If you're looking for a firm with a “vibrant” culture in the North East, read on…
White Muckle ride
“We want our firm to be the North East law firm of choice,” trainees at Newcastle-based Muckle told us. The firm’s dedication to the city on the Tyne is certainly strong – Muckle is a big player in the local community, getting involved in matters that go to the heart of life in the region. For example, Muckle is currently working on the building of the brilliantly named ‘Whey Aye’ on Newcastle Quayside, which is set to be Europe’s tallest observation wheel – take that ya southern softies with ya London Eye nonsense!
Despite the drizzly reputation of the North East, trainees told us Muckle’s “not a dreary place to work – we’re a colourful, vibrant firm.” Apparently in more ways than one: “We’ve got colourful feature walls and also a very open and friendly culture.” The vibrant culture led one trainee to exclaim that they “genuinely enjoy coming to work because I’ve become friends with the people I work with!”
When not being gooey about their colleagues, Muckle lawyers can be found working on matters which gain the firm top North East rankings in Chambers UK for banking and finance and corporate/M&A. The firm is also rated for employment, IP, real estate, litigation, restructuring, social housing and construction work.
Good luck, and don’t Muck it up
Trainees are assigned their first seat before they join – good for those “going in open-minded.” After that, rookies can sit down mid-seat with head of graduate recruitment Kevin Maloney. “We have regular catch-ups with Kevin where you put forward where you want to go next," one source said. "He really tries to accommodate what you ask for.” Interviewees were generally happy with their allocated seats.
Muckle's dozen-or-so corporate lawyers “generally deal with M&A and private equity investment work, but recently have been getting more involved in public work and IPOs.” Deals are usually worth a couple of million. One typical recent matter saw the firm advise LDC, the private equity arm of Lloyds Bank, on its £20 million secondary buyout of Northumberland-based transport software developer Mandata from private equity firm Synova Capital. Trainees said working with private equity investors is “really enjoyable – there’s a general kind of buzz about it.” The department also recently advised CriSeren Foods on the sale of biscuit manufacturer Northumbrian Fine Foods and Walnut Tree Foods to appropriately named French buyer Biscuit International. Trainees start out drafting board minutes and doing a lot of due diligence – “then after a couple of months you start to progress. You have a first stab at sales and purchase agreements and the other main contractual documents. You’ll also get involved in the disclosure process and disclosure meetings.” Trainees get to see all sides of a deal: “I’ve done every part of a transaction and I’ve only been here six weeks!”
"There’s a general kind of buzz about it.”
Banking and finance has around ten lawyers and helps out the corporate team by, for example, assisting on the finance aspects of the LDC and CriSeren deals mentioned above. The team “also does work independent from the corporate department for both banks and borrowers,” including refinancings, restructurings and other lending matters. It advised HSBC on a loan to a garden centre north of Newcastle (near the airport) and helped Tyne Coast College get a £3 million loan for a new marine and offshore safety training centre. Trainees here assist corporate with due diligence and ancillary documents, and get to draft loan documents for both lenders and borrowers.
Real estate is “the biggest team at Muckle in terms of people” with around 30 lawyers. It “works on all kinds of commercial property transactions, with clients from investor banks to landlords, tenants and occupiers.” We heard the department has “a defined internal structure with clear sub-teams.” Though “everyone does a bit of general real estate work,” specialist groups include development, licensing, landlord and tenant, real estate disputes and corporate support. So it’s no surprise that trainees do a wide variety of tasks – “stamp duty land tax returns, Land Registry applications, reviewing leases, property reports, drafting leases, rent deposit deeds, licences to alter, sales contracts…” The list goes on. One trainee we spoke to was also able to “run a transaction from initial client instruction through to completion.” Recently, the department helped social housing provider Home Group secure a loan and organise security from lenders HSBC, Lloyds and Bank of Tokyo. The firm also acted for Newcastle property group Metnor on the £6.5 million sale of the grade II-listed Generator Studios in Newcastle city centre to Vengrove, a London real estate investor.
