Like Newcastle? Interested in commercial law? Give Muckle a gander.
Go onto Muckle's website and click on its 'people' tab. Eschewing the cautious industry norm of glass towers, crisp suits and Danish furniture, the firm puts forward a gang of chirpy lawyers brandishing rolling pins, rugby balls, hockey sticks and various items of sportswear. Either this group has been snapped in the changing rooms between their PE and Food Tech classes, or more likely, they want the world to know they're not just lawyers – they have a thing we refer to as 'personality' – and they'll deliver this message with a rolling pin if they have to.
"Has the backs of the people it takes on."
Muckle's trainees were on board: “We are still a business but Muckle puts a lot of effort into making sure people are happy, which suits me quite well.”Interviewees felt this is a firm that “really has the backs of the people it takes on. At other firms you get the impression they overstock the cupboard and get rid of the weak ones later.” So what does Muckle offer? Well, say trainees, this 70-lawyer firm's “not a small high-street firm but neither is it a global entity where you become a number.” The practice is mostly commercial with some work for educational institutions and housing associations thrown into the mix.
Trainees were attracted to Muckle's good local reputation in Newcastle and its mix of local and nationally known clients. The firm nabs regional rankings for its banking, construction, corporate, employment, IP, litigation, real estate, social housing and restructuring work in Chambers UK.
Tyne and again
New trainees are assigned their first seat before they join. After that, rookies can express their preferences for the next rotation at mid-seat reviews with head of graduate recruitment Kevin Maloney. We heard that “the closer you get to qualification the more your preferences count.” Sources were happy, they said, as “most trainees just see each seat as an opportunity to get on with the job.”
Muckle's 15 corporate lawyers advise clients ranging from mid-market private equity firm LDC and wealth manager Fairstone to Südzucker (one of Germany’s largest sugar producers) and the Port of Tyne. Recently the firm advised medicine maker Quantum Pharma during its £150 million acquisition by rival Clinigen and acted for oil and gas private equity firm Blue Water Energy on the £60 million purchase of a North Shields insulation manufacturer. Those are two of the biggest deals the firm's worked on recently – other matters tend to range in the area of a couple of million. Trainees “start out drafting basic ancillary documents, but the more understanding you gain the more responsibility you are given.” Over time that means “the chance to draft key documents such as the sale and purchase agreement,” along with running your own client meetings. One interviewee reflected that there was still plenty of due diligence to do, and “a lot of the post-completion stuff is quite dull. Preparing bibles of documents is not that enjoyable.”
The 27-lawyer real estate team recently acted for construction contractor McAleer & Rushe on £32.7 million of funding for the development of a 250-bed student accommodation complex. It also helped the Home Group, one of the UK's biggest housing associations, on £150 million of funding for 3,000 new homes. Trainees said they “really, really enjoyed” their time in the team. Days are taken up by “a lot of drafting and client meetings” while “working on anywhere between 20 and 30 files. At first you think 'I am never going to be able to do that', but you do get the hang of it.”
Hungry like the client
Trainees can do a split seat covering commercial and employment, though in practice tend to lean more towards either one or the other. The eight-lawyer employment team mostly does corporate support work, recently advising the HR management teams of South Tyneside College and Tyne Metropolitan College during their merger. Trainees get stuck into drafting employment contracts, and when litigation crops up "you may be liaising with Acas, drafting the settlement, and having calls with clients." Also, expect the unexpected: "Some companies pay annually for employment assistance, so you will get random calls from HR managers with a query, for instance about somebody who has had too much sickness absence."
“Research tasks which have been given to you because nobody knows the answer."
With its 16 lawyers, the commercial team handles “different strands of work such as charities law, company law, government work and IP.” To illustrate the variety: the team recently advised on contracting and compliance for a conveyancing website and also acted for Andy Taylor, former guitarist with 1980s pop legends Duran Duran, in IP litigation against his former band mates. Sources said there is “a lot of freehand drafting – sitting down with a blank piece of paper is great!” Rookies also do “research tasks which have been given to you because nobody knows the answer – that's a bit painful.”
A seat in banking sees trainees “drafting or reviewing loan agreements, preparing correspondence with clients and drafting deeds of priority.” Clients include HSBC, Lloyds and Clydesdale, and two lawyers on the 11-strong team recently advised the last of these on organising the funding for the management buyout of DP Connect, a tech recruitment company. Meanwhile the five-person litigation-focused restructuring team acts for big accountants like KPMG and PwC, as well as local Newcastle bean counters Tait Walker. Trainees “draft witness statements and pop to court for filings.”
During our interviews, one thing that became clear is that Muckle's trainees are a happy lot. How does the firm achieve this? First, “it's the little things. At Monday meetings we don't always have enough chairs for everybody, but no one is expected to give up a seat for a partner.” Second, it's not being ruled by the bottom line; one source explained: “Profits were down last year but we got a salary and pension increase and two days' extra holiday.” Third, there are the efforts of the BEAM team (Being Engaged At Muckle): throughout the year it organises things like hiring a crepe van on Shrove Tuesday and delivering chocolate eggs to staff at Easter. It's also common to get “an email from the team saying: 'You can finish at four today! Come to the bar across the road!' You will also often find people on Friday seeing if anybody wants to go out.” Muckle also likes to do its bit for the local community by getting involved with events such as “a Christmas concert at the local church across the road where we sing hymns and the partners serve the food.” Finally, newbies get quite a bit of support with their work, as all have a PA to alleviate the more tedious bits of the job. “The firm tries to emphasise you should not be doing admin. If a PA sees you doing administrative work they will come over and say: 'Can I help out?'”
"You will find people on Friday seeing if anybody wants to go out.”
The hours trainees reported working at Muckle were surprisingly long for such a relatively small firm. Corporate has the most variable schedule with “8.30am to 6pm or 7pm being a good day, and a bad day meaning staying till any time after 10pm or 11pm.” We even heard of a few occasions where trainees arrived at 7am and left at 2am the following morning. Real estate is “constantly busy and you're looking at 12 to 13-hour days.” Banking and commercial have less demanding hours with trainees regularly leaving at 5pm or 6pm and a late night meaning “maybe 9pm.” Feelings about the hours were mixed. One source said: “I've never not been able to attend a social event because of my working hours,” while another felt: “It's hard to plan things in the evenings. Essentially it's a case of organising your time but it can be difficult.”
When it comes to qualification, trainees are informed of what positions will be available six months before qualification. Unless positions are contested, candidates have an “official chat with the partners and that's that. No CVs and no difficult interview questions.” Trainees liked that the process “happens very early so it's around February that you hear who's got an NQ role.” In 2018 the firm did not retain its single qualifier.
Muckle is currently testing an agile working policy for qualified solicitors, with a view to rolling it out for trainees too.
How to get a Muckle training contract
Training contract deadline: 31 March 2019 (open 1 November 2018)
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 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
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, their ability to work under pressure and other skills such as leadership, delegation, time management 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.
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 2018
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: 31 March 2019
- Vacation scheme applications open: 1 November 2018
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 31 January 2019
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £24,000
- Second-year salary: £26,000
- Post-qualification salary: £37,000
- 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 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.
University law careers fairs 2018
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
- 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)
- Restructuring/Insolvency (Band 2)
North East & Yorkshire
- Social Housing (Band 2)