It is interesting to hear a managing partner of a law firm play down elements of its legal services but for Jason Wainwright of Muckle, which specialises in legal services for businesses and organisations, the firm’s award-winning legal advice is part of a much bigger picture.
“I know this may seem strange to some but I don’t want us to be necessarily seen as just a law firm. In a way, the less clients see us as a law firm, the better job I think we are doing,” he says. “In reality, we’re a business for business that provides more than legal advice. We provide business support to our clients with exemplary client service ensuring repeat business.”
Jason also has strong views when reflecting on the changing nature of the legal profession.
“Nowadays, people don’t automatically respect or value lawyers and the advice they provide like they used to,” he points out.
“Instead, it has to be earned. It isn’t usually earned as a result of superior legal knowledge or skills but rather as a result of the quality of service and relationships with clients, and delivering that service at value-for-money rates.
“With the growth of technology, people are more knowledgeable and streetwise about how law works and are no longer willing to pay £200-£250 per hour for relatively simple tasks. Similar to other sectors, most clients now ring around firms for quotes and want transparency around what something will cost and why. It astounds me how many law firms refuse to acknowledge this and hang on to the old days.
“People are no longer intimidated by law firms and demand a welcoming and responsive relationship, good customer service and value for money.”
By recognising and embracing these changes, Jason is on a mission to ensure that Muckle continues to adapt and remain the leading and most approachable, friendly, transparent and trustworthy firm in the region.
Jason joined Muckle in 2005 from Arriva in Sunderland, where he was an in-house lawyer for the transport company. This experience as the client helped him see the other side of the lawyer-client relationship and how it should and should not be handled.
Originally from Staffordshire, Jason played down his intelligence at his comprehensive school because it wasn’t seen as “cool”. He gained a place at Sheffield University to study languages, making him the first in his extended family to stay in post-16 education.
After graduating, Jason did a conversion course in law and trained and worked in Walsall and Sheffield before moving to Wearside.
He joined Newcastle-based Muckle, which had grown from a high street law firm into a major name specialising in corporate law, as partner, 11 years ago.
In 2007, Stephen McNicol became managing partner at the firm and set about changing the overall culture of the business with Jason’s whole-hearted support.
“We recognised that happy workers provided a better service, so we brought in more flexible working, a more relaxed dress code, and more social and community-based initiatives for staff,” Jason explains.
Other changes included creating a modern business lounge area (designed by Ryder Architecture) at Muckle’s Newcastle city centre office for clients’ comfort.
When Jason took over the role of managing partner from Stephen in 2015, he was determined to build on the changes his predecessor had developed and instigated.
The word he says he used a lot when he was first appointed as managing partner was “brave”.
“I wanted Muckle to be more courageous about trying new things and listening to what clients really wanted,” Jason says.
“Traditionally, lawyers are very risk adverse and will spend their time telling clients what can and might go wrong.
“I wanted Muckle to become the standout law firm that embraced a certain degree of risk and could provide more practical business advice, customer service and support.”
Jason is also keen to create opportunities for greater efficiency in the way Muckle delivers its services, which will translate to better value for its clients.
He explains: “When you start breaking down what a law firm does, you’ll find that, depending on the legal area and work concerned, often a good percentage of what lawyers are doing doesn’t need to be done by a lawyer. Instead, a computer or someone who doesn’t have a legal qualification can do it, which ultimately cuts down on cost for the client.
“Of course,” Jason continues, “there are some things that only a fully qualified lawyer can do and where specialist, valuable knowledge is required, our highly trained lawyers at Muckle will always do this work and the client-facing role – but streamlining the more administrative aspects of the work makes the process a lot more efficient and allows our lawyers to concentrate on what they do best.”
This analysis also allows Muckle LLP to provide clients with a more transparent and competitive pricing structure so that clients know how much a job will cost them from the outset.
“I once knew a lawyer who would cost a job depending on the weight of case file,” remembers Jason. “He would balance it on the palm of his hand and say, ‘this feels like about a £30,000 job’ and the clients would pay it.
“Those days are long gone but some law firms still refuse to be transparent on costs with clients at the outset.
“Another traditional thing which still goes on in many law firms is to say that a job will be, say, £5000 initially and then ring the client halfway through and say it is going to be a lot more! This can be legitimate if the job has genuinely changed but often comes as a result of a reassessment of what is involved, something the lawyer should have got right at the outset. The client is halfway through the job so has no choice but to continue. But thankfully, things are now beginning to change.”
Jason continues: “At Muckle, we break down the job in detail at the start so that we can provide a final cost or, if this isn’t possible, at least a fee cap price, so that people know where they are throughout the process. We will agree at the outset what is and is not included in that cost.”
Jason is aiming is to make Muckle the leading law firm in the North East for business and, according to the latest quarterly deal review releases by Experian, Muckle is well on the way, by delivering more deals over £500,000 than any other law firm in the region. But Jason is keen to continue to build Muckle’s reputation and strength to bolster this position.
He is also quick to point out that cementing Muckle as the leading law firm in the North East does not mean making it the biggest.
Instead, the managing partner is proud that the team can deliver major legal projects and cases for its national client base from under one roof in Newcastle.
“We’re at a size where everyone knows each other but we have the strength and depth that we need to do the transactions that our clients want and need. We can work on whatever sized deals or cases, in line with the larger multi-office firms, but all of our employees are in the same office and can talk to each other very easily. This inevitably means we provide a more streamlined, joined-up service and our clients get to know their Muckle team very quickly. We have control of our overheads and pricing and don’t have a head office somewhere else telling us what we can or cannot charge.”
Jason continues: “We have 143 employees at the moment and I don’t see any need to grow this significantly. I believe we would lose a lot of our competitive advantage if we did, in fact.
“Instead,” he concludes, “we will achieve our goal by being braver and delivering an unrivalled service from down-to-earth people who clients want to do business with.”