One of Newcastle’s top legal dogs offers trainees a full-service experience and “forward thinking” training contract.
Muckle training contract review 2022
“Muckle was the firm whose website and profile had a colourful feeling that just leapt out and spoke to me," a lyrical interviewee shared. "I can't really describe it, it was like choosing a university, or deciding where to live – it was just the right fit.” Clearly, Muckle’s marketing team is doing something right. While not everyone we spoke to had such a profound first encounter with the firm, our other interviewees were certainly not short of praise either. For example, one trainee praised Muckle as “forward-thinking: they are always keen to try new ideas, incorporate technology into working life, and have a realistic approach to agile working.” Another emphasised “the firm’s great reputation as a prominent North Eastern law firm,” adding that “we work with a range of regional, national, and international clients on complex legal matters.”
It’s a reputation consolidated by a score of prestigious Chambers UK rankings. Leading the pack are two top rankings for the firm’s corporate M&A and banking & finance teams, with further rankings covering a range of areas including IT, IP, real estate, and employment. Its regional prominence makes the firm a natural magnet for universities in the local area, with around half of its applicants being students from Newcastle and Northumbria universities. Competition for the firm’s training contract is no less fierce than in the capital, with over 200 applicants vying for just four coveted spots.
Trainees’ first seat is allocated to them before starting. From the second seat onwards, trainees have regular catch-ups with the firm’s head of graduate recruitment, Judith Birkett, to discuss preferences and make sure they satisfy SRA requirements. As is often the case, we heard that trainees in their second year are given priority, with most likely to be guaranteed their second or third seat. The firm doesn’t offer the chance to go on secondment throughout the training contract; however, we heard that there are occasional opportunities post-qualification.
“The main clients are small to medium-sized businesses, as well as start-ups in the North East.”
Sixteen lawyers make up Muckle’s corporate team, which trainees identified as “one of the departments that the firm is planning to grow.” The team handles a range of transactions including M&A, takeovers, and IPOs, as well as private equity deals. Recently, the firm advised the selling shareholders of Orchard Information Systems on the sale to a US private equity-backed consolidator, MRI Software. It also represented the shareholders of brewers Sir John Fitzgerald on the sale of the company to the Ladhar Group, and similarly advised NVM Private Equity on the successful sale of It’s All Good, a UK-based snack manufacturer, to Valeo Foods. “The main clients are small to medium-sized businesses, as well as start-ups in the North East,” our insiders explained, who were able to cut their teeth negotiating documents; drafting board minutes and indemnity letters; reviewing company house filings; and managing the data room.
Real estate is Muckle’s largest department and tackles everything from commercial and residential development to public sector work and real estate finance. There's also a newly formed agricultural and rural estates team that takes on a single trainee on an ad hoc basis. The firm has a number of banks on its books including Santander, HSBC, and NatWest that it supports locally. Recently, the team assisted MRP Land in the development of an 808-bed student accommodation campus. They also represented Connection Flooring in relation to its national acquisition of 15 leasehold sites across the country spanning Bristol, Wolverhampton, Swansea, and Norwich. Trainees described it as “a highly varied seat,” with chances to work on “big transactions supporting the corporate team,” as well as smaller matters that they could handle more independently. “You spend a lot of time dealing with Land Registry applications and drafting reports on title,” one source said, while another mentioned “working on lease negotiations” as a particular highlight of the seat.
“I was often handling commercial complaints and sending out letters before action independently."
The work on offer in Muckle’s prestigious dispute resolution team covers commercial, construction, real estate, and IP disputes, as well as professional indemnity claims. Trainees explained that “cases can vary from multimillion disputes to those that are much lower value.” The team has been particularly busy the past year advising businesses throughout the region on their rights to make a claim for losses through their business interruption policies. The firm has also recently advised Spurgeon’s College, a place in London which provides training to future Baptist ministers, on a judicial review claim of the Office for Students’ decision to refuse the college registration as a higher education provider. Muckle also has a dedicated real estate disputes team that serves as a separate seat that trainees can sit in. “I was running most of my own cases,” one source in the group explained, adding that “I was often handling commercial complaints and sending out letters before action independently.”
The banking and finance group often supports Muckle’s corporate and real estate teams on large transactions. However, it also does a lot of independent work for both banks and borrowers, including refinancings, restructurings and other lending matters. Speciality sectors include education, energy, social housing, and manufacturing. Recently, the team advised Santander on a £21 million loan to Broadband Satellite Services, a company that provides satellite solutions and offshore system services. “My day-to-day tasks include amending contracts and drafting ancillary documents,” one source explained, while another detailed being involved on the insolvency side of the work and was kept busy “drafting applications to court.”
