Headline cases, a progressive attitude and a wealth of practice areas... no wonder trainees told us it was a “no-brainer” to apply to the UK's best-known barristers' chambers.
Open up any newspaper and chances are you'll find a case worked on by Matrix barristers: European Court of Human Rights application on the shooting of Jean Charles De Menezes? Tick. A case on 'Trojan Horse' schools in Birmingham? Tick. The Supreme Court battle over the PJS/YMA sex scandal injunction? Tick. “Today we had 19 cases in the press,” asserted CEO Lindsay Scott on the day of our visit. Many of these headline-grabbing matters are in the field of human rights or public law, but Scott is keen to point out that “Matrix is an awful lot more than a human rights set – we do great work in areas such as crime, competition, employment and media.”
For example, Clare Montgomery QC represented Hong Kong property tycoon Thomas Kwok in a high-profile corruption and conspiracy case, while James Laddie QC acted for Lehman Brothers in Campbell v Lehman Brothers when a former employee alleged she was subject to harassment and unfair dismissal after refusing to have an affair with her boss. More recently, two Matrix members successfully represented Unison in the landmark 2017 Supreme Court case ruling the government's Employment Tribunal fees 'inconsistent with access to justice'.
“We've spent a lot of time over the past five years developing our international practice ."
The set's remit is split roughly equally between public law, employment, media and information, crime, and commercial (including competition, tax and international arbitration). It was this “sheer range of work” which attracted several of our interviewees. “I was very curious to try different things,” one told us. Chambers UK recognises Matrix's broad expertise, granting it over a dozen rankings including a top-tier gong for its human rights work. The client base is broad too, with the set's annual client party seeing magic circle big shots and corporate counsel rubbing shoulders with legal aid solicitors, government lawyers and representatives of NGOs.
Keeping this diverse roster of clients front and centre of its mind is just one aspect of the set's founding desire to be an innovative and progressive chambers. Established in 2000 by 22 barristers eager to launch a modern, client-focused chambers, it set out to work on cases applying the newly introduced Human Rights Act to areas such as public, criminal and media law.
Lindsay Scott tells us: “We continue to offer legal services in an approachable and innovative way, such as ensuring we use IT to our best advantage.” The set's smart new website is the most visible statement of this. As for the future, says Scott, “we've spent a lot of time over the past five years developing our international practice and we'll continue to expand that.” Supplementing the set's Gray's Inn base is an office in Geneva.
Matrix trainees (the term 'pupil' has long since been dropped as too outmoded) divide their year evenly between four seats. In recent years trainees have sat with supervisors practising in areas including human rights, media and information, public law, employment and discrimination – members often work in more than one area. Nearly all of a trainee's workload stems from their supervisor and our interviewees were pleased with this approach, pointing out that “it means you're judged on your work as a whole and you can't have the bad fortune of doing one piece of work badly for someone who's very influential.”
Each supervisor produces a report at the end of each seat to gives trainees “an indication of whether you're attaining the Matrix standard.” The reports form the main basis for the traineeship committee's tenancy recommendation, but a series of formal assessments also play a part. These include two oral advocacy exercises, a business development presentation and a written assessment on “a difficult point of law.” Matrix's single trainee was awarded membership in 2017.
"Everyone works on really sexy cases and we're all law nerds."
Trainees assist their supervisor on whatever they're currently working, whether that's research or helping to prepare for court attendance. One baby junior recalled “planning out the strategy for a conference and witness handling and writing letters to the Legal Aid Agency on the potential success of a case." Trainees also get to draft correspondence to the court, skeleton arguments and pleadings. “In many instances your version is actually used, with a few minor changes,” one interviewee beamed. “That's brilliant for your confidence."
There are also plenty of opportunities to follow your supervisor to court: “Three weeks after arriving I attended a stop and search case in the Supreme Court," one interviewee told us. "I spent time with the client and afterwards helped draft an application to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.”
It isn't until nine months in that trainees get to spend time on their feet, and even then only on small matters such as listing hearings. “Matrix takes the view that your traineeship is a time to learn and practise,” one interviewee believed. Trainees attend informal advocacy moots to help them prepare for the big stand and have training sessions with juniors to gain tips and advice.
Grinning in the rain
It was an unseasonably cold and drizzly June morning when we rocked up at Matrix for our visit, but the miserable weather hardly seemed to dampen the spirits of the set's sunny practice team (this is what Matrix calls its clerks). “They are extremely welcoming,” trainees confirmed, and host Friday nights drinks for everyone at the set. A weekly lunch gets members together too and sources agreed “there's no speak-when-you're-spoken-to culture.” Another elaborated: “Matrix is well known for being a progressive place where people have respect for each other. We have loads of interesting conversations – everyone works on really sexy cases and we're all law nerds so we like to chat about our work and the legal and political implications.”
We're told that these 'law nerds' with a desire to blast away the traditional fustiness of the Bar are keen to “look further afield than Oxbridge” when seeking new recruits. Oxford and Cambridge alums certainly aren't absent from Matrix but you'll also find juniors who've come through Bristol, UCL, Nottingham and Durham.
Besides stellar academics pretty much all recruits have some top-notch work experience under their belts: between them Matrix's most junior tenants (called since 2012) have among other things gained experience working for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Ecuador, for the International Labour Organization in Geneva, for the UN Office of Legal Affairs in New York, for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague and for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Many of Matrix's members are also academics, but don't get the wrong idea: barristers here are very much doers, men and women of action.
“You're not grilled nastily but it's a good test of what it's like to be face to face with a picky judge.”
Matrix recruits outside the Pupillage Gateway and its website sets out pretty detailed criteria for applicants, including a thorough rundown of what you get points for on the initial application form. Around 40 applicants are invited to a first interview at which two members pose the same three questions to each applicant – one tends to cover Matrix's values (listed on the set's website) while the other two are on topical legal issues. Traineeship recruitment committee member Lorna Skinner tells us: “We don't expect people to have legal knowledge specific to the questions posed, but we do want to see that a candidate can spot the main issues, present the range of arguments on both sides, and coherently explain their own position.” One of our interviewees felt the toughest questions were posed at the first interview, while another countered that “Matrix's second interview was the most challenging interview I've ever done done! You're not grilled nastily but it's a good test of what it's like to be face to face with a picky judge.”
Up to ten candidates make it through to this final interview with a panel of five members and staff. Aspiring trainees are given 30 minutes to prepare a set of materials on a legal problem. Skinner gave this advice on how to tackle the problem question: “Really pick it apart and make notes for yourself; and when answering the question, don't be afraid to pause, take your time and order your thoughts before speaking.”
Matrix offers a guaranteed interview for disabled candidates who come within 20% of the cut-off point for the first-round interview.
- No of silks 31
- No of juniors 47
- No of pupils 2
- Contact Lindsay Clarke, 020 7404 3447
- Method of application Our application form can be found on our website. We are not a member of the Pupillage Gateway.
- Pupillages (pa) Up to two 12-month pupillages
- Tenancies in the last three years 6 out of 6
Types of work undertaken