A staple of the Northeast known for cutting-edge practices and a focus on the wellbeing of its people, Muckle isn’t Mucking around.
Muckle training contract review 2024
Along with other legal hubs outside of London, the legal industry in the city is ever evolving: “A lot of firms that were based on the quayside are making their way up here to central Newcastle,” one trainee told us. The firm’s status as a trendsetter when it comes to offices in the North East runs deeper than just location too, with modern, open plan features and a reception and business lounge. “It’s a bright space that reflects the personality of the firm,” one trainee was quick to point out. So, how does a stylish, city centre location translate when it comes to the environment Muckle has created for its trainees? Well, whether it’s the “pancakes on pancake day, Easter eggs, or monthly tea-trolley day,” pretty well. But morale-boosting snacks aren’t everything, and as head of recruitment Judith Birkett informs us, the firm has put plenty of resources into “creating a supportive culture. Everyone recognises that working in law can be a stressful job and it is important that the firm operates in a way that makes trainees feel that they can seek help.”
Our sources made it clear that the firm’s deep ties to the North East were a big draw, and it’s clear from the off that it’s difficult to find a more recognisable name in Newcastle. Muckle draws in the sorts of Chambers rankings that you would expect for its work in the North East too, with top-tier practices in corporate/M&A and banking & finance in the region, alongside strong acknowledgements in litigation, real estate, employment, IP, information technology and agriculture & rural affairs.
“You can tell people love it just by looking at how long they stay.”
As Birkett explains, Muckle’s investment in its people has seen the firm open a Cumbrian hub in 2022: “It’s not a separate office, but we have invested in a space in Cumbria to allow fee earners who live in Cumbria to have somewhere where they can go to work and occasionally meet their clients.” The hub can be found on the Edenhall estate, on the doorstep of the Lake District and a stone's throw from a working dairy farm (we’re feeling zen just thinking about it). It might also go some way to provide a bit of context for one comment we came across: “You can tell people love it just by looking at how long they stay.”
Trainees at the firm don’t typically get a say over their first seat, which is allocated to them based on business need, but “after the first, you have conversations about where you want to be and they try and make it happen.” The variety on offer was a big selling point at the firm, with seats on offer that you won’t find at many firms elsewhere. As one trainee put it: “The bigger teams like real estate and corporate are quite popular, but sports, education and charities are in demand too just because they are so niche.” There are also options in areas like agriculture and rural estates if you’re swung by the call of rural Cumbria.
As one of the firm’s Chambers-ranked big hitters in the North East, a seat in corporate is one which plenty of the firm's current cohort were keen on. The corporate practice at Muckle involves everything you might expect for a firm of its standing, covering work in M&A, share sales and purchases, private equity investments, management buyouts, general company reorganisation and advice. There’s plenty of overlap with the firm’s other departments as well, particularly with teams like IT, IP, sports and education. “I didn’t feel like I was doing menial work,” one source who had spent time in the department was quick to highlight, “I was running small files with the supervision of partners. The firm sees trainees as valuable because we are the next solicitors.” Typical trainee tasks in the seat included drafting ancillary documents, attending client meetings and taking file notes in addition to reviewing disclosure letters and general due diligence. In one recent deal, the firm helped cybersecurity provider Aspire Technology Solutions (Aspire) secure £85m in investment from Five Arrows and Clydesdale Bank.
The broad real estate department at Muckle is split into sub-teams in corporate real estate and development, where trainees are assigned to one of the two, but can expect plenty of crossover. The corporate support work covers elements of standard corporate deals with a real estate component, whereas the development side involves more run-of-the-mill lease work in the buying and selling of properties, stamp duty land tax, and updating the land registry. In one recent matter, the firm advised McAleer & Rushe on the funding of a new £32million Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) scheme in Belfast. For trainees in the seat, the bread and butter is the small day-to-day components of large transactions, which provided the ideal balance between exposure and support: “I didn’t feel like I was thrown in the deep end, but I was given a level of trust and allowed to see things through from start to finish.”