‘Genuine’ was the word that trainees best felt encapsulated Muckle’s culture. “We have a reputation for down-to-earth people,” one trainee emphasised, while another praised the firm for “using clean, plain language rather than pointless jargon in its client relationships and marketing.” More broadly, our insiders spoke of a “broad and inclusive culture, at odds with most people’s image of a traditional law firm.” They add that “there’s a big emphasis on wellbeing and making sure you are happy.”
As an example of these principles in practice, one interviewee told us that “there is a big effort made to introduce and integrate new starters in the team through social events.” The firm’s Beam Team (Be Engaged at Muckle) arrange most of the larger social events, which in the past included trips to festive markets, summer BBQs, and table tennis tournaments. We were told that they also sent out wellbeing packs to trainees during lockdown and arranged socially distanced activities such as runs and dog walks.
“Almost everyone stays on for at least a few years."
Trainees’ happiness was no doubt further bolstered by their manageable workloads. We heard no references to multiple all-nighters or lost weekends as characterise so many of the training contracts of trainees at outfits in the capital. On the contrary, most of our interviewees were able to consistently clock off between 6pm and 7pm, with an appreciation that later nights were required when approaching deadlines. However, one interviewee reflected that “it doesn't feel like a chore when longer hours are required as my colleagues take the time to run through work and feedback with me to ensure I can continue to improve.” We were told that moving forward, trainees will be expected to be in the offices two days week, but are also encouraged to come in as much as possible to maximise on learning and development opportunities.
Approaching qualification, trainees catch up with the firm's training principal to discuss their intentions, who then matches preferences against the needs and resources of departments. “Almost everyone stays on for at least a few years,” one trainee observed, adding that “a significant chunk of the people who work here have been here for more than ten years.” Those who do fly the nest were identified to be those “without ties or family in the area.” This year, the firm kept on two of its four qualifying trainees.
And finally... Each year, the firm donates 1% of its annual profits to charitable funds.
How to get a Muckle training contract
Training contract deadline (2024): 31 March 2022 (open 1 November 2021)
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 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 30 and 40 vac scheme applicants and 30 to 40 training contract candidates 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 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 Brown, “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
Around 20 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 Brown, “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, their ability to work under pressure and other skills such as leadership, delegation, time management, commerciality and attention to detail.”
From there 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,
- Partners 35
- Associates 39
- Total trainees 10
- UK offices 1
- Graduate recruiter: Alison Appleby, 0191 211 7879
- Training partner: Judith Birkett, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 4
- Applications pa: 200
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1 or other
- Minimum A levels: 3 high grade
- Vacation scheme places pa: 20-25
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: 1 November 2021
- Training contract deadline, 2024 start: 31 March 2022
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 November 2021
- Vacation scheme 2022 deadline: 31 January 2022
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £24,500
- Second-year salary: £26,500
- Post-qualification salary: £37,500
- Holiday entitlement: 27 days
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: No
- Maintenance grant pa: No
- International and regional
- Client secondments: Occasional
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 undertakes 6 months in each of 4 seats. There are no compulsory seats. We discuss seat rotations with trainees and where possible we try to accommodate preferences but these are always be subject to business requirements.
The closing date for applications for the vacation scheme is 31st January each year. Applicants for the 2022 vac scheme need to be in a position to be able to start a training contract in September 2024. Successful candidates are selected at interview. The vacation scheme takes place in June/July each year across 4 weeks with each successful candidate undertaking one week. There are usually 20/25 applicants on the vac scheme each year. The scheme is unpaid. Trainees are recruited either via the vacation scheme or by direct application which no preference on either.
27 days holiday a year and flexible holiday option, pension, permanent health insurance after six months service, life assurance, corporate discounts and salary sacrifice schemes.
University law careers fairs 2021
University of Newcastle upon Tyne and Northumbria University.
Diversity, inclusion and wellbeing:
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 drives forward our commitment to developing and nurturing a culture of equality, diversity and inclusion at Muckle LLP. The committee is chaired by a senior partner in the firm. This policy is reviewed by the committee each year.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2021
Newcastle and surrounds
- Agriculture & Rural Affairs (Band 3)
- 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 2)
North East & Yorkshire
- Social Housing (Band 3)