Established in 2000, Matrix has a reputation for headline-hitting human rights and public law work, and a forward-thinking approach.
It’s clear from the minute you step inside Matrix's modern, airy offices on the edge of Gray’s Inn that this isn’t a traditional set. Matrix has done away with the terms 'pupils' and 'clerks' and replaced them with 'trainees' and 'practice managers'. The idea is to remove the traditional hierarchical language associated with the Bar and to modernise. So this is one of the only sets to be a member of LGBT charity Stonewall, and its diversity stats are commendable: it has twice the number of female barristers as some similar-sized top sets.
The forward-thinking approach has paid off and after nearly 20 years of existence Matrix can claim be part of the legal establishment it once sought to challenge. Chambers UK awards it top-tier recognition for human rights and employment, plus high rankings for public law, crime, data protection, education, environment, European law and financial crime. These are areas of law which tend to get a lot of attention and Matrix is no stranger to the spotlight, getting namechecked on Have I Got New For You and having its barristers appear in cases which make the front pages. For example, Karon Monaghan QC and Sarah Hannett recently acted for a heterosexual couple in the landmark Supreme Court case that ruled that the ban on civil partnerships for opposite-sex couples was discriminatory. And in early 2017 four Matrix silks were instructed by four different parties in the Supreme Court case brought by Gina Miller over the triggering of Article 50 to allow the UK to leave the European Union.
“There are very few barristers here who practise in one area of law.”
Interviewees said they were drawn to the range of work on offer at Matrix, and one baby junior told us: “I was interested in human rights and public law, but also media and commercial matters. This was one of the few places in London I could do both.” Management committee member David Wolfe QC tells us: “We’re instructed by a wide range of firms, organisations, NGOs and businesses, and there are very few barristers here who practise in one area of law.” Wolfe himself is Chambers-ranked in six areas and is chair of the Press Recognition Panel established by the Leveson Inquiry.
As already mentioned, Matrix’s barristers frequently appear in high-profile public law and human rights cases. Danny Friedman QC and Raj Desai are representing over 200 survivors and bereaved families of the Grenfell Tower fire in the independent public inquiry that began in summer 2018. Desai was also part of the review into the murder of Iranian asylum seeker Bijan Ebrahimi, which led to the first finding of institutional racism by a police force since the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Karon Monaghan, mentioned above, was also recently active on an employment case representing an employee of Pimlico Plumbers in a Supreme Court case which decided he was both a worker and an employee of the company under the 2010 Equality Act. In recent criminal cases Clare Montgomery QC has defended a former prime minister of Mauritius against conflict of interested charges, acted for the former chief executive of Hong Kong in an appeal against misconduct charges, and defended a rail industry worker in a corruption trial. And finally in one commercial case Rhodri Thompson QC acted for BT in a dispute with its customers over the pricing of ethernet services and a decision by Ofcom that it had breached pricing regulations.
Trainees do four three-months seats potentially covering areas including media, employment, crime, public law, terrorism and human rights. Trainees are sat predominantly with one supervisor, but told us they are “never hermetically sealed in” and can do work for others too. Trainees “do research, read over skeleton arguments, attend meetings with clients and solicitors, and take notes in court or during witness handling.” Sources said they’d had the opportunity “to have the first go at skeleton arguments that are then built on by your supervisor.” Trainees are also encouraged to “accompany other members to court to see different styles of advocacy during interesting cases.”
“Matrix has a relationship with the charity Bail for Immigration Detainees.”
Trainees don’t get on their feet until their last seat, when they are given a more junior supervisor “who can advise on what it’s like to work as a newly called barrister.” Fourth-seaters get involved in “things like asylum and immigration appeals, preliminary hearings in employment tribunals, bail applications and first appearances in the Magistrates' Court.” One baby barrister recalled: “I was as prepared as I could have been, but there’s always an element of jumping off a cliff when you first step into a courtroom!” Happily “even though people are busy they always have time for a phone call.” In terms of the work you get exposed to, interviewees noted: “Matrix has a relationship with the charity Bail for Immigration Detainees, so that’s a big part of life as a baby junior.”
Trainees undergo four informal assessments: two “challenging but interesting” oral advocacy assessments, a presentation “to show you can do the business development and networking side of things” and a written assessment. Trainees are given feedback at the end of each seat, but told us: “I already know what’s going to be said because of conversations I’ve had throughout.” These feedback reports are then submitted as part of the tenancy decision which is discussed between supervisors and the chief executive. Trainees are told the training committee’s recommendation before they find out the final decision on membership, which is reached in July. “Even though gaining membership is constantly at the back of your mind, Matrix does its best to make the process as transparent as possible,” a baby junior told us. In 2018 one of the two trainees became members.
Matrix publishes a detailed trainee brochure on its website which sets out its recruitment process. Applicants are assessed against score-based criteria on a form that’s “intended to be as open as possible and promote equality and diversity as much as we can,” says David Wolfe. Applicants get marks for things like academic achievement, life experience and commitment to Matrix’s core values (see Matrix's website for what those are). There’s also the opportunity to explain why grades might not be as high as expected, and a guaranteed interview scheme for applicants with disabilities.
Aspiring trainees submit a written application followed by two rounds of interviews. Before the second round applicants are given a piece of legislation and asked to apply it to a set of facts. “It wasn’t an area of law I knew about, but it was fine because they just wanted to know how I would interpret and apply the legislation,” a trainee recalled. David Wolfe observes: “What’s striking about the people we recruit is that they’re much more than a clever lawyer. Often they’ll have other life experiences like volunteering for Citizens Advice. But we are conscious that those opportunities are easier to get if you’re from a comfier background.” Recent recruits have tended to have some pretty impressive work experience under their belt: for example working for the Red Cross in Geneva, at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg or at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague. “It’s unusual for us to recruit trainees straight out of university,” notes David Wolfe. “You need to demonstrate your commitment to our practice areas.”
“The culture here was a big part of Matrix’s appeal,” one trainee told us. “It’s inclusive, welcoming and encouraging of diversity.” Another added: “Having fascinating work and lovely people to do it with isn’t a bad combination!” David Wolfe tells us: “Our culture is built around our core values: we try to be very egalitarian. We do this partly because it’s the right thing to do and partly because it creates a better team spirit for the client.” Matrix gives members and staff lunch on Thursdays and there are plenty of Friday afternoon trips to the pub, as well as drinks receptions.
While Matrix has stellar human rights and crime practices, remember that it's very active in other areas too like employment and European law.
- No of silks 35
- No of juniors 56
- No of pupils 2
- Contact Alice Brighouse, 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 5 out of 6
Types of work undertaken
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2018
- POCA Work & Asset Forfeiture (Band 2)
- Police Law: Mainly Claimant (Band 2)
- Administrative & Public Law (Band 2)
- Civil Liberties & Human Rights (Band 1)
- Community Care (Band 1)
- Crime (Band 2)
- Data Protection (Band 2)
- Defamation/Privacy (Band 3)
- Education (Band 2)
- Employment (Band 1)
- Environment (Band 2)
- European Law (Band 2)
- Financial Crime (Band 2)
- Immigration (Band 3)
- Local Government (Band 3)
- Public International Law (Band 2)
- Sport (Band 2)