Lawyers in Muckle’s disputes practice each operate under a specific area of expertise, from commercial, construction, music and media to real estate, intellectual property and technology disputes. On the intellectual property side, the firm advised the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) - one of three major international T20 cricket tournaments – on various matters concerning the unauthorised use of CPL’s name and registered trade marks. The good news is that trainees in the seat will likely touch on a bit of everything, which means the “full spectrum of disputes-related tasks,” including “doc review, disclosures, drafting applications and letters of claims, and communicating with clients.” Like a lot of litigious seats, trainees who had spent time in disputes spoke about workload coming in “peaks and troughs,” but not all the cases wind up in court: “Half the time we are drafting letters to the other side trying to get them to pay what they owe, trying to settle matters without them reaching the court.”
On the banking & finance side of things, Muckle acts for both lenders and borrowers “on a range of different funding transactions. From development finance and real estate finance to acquisition finance,” one source told us. While the firm’s client list includes a host of big-name banking clients, like Santander, HSBC and the National Westminster Bank, the firm provides services to a breadth of financial services clients including private equity houses, funds and alternative funders. Since the department also deals with different companies’ loan arrangements, trainees also got to dip into some insolvency work, alongside tasks such as drafting security and ancillary documents. In one recent deal, the firm advised The Lakes Distillery Company on a refinance with Beechbrook Capital.
The culture at Muckle is something the firm takes a great deal of pride in, and it was something trainees were in a hurry to get across: “We are not just stuffy lawyers in an office. We try to take creative approaches to working with our clients, and this is reflected in our relationship with them. If our clients dress casually, we won’t be suited and booted either!” This extends to the way the firm’s legal professionals relate to each other too, with football, touch rugby and netball teams, “along with community-based volunteering if you don’t like sport!”
For Birkett, this is part of a deliberate shift towards providing for the health and wellbeing of the firm’s staff: “Providing these clubs helps with the emotional and physical health of our people. We also have a trained team of mental well-being advocates who are there to support our colleagues.” And the numbers don’t lie: a whopping 100% of survey respondents indicated that the firm was proactive in addressing the mental health of trainees.
"My supervisor is one of the busiest people in the firm, but I never feel like I am putting her out of her way."
“I see and speak to my supervisor every day. As a partner, she is one of the busiest people in the firm, but I never feel like I am putting her out of her way,” one trainee told us. Formally, there is a mid-seat and end-of-seat check-in but trainees can reach out at any point. “In the corporate team there is a monthly session, where partners sit and answer any questions that we have,” one trainee explained, and the best bit was that this included any “we felt were stupid or any we were too scared to ask the partners.” Monthly ‘lunch and learns’ hosted by the firm introduce trainees to some of the smaller teams and “explain how they benefit the whole firm.” Trainees can also jump on a professional skills course at Northumbria university, if that wasn’t already enough!
The firm’s approach to hybrid working doesn’t include a set mandate, but “trainees are encouraged to come into the office as much as possible.” Yet as Birkett is quick to clarify: “This isn’t because we don’t trust trainees to work from home, but because we firmly believe that a lot of learning is done by osmosis (and this was very much reinforced by the pandemic).” The time spent in the office didn’t come at the cost of a healthy work-life balance either, with most trainees working a typical 9-5pm: “I have never been pushed to work at the weekends.”
Come qualification time, trainees speak to the heads of the teams they are interested in over a cup of coffee in what they described as a relatively “informal process.” Trainees at the firm explained that the firm only conducts interviews if there is some competition. FYI – if you have paralegal experience, you might be eligible to qualify early. In 2023, the firm retained four of five qualifiers.
As trainees were quick to highlight, Muckle was one of “the first North East firms to join NESA (North East Solicitor Apprenticeship Programme) which creates a pathway into law for people who didn’t go to university.”
How to get a Muckle training contract
Training contract deadline (2026): 27th January 2024
Applications: Around 120
“The application form is crucial, so we look at it very closely,” graduate recruitment lead Stephanie Brown tells us. “We look for people's personality and attitude coming through, and their cultural fit. We also want to see a genuine motivation to want to work at Muckle.” All work experience whether paid, voluntary, or legal is relevant. “We always tell candidates that any work experience you've got is relevant, especially if it demonstrates client service and other transferable skills,” says Brown.
