Same plan, different tools

October 2, 2020

Like everyone who works in the professional services, Charlotte McMurchie – head of real estate dispute resolution and partner at Muckle LLP – had to adapt to lockdown. But while her circumstances changed, the ambition for her work, her department and the firm’s inclusive culture – did not

After completing a degree in literature and linguistics at the University of Wales, College Cardiff, Charlotte McMurchie looked at three potential career paths – journalism, law and teaching – with law winning through.

She completed her law conversion course at the University of Stafford before moving to the North East to complete her finals at Northumbria University.

While at Northumbria, she met Catherine Wood, a partner at Robert Muckle law firm, who offered her work experience and thereafter a training contract.

With competition rife for such contracts, Charlotte – who is originally from Surrey – eagerly accepted the offer at the Newcastle firm.

After qualifying, Charlotte spent time working in Leeds, Berwick upon Tweed and Hartlepool, before returning to Newcastle where she took a position at the large scale law firm, Dickinson Dees (now Womble Bond Dickinson).

There she began specialising in real estate dispute resolution – an area of law that, Charlotte explains, requires a particular skillset.

“Property litigators are, in the main, quite nerdy. We like researching and finding things out; looking at something in detail is a real pleasure for us. Much of our work requires some element of sleuthing, trying to work out in a legal framework what has gone on and how we can find a solution that fits with our clients’ aims,” she says.

Now at Muckle LLP, Charlotte returned to a very different working environment.

Under the leadership of managing partner Jason Wainwright, Muckle had evolved to become a more modern, forward-thinking firm.

“The pinstripes had gone and in their place were technical innovation and agile working,” the property litigator reflects.

As head of real estate dispute resolution, Charlotte was tasked with developing the department from a near-standing start.

“Our initial objective was to get as many instructions as possible,” she explains. “People weren’t used to coming to Muckle for advice on real estate disputes and so we needed to establish ourselves.”

Under Charlotte’s guidance, the department has grown year-on-year and now offers residential, commercial and land services to landlords and tenants, public limited companies and housing associations across the UK.

Personnel has also grown within the department, which comprises Julie Adams, Leanne McNulty, Sarah Barratt, Jennifer Pearson, Rachel Templeman and Andrea Kelly.

Alongside her real estate work, Charlotte – who is a partner at the firm – is head of BEAM (Being Engaged at Muckle), a committee that coordinates numerous activities – from healthy living weeks and a running club, to art shows, a choir and dog walking events – that aim to foster a positive and more inclusive culture at the firm.

“BEAM is an incredibly important aspect of Muckle,” Charlotte says. “Through it we invest in our employees as their welfare really does matter to us”.

“The activities are varied to engage as many people as possible and intend to encourage cross- departmental relationships to develop across the firm, as it makes for a better working environment all around.”

Like all law firms, Muckle was put to the ultimate test back in March when the country went into lockdown.

Anticipating the Government’s announcement, Charlotte had already instructed her team to begin working remotely, and thanks to the firm’s agile working policy – established three years earlier – Charlotte describes the shift as “seamless”.

A number of virtual BEAM events – including quizzes, talent shows and wine tasting – were held to support the firm’s employees, while Charlotte held daily catch-ups over Skype-enabled laptops with her real estate colleagues.

“It was important to check how everyone was and just have a laugh about some the daft things we were doing under lockdown,” the property litigator reveals.

Workwise, the primary focus for the real estate dispute resolution team over the past six months has been to navigate the myriad of regulation announcements from Government with regards to landlords and tenants, with the team creating several vlogs to help educate and support clients.

“Housing law in particular is always busy but this has been unprecedented,” Charlotte explains. “So far, the legislation relating to both commercial and residential property appears to be in favour of the tenant, which was understandable, but as time goes on it does make it difficult for landlords, who are after all also in business and need that income to survive. This is of considerable concern but although the end has always been in sight, the finish line keeps being pushed back.”

Charlotte has also balanced her work at Muckle with her commitments as a board member of Women in Social Housing (WISH NE), a networking organisation which aims to provide its members with access to contacts and content which are career enhancing, giving women the tools to promote themselves and their abilities in the workplace.

Charlotte is also chair of the Tyne Housing Association, a social housing provider.

She has worked closely with Tyne’s CEO Steve Mckinlay to ensure the organisation has been able to support some of the region’s most vulnerable people during lockdown.

As Muckle puts its move back into the office on hold – following the recent change to Government guidance – Charlotte recognises that a return to the traditional ways of working is a long way off – and may never return.

“We recently conducted an engagement survey at the firm and it revealed that most people wanted to return to the office one or two times a week, but not necessarily work from the office every day, ” she says.

“We now know this is possible as lockdown has shown us our people can be productive wherever they’re based.”

Meanwhile, the partner and head of real estate dispute resolution will continue to lead her
team in monitoring the ever-changing property legislation announcements, and advise clients on the best path forward.

“The business plan in terms of what we want to achieve in the department has not changed. We want to continue to make connections, demonstrate our abilities, and secure referrals,” Charlotte explains.

As for her BEAM work, the property litigator sees a mix of virtual and socially distanced activities for the foreseeable future – so that the strong culture within the firm can be maintained.

Charlotte concludes: “When I returned to Muckle five years ago, it felt as though anything was possible. And this feeling hasn’t gone away.

“The firm’s plans remain the same – the only thing that’s changed is that the tools to deliver them are better.”

Muckle LLP

– Advertising feature –