Plug yourself into this Matrix. Open your eyes to a reality of top-rated human rights and public law work, alongside many other commended areas.
Matrix Chambers pupillage review 2022
If at 20 years old you can achieve a standing comparable to Matrix Chambers’ then it would be fair to say that you’re winning at life. Formed in the year 2000, Matrix Chambers has built up quite a reputation for itself in a relatively short space of time. “The spread of work is absolutely huge,” says pupillage committee member Lorna Skinner. “I think we do pretty much everything except family law and tax.” The set’s raft of rankings in Chambers UK Bar certainly suggests Skinner hasn’t taken Morpheus’s blue pill by mistake. It comes out on top in London for its civil liberties & human rights, community care, education, and employment expertise. That’s just one layer of reality at Matrix though: it also picks up acclaim in a further 15 areas, including crime, public law, public international law, financial crime, European law, and defamation/privacy. Across all circuits in the country, Matrix stands out for its claimant police law and Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) related matters.
“I think we do pretty much everything except family law and tax.”
The work, said one baby junior, is “seriously impressive.” The matters at Matrix address some of the most complex, sensitive and pressing issues out there. In the public law space, Phillippa Kaufmann QC has brought a judicial review against the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) following the Crown Prosecution Service’s refusal to prosecute an undercover police officer who was deployed to spy on an environmental protester and developed a sexual relationship with her. The case examines the question of consent in this context of deception and whether the police officer can be prosecuted for rape. In the civil liberties and human rights area, Raza Husain QC has been challenging the Director of Immigration in Hong Kong on the issue of human trafficking and forced labour, as well as on the application of fundamental family life rights in immigration cases. Over in the data protection realm, Hugh Tomlinson QC has been working on a representative action on behalf of 4.4 million iPhone users regarding Google’s use of personal data. If employment law is your area of interest, then there have been many headline-generating cases of late, including James Laddie QC’s representation of an individual bringing an £11 million disability discrimination claim against their former employer, Goldman Sachs. This is, of course, just a snapshot of some of Matrix’s most high-profile areas. The broad range of practice areas means the set has always had “a huge cross-section of clients,” senior practice manager Elizabeth Bousher tells us.
For the eagle-eyed among you, you’ll have noticed that Matrix doesn’t use traditional Bar terms like ‘senior clerk’ or ‘pupil’ but instead favours more up-to-date titles like ‘senior practice manager’ and ‘trainee’ (respectively). In fact, Matrix prides itself on its progressive approach, which it promotes through its set of core values. “As time has gone by these [the set’s core values] appear less radical,” says Skinner, “but at the time we formed as a set they really were.” Among the 16 core values is a commitment to running “a democratic organisation, where all staff from the most junior to the most senior have an equal say.” In addition, the firm is one of only a few chambers to be a member of Stonewall, the LGBTQ+ charity, and it has a good track record for gender representation compared to some similar-sized sets. Speaking of size, Bousher tells us that Matrix has “had new members come in – we had four people join crime/fraud last year. There’s plenty of work, but we’re not looking to grow hugely. We’ll be focusing on organic growth to meet demand.”
The Pupillage Experience
We were told that most of the work comes from the trainee’s current supervisor, as there’s an “expectation that you’ll help your supervisor with their matters.” A trainee said that the type of instructions “depends on the seat: each supervisor has their own area and you dip into it.” Sources highlighted that if you make your preferences known “the set is receptive and helps you to sit with the right people.” Interviewees were subsequently pleased that they’d been able to work with QCs in areas of interest.
“You’re not on your feet for the first nine months,” so trainees typically begin to speak in court during the final three months of the pupillage. Court appearances during those initial nine months “depend on your supervisor and the area of practice: some people are in court often.” One source revealed that there’s still a lot for trainees to do in court, even if they’re not conducting advocacy: “Every time your supervisor is in court you’re reading court papers, as well as drafting skeleton arguments, research memos, cross-examination notes, appeal grounds – there’s a lot of papers-based work.” Skinner says that pupils can expect to do a mix of live work and previous cases during this initial period. In the final three months, “you’re practising in your own right and working for a supervisor,” a junior barrister confirmed.
There are four assessments throughout the pupillage, which are considered alongside reports from the first three supervisors. The latter are “marked out of 36: there are nine categories worth four marks each.” Examples of these categories include written expression, legal analysis and judgement, practical judgement, and commitment to Matrix's core values. At the end of each seat, trainees meet with their supervisor and HR to discuss the report for the purpose of ascertaining “whether you’re meeting the standard for membership or not,” and if not, what can be done to improve and meet it. Unsurprisingly, “you should be getting the ‘it should be fine’ or ‘you’re already there’” kinds of responses, especially at the end of later seats.
While the reports were felt to be “the most significant” element when it comes to deciding who gets tenancy, the four assessments also play their part. Read more about these online. The tenancy process, which is normally conducted in mid-July, involves the “training committee putting an assessment report together from all of your work – the four assessments, plus the three supervisor reports,” one trainee in the know revealed. “A recommendation is then put to the membership and everyone votes.” Our source said that Matrix is “as transparent as it can be” about the process and added that “if you’ve got good reports you should be confident.” In 2021, Matrix retained both of its pupils as tenants.
Of course, socialising is key when navigating a pupillage. Fortunately for Matrix’s trainees, the set “puts on lunch for all staff and barristers every Thursday,” a junior barrister told us, “so everyone who’s around tends to go to that. There are also drinks on a Friday night in chambers.” Other formal social events include a Christmas party, a staff party and a drinks event every quarter. There’s time for socialising outside of work too, as “they’re very keen on enforcing that trainees go home at six and don’t take work home.” Another trainee 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
To kickstart the process, candidates need to complete an application form, which includes an answer (around 500 words) to a short essay question. “Those applications are then sifted by a team of three, who each do about two-thirds each,” says Skinner. For those thinking the maths is wrong, there is a deliberate overlap built into the process “to ensure consistency among the marks.” The applications, says Skinner, “are marked according to our selection criteria,” which cover “obvious things like a candidate’s degree and legal experience,” but also “