Between 40-50 vac scheme applicants are invited for an interview, which takes place with two members of the graduate recruitment team. Brown 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, getting them to demonstrate their transferable skills and whether they'll fit in at the firm.” Successful vac scheme applicants then progress to the scheme.
The vacation scheme
Muckle has scrapped the “direct applicant” route and now requires all training contract applicants to come through their vacation scheme, either on a two-day scheme or a five-day scheme (with the two-day condensed scheme being prioritised for those in full-time employment). “We think getting applicants into the firm for at least a couple of days is the best way to assess their fit with the firm (and for them to experience what we’re about too)” explains Brown.
Around 25 vacation scheme slots are available each year, split over five weeks with two two-day schemes and three five-day schemes at the end of May and throughout June. 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 Brown, “we try to make it like they're a trainee for the time they’re here. The work is very hands-on, and there are no written 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.”
A new introduction to the vacation scheme is a lunch-time speed interview and networking session with directors and partners from across the firm. Brown says: “There's nothing they can do to prepare; the questions are aimed at getting to know the applicants better and we really just want to see how they deal with the occasion and expose them to people in the firm they may not otherwise have had the opportunity to speak to. So far we’ve had great feedback on it both internally and from the applicants who’ve taken part.”
The final interview
From the vacation scheme approximately eight to ten candidates are invited back for a final interview, which takes place with Brown and managing partner Jason Wainwright. At this point “what we're really looking for is a cultural fit,” says Brown. “Can we see them working at Muckle? Have they demonstrated they understand Muckle and our ethos?” The final interview questions range from those about the candidate’s reasons for choosing Muckle, the firm’s strategy and current challenges and issues.
Time Central, 32 Gallowgate,
Newcastle upon Tyne,
Muckle LLP is a leading commercial law firm in the North East of England. The firm has an excellent client base of successful private and public companies, property investors and developers, financial institutions and public sector and educational organisations, which recognise that its innovative commercial skills are a major benefit in enhancing its service delivery to them.
Main areas of work
Corporate; banking; restructuring and insolvency; commercial; construction and engineering; real estate; real estate dispute resolution; employment; dispute resolution; charities, sports and education; private client and agriculture, estates and rural property.
Each trainee spends 6 months in a seat and rotates to 4 seats in total. There are no compulsory seats. We discuss seat rotations with trainees and where possible, we try to accommodate preferences but these are always subject to business requirements.
The closing date for applications for the vacation scheme is 31st January each year. Applicants for the 2024 vacation scheme need to be in a position to be able to start a training contract in September 2026. Successful candidates are selected at the interview stage. The vacation scheme takes place in June each year across a 4 week period, with each successful candidate undertaking one week. There are usually 20/25 applicants on the vacation scheme each year. The scheme is unpaid.
27 days holiday a year (plus additional days for long service) and flexible holiday option, 2 wellbeing days, 14 paid community hours, pension, permanent health insurance after six months service, life assurance, corporate discounts and salary sacrifice schemes.
University law careers fairs 2023
Muckle LLP is committed to eliminating discrimination and promoting equality, diversity and inclusion in its own policies, practices and procedures and in those areas in which it has influence. This applies to the firm’s professional dealings with employees, partners and other solicitors, barristers, clients, business partners and other third parties.
The firm intends to treat everyone equally and with the same attention, courtesy and respect, regardless of their protected characteristics as defined by the Equality Act 2010. The diversity of our people is key to our success and we do our best to promote the values of equality, diversity and inclusion in all that we do.
The firm's equality, diversity and inclusion committee is chaired by a senior partner and drives forward our commitment to developing and nurturing an inclusive and supportive culture Muckle LLP. The policy is reviewed by the committee each year.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2023
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 2)
- Banking & Finance (Band 1)
- Construction (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
- Employment (Band 2)
- Information Technology (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
- Litigation (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 1)
North East & Yorkshire
- Social Housing (Band 3)
More from Muckle:
Follow the firm on Twitter @MuckleLLP