induction hosted by people from different parts of the business. From there they receive work from several practice areas. “It's flexible,” says Maloney, telling us: “We try to make it like they're a trainee for a week. The work is very hands-on, and there are no assessments.” One trainee who'd completed a scheme with Muckle said: “It was great to do stuff the fee earners actually needed doing – it made my time feel more realistic.”
The assessment day
Between 20 and 25 applicants are invited to an assessment day. This starts with a lunch with the trainees which leads into an afternoon of group exercises. “We don't have any critical thinking assessments or psychometric testing,” elaborates Maloney. “Instead we emphasise role-play scenarios, where candidates are split into teams and given a group exercise. There's nothing they can do to prepare; it's about seeing their collaborative and interpersonal skills, and their ability to work under pressure.”
From there, approximately eight to ten candidates are invited back for a final interview, which takes place with Maloney and managing partner Jason Wainwright. At this point “what we're really looking for is a cultural fit,” says Maloney. “Can we see them working at Muckle? Have they demonstrated they understand what we're about? Some questions revolve around the candidate's personality, – how they think and approach things – and the firm’s strategy.”
The Newcastle legal market
Time Central, 32 Gallowgate,
Newcastle upon Tyne,
- Partners 30
- Fee earners 75 (including partners)
- Total trainees 9
- UK offices Newcastle
- Graduate recruiter: Alison Appleby, 0191 211 7879
- Training partner: Kevin Maloney, [email protected]
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 4
- Applications pa: 180
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum A levels: 3 high grade
- Vacation scheme places pa: 20-25
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 November 2017
- Training contract deadline, 2020 start: Saturday 31 March 2018
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 November 2017
- Vacation scheme 2018 deadline: Wednesday 31 January 2018
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £23,000
- Second-year salary: £25,000
- Post-qualification salary: £36,000
- Holiday entitlement: 27 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grant pa: No
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Newcastle
- Client secondments: Occasional
Main areas of work
The firm runs an excellent training programme that focuses on the trainees’ legal, IT, management and business development skills. During your training contract you may experience training within the following areas: corporate finance, commercial, real estate, employment, dispute resolution, construction engineering, sports, education and charities, banking and restructuring.
Training involves on-the-job experience, partner and other lawyer mentoring as well as in-house and external training. Trainees are encouraged to participate in all aspects of the firm which include engagement, community and ‘green’ teams.