A seat in the 15-lawyer dispute resolution team gives trainees the chance to work on some of “the most interesting cases in the North East!” The group works on “quite a variety of disputes: commercial, IP, breach of contract... We also dabble in defamation – there are all sorts of bits and bobs.” The team recently represented the Caribbean Premier League (a Twenty20 cricket tournament held in the Caribbean) in a multimillion-pound dispute over team expenses owed by one of the CPL’s franchisees. The group also helped engineering business NG Bailey pursue a contractor for losses caused by the failure to complete works. And the team also represented former Duran Duran guitarist Andy Taylor (who's from the North East) in a spat with other band members which happened after a copyright dispute between the band and Sony-owned publishers Gloucester Place Music. Trainees can expect to do a lot of research – “there are constantly things cropping up to look into” – as well as drafting letters of advice, attending mediations, and dealing with “smaller unpaid debt claims or contract disputes – I enjoy the strategy element of that, thinking about the tone of your letters and how to approach things carefully.”
As well as supervisors who are “all approachable,” Muckle has a recently revamped trainee mentor scheme: in each seat trainees are given a dedicated person who you can “ask all your silly questions.” Interviewees found mid-seat and end-of-seat reviews helpful and noted that “the feedback is generally positive, but people are not scared to give you areas for improvement.”
Stuck in the Muckle with you
“Muckle invests quite heavily in its culture,” trainees agreed. At the centre of Muckle's culture is the BEAM team (Be Engaged At Muckle), the internal social committee that “puts on events that make working here a bit more interesting.” These events include little office pick-me-ups such as free pancakes on Pancake Day and a tea and cake trolley every last Friday of the month. (We heard that one month the cart was kitted out with Greggs goodies!) BEAM also organises a running club and a book club, while bigger social events include “two or three Christmas parties,” a summer tennis tournament, and an art show where “people can do whatever they want – sculpture, painting, photography, and then we’ll put it all up like a gallery!” We also heard there’s “a wellbeing mentor team, encouraging people to talk about mental health more.” When it comes to diversity, trainees told us that “there’s nothing the firm puts out about diversity particularly, but our culture is very much about being welcoming and open.” There is a D&I team made up of senior lawyers, but trainees aren't involved.
“A wellbeing mentor team, encouraging people to talk about mental health more.”
Trainees in corporate rack up most hours, “generally getting in at 8.30am and trying to be out by 7pm.” Other seats have a similar start time, but trainees usually get to clock out between 5.30pm and 6pm. We heard that the firm has recently been upping its emphasis on working from home: “The firm is really starting to push it now and trying to get people working from home more and more.” This applies to trainees who are “typically expected to be in the office for supervision purposes.” Our interviewees rated their salary “competitive in the region – and considering the hours and everything the firm does for us, it’s a good deal.”
Trainees are informed of what NQ positions will be available six months before qualification. The whole NQ process is relatively stress-free. “You just have catch-ups with Kevin every few months or so to see how things are going," one trainee reported. "You can voice an opinion on where you want to qualify or what your plans are.” Retention is generally okay: in the ten years from 2009 to 2018 the firm retained 23 of its 32 qualifiers (72%). In 2019 it kept all four qualifiers, as it did in 2017.
Muckle recently released a new set of cultural values: care, responsibility, trust and teamwork. “We have posters everywhere and mouse mats that say the values on – so there’s no escape!”
How to get a Muckletrainingcontract
Training contract deadline (2022): 31 March 2020 (open 1 November 2019)
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 partner Kevin Maloney 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 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, 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 Maloney, “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 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, 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 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 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 30
- Fee earners 75 (including partners)
- Total trainees 8-10
- 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 2019
- Training contract deadline, 2022 start: 31 March 2020
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 November 2019
- Vacation scheme 2020 deadline: 31 January 2020
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £24,000
- Second-year salary: £26,000
- Post-qualification salary: £37,500
- 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
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
The firm provides the following services: corporate, banking, restructuring and insolvency, commercial, construction and engineering, real estate, employment, dispute resolution, charities and social enterprise, education and private client.
The firm recruits approximately four trainees a year. The firm is looking to recruit talented individuals who can demonstrate their enthusiasm and desire to become business advisers. Trainees must have good academic qualifications, interpersonal skills, be team players and embrace our culture and values.
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 is 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.
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 2019
Northumbria University, Newcastle University and Durham University.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2019
- Banking & Finance (Band 1)
- Construction (Band 3)
- Corporate/M&A (Band 1)
- Employment (Band 2)
- Intellectual Property (Band 2)
- Litigation (Band 2)
- Real Estate (Band 2)
North East & Yorkshire
- Social Housing (Band 2)