Human rights and public law cases are “the common thread” tying together a spread of practices at this sprightly set.
Matrix Chambers pupillage review 2024
Matrix Chambers began at the dawn of the millennium, when a group of breakaway barristers were struck with the idea that they wanted to establish a new style of set, something away from ‘the traditional English chambers’. Just as Neo turned to Morpheus to guide him through the Matrix, we turn to Rachel Holmes, chief executive of Matrix Chambers. “It’s a complex organogram, what we do,” she says. “We operate within over 29 practice areas. As a trainee, you won’t be pigeonholed into one area. You’ll have the freedom to direct your career in any direction you want, and with exposure to high-profile cases at those early stages.” As one insider pointed out, “Although Matrix works across loads of practice areas, one common thread is an interest and engagement with human rights issues,” so an interest in this area is a must.
Eagle-eyed readers will have clocked that newbies here are referred to as trainees rather than pupils. There are no clerks either – instead you’ll find practice managers. It’s a small way in which the set distinguishes itself, but for a more substantial example of its pioneering credentials, you only need to look at the sort of work it’s involved in. To cherry-pick, member Philippe Sands KC co-chaired a panel of experts who drew up the definition of ‘ecocide’ to use to prosecute serious environmental offences in the International Criminal Court.
“We lead in innovation,” asserts Holmes. “Other chambers look at what we’ve done and ask themselves how they can emulate that.” In the 22 years that it’s been running, it’s carved out a strong reputation for its work in human rights and civil liberties, and has the rankings from Chambers UK Barto show for it. In London, it comes out on top for civil liberties & human rights, community care, and education, and picks up acclaim in more than ten other areas, including public law, crime, employment, data protection, and European law. Across all circuits in the country, Matrix stands out for its protest law prowess. In one high-profile protest law case, member Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh defended a woman who was charged with criminal damage for helping to take down the statue of slaver Edward Colston in Bristol during a BLM protest.
“I did a media seat, a human rights seat, and an employment and discrimination seat.”
Matrix is no stranger to headline-hitting cases. Take, for example, the last-minute judicial review challenging the Secretary of State’s decision to remove asylum seekers to Rwanda. A group of four Matrix barristers – Raza Husain KC, Chris Buttler KC, Eleanor Mitchell, and Katy Sheridan – acted on the crowd-funded claim. Sticking with human rights, Phillippa Kaufmann KC represented a man who was part of the Windrush generation, and sadly died after the government rejected his application for citizenship. In another case, Richard Hermer KC acted for Abu Zubaydah in his claim for damages against the UK Government for its role in facilitating his torture and imprisonment by US authorities in Guantánamo Bay, where he’s been held since 2006.
Crossing over to defamation, there are a few familiar faces. Hugh Tomlinson KC represented Rebekah Vardy in her courtroom drama with Coleen Rooney, and also acted for Roman Abramovich in his claim against HarperCollins over allegations published in Catherine Belton’s book Putin’s People that he bought Chelsea FC under Vladimir Putin’s instructions. In another high-profile case, Gavin Millar KC defended journalist Carole Cadwalladr against former UKIP and leave.eu funder Arron Banks for commenting in a Ted talk about his relationship with the Russian government.
The Pupillage Experience
Trainees typically sit with four different supervisors over the course of the year, with each seat lasting three months. “I sat with top KCs and ended up working with one I’d read about during my BTC,” one told us. Trainees will work with multiple members and can express preferences on what sort of work they’d like to get experience in. The style of supervision has a welcome focus on training, “so if you haven’t done a lot of pleading in your previous seat, you’ll pick it up in your next.”
A trainee recounted their first three seats: “I did a media seat, a human rights seat, and an employment and discrimination seat.” We heard that “the work is supervisor-dependent.” In the media seat, for example, “I would come into contact with magic circle firms. In human rights, it would be solicitor firms, private individuals, and legal aid.”
“The majority of your work will be genuine work that will be used in your supervisor’s cases.”
In the first seat, “the bulk of the work, live or other, will be research, skeleton arguments and having the first stabs at tasks.” You’ll find that “there’s no formal grace period” at Matrix. “You’re assessed from the off, but the expectation is lower at the beginning.” For the rest of your traineeship, “the majority of your work will be genuine work that will be used in your supervisor’s cases.” The commonality that sources identified between the work in each seat was that “it’s all high-profile and incredible cases.” Assisting their supervisors, trainees can expect to be reading court papers, as well as drafting skeleton arguments, research memos, cross-examination notes, and appeal grounds.
The fourth and final seat is the time to get on your feet and explore your own practice – and appear in court. “You’ll know if you’re being taken on at the chambers at this point,” an insider shared, “and then you can essentially start to practice. I spent those three months working on my own cases and developing the practice areas I wanted to work in.”
And how do they know if they’re going to measure up for tenancy? “The process is very transparent,” said sources. During the traineeship, newbies undergo four formal assessments, which sit alongside the end-of-seat reports. Helpfully, trainees are given time away from other work (usually a couple of days) to focus on these. These feature two advocacy exercises, a written opinion and a business development presentation to senior management. Conversations with trainees revealed that “the advocacy and written assessments were the most challenging!” It was welcome news that “most of the weight of the tenancy decision is placed upon the supervisor reports.”
“You’ll do well to find any antiquated traditions here!”
When asked what sums up a successful Matrix trainee, one interviewee responded, “No doubt an authentic commitment to the core values comes into it.” The set’s values include innovation, public service, wellbeing and environment, but there are 15 in total, all of which can be found on the set’s website. “Real values drive community,” our interviewee continued, “and this is a community. The culture isn’t stuffy or formal – there’s real mutual respect and equality. You’ll do well to find any antiquated traditions here!”
Socialising is key when navigating a pupillage or traineeship. Fortunately for Matrix’s trainees, the set “puts on lunch for all staff and barristers every Thursday,” a junior source told us. “Everyone tends to go to that. There are also drinks on a Friday night in chambers.” Other formal social events include a Christmas party and a drinks event every quarter.
There’s time for socialising outside of work too, as “they’re very keen on enforcing us trainees to go home at 6pm and not to take work home.” Another added that “the hours haven’t been relentless with unrealistic deadlines. If I work late or over the weekend, then that’s my choice.”
The Application Process
The journey into the Matrix begins not with a red pill, but with an application form followed by two rounds of interviews. The initial application includes a 500-word essay question, “which tends to be topical and doesn’t require extensive legal knowledge,” according to insiders. “There is a proposition which you argue, and it’s designed so you can argue it either way.”
“Interviewees should expect to be asked questions that touch on human rights issues.”
About 40 successful candidates will be invited to the first interview stage, where they’ll be asked a grand total of four to five questions each. Again, the questions are unlikely to require specific legal knowledge, but rather, they’ll target your legal analytic skills. “For example, in my cohort, they asked a question on the human rights implications of facial recognition technology,” one recalled. On this note, “interviewees should expect to be asked questions that touch on human rights issues.”
Only ten will make it through the final interview, which features a longer Q&A with a bigger panel, as well as a discussion around a legal problem (interviewees are given all the info they need to be able to answer it, regardless of their degree background).
Our sources were keen to provide some relief for prospective candidates: “The whole process is very transparent,” so there won’t be any nasty surprises along the way. When asked for their top tip a trainee said, “Use the published brochure – it gives you a good idea of what a good answer looks like.” Materials and information about how the set assesses interviewees can be found on the set’s website.
Rachel Holmes told us Matrix is continuing to review its representation from a recruitment point of view: “We ensure we both minimise and are aware of any unconscious biases that are present in the recruitment process.” Matrix also runs a Future Lawyers mentoring scheme and work experience for school-age students from an underprivileged background (you can see the criteria on its website). On the LGBTQ+ front, it’s a Stonewall diversity champion and a founding member of the FreeBar network.
The Matrix Reloaded: Matrix Chambers also has offices in Geneva and Brussels.
Matrix is a collection of lawyers specialising in a wide range of practice areas throughout the UK and internationally. Described as ‘forward thinking’ and ‘a market leader’, we are an approachable set that are proud of our record of innovation. Our core values govern the way we work and outline our commitment to operating within an environment where diversity, accessibility and client care are widely championed.
Types of work undertaken
We have a multi-disciplinary approach with members recognised as ’star performers across all fields’. Matrix acts for private and public clients and has particular expertise in over 29 international and domestic areas of law including: commercial, competition, crime, data protection, defamation, discrimination, education, employment, environmental, extradition, fraud, freedom of information, human rights, immigration, asylum and free movement, international arbitration, local government, public and administrative law, media, mutual assistance, prison, social welfare, and sports law. Matrix has a strong international presence, acting in more than 114 countries for governments, international corporations, legal firms and individuals.
Matrix welcomes applications from exceptional candidates from all backgrounds and is committed to diversity and inclusion across the whole organisation. We therefore encourage and welcome applications from groups which are potentially disadvantaged or historically under-represented in the legal profession, including women, disabled people, neurodiverse candidates, LGBT+ people, those from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, and candidates who are Black, Asian or from another minority ethnic group. We are happy to make reasonable adjustments to the interview process and advertised positions for disabled or neurodiverse candidates.
Matrix offers up to two traineeships, both starting 1st October for 12 months. The 12-month training period is split roughly into quarters. The training committee will usually choose who will supervise the trainees during their year, but trainees are consulted throughout on which areas of law they would be interested in covering. It is expected that trainees will experience the wide range of work covered at Matrix with seats in varied practice areas throughout the year. There is a scheduled programme of training that takes place which includes internal and external training, written and advocacy exercises and secondments. Matrix trainees do not generally take on oral advocacy in their own right until the last quarter.
Matrix offer mini-pupillages in conjunction with the Bridging the Bar and Bringing [Dis]Ability to the Bar schemes. Anyone interested in this should get in contact with Bridging the Bar/BDABar as appropriate to check their eligibility. For up to date information and details on other opportunities available at Matrix, please visit the ‘recruitment’ section of our website: www.matrixlaw.co.uk/recruitment
Matrix offers up to two 12-month training places with an award of £50,000 and an additional £10,000 contribution during the BPTC year for applicants who are yet to undertake Bar finals. Any applicants who have already completed the BPTC year will still be entitled to the additional £10,000 contribution in the year prior to commencing traineeship.
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2023
- Defamation/Privacy (Band 2)
- Group Litigation (Band 2)
- POCA Work & Asset Forfeiture (Band 2)
- Police Law: Mainly Claimant (Band 2)
- Protest Law (Band 2)
- Administrative & Public Law (Band 2)
- Civil Liberties & Human Rights (Band 1)
- Community Care (Band 1)
- Competition Law (Band 3)
- Crime (Band 3)
- Data Protection (Band 2)
- Education (Band 1)
- Employment (Band 2)
- Environment (Band 2)
- European Law (Band 2)
- Extradition (Band 1)
- Financial Crime (Band 2)
- Immigration (Band 2)
- Inquests & Public Inquiries (Band 3)
- Public International Law (Band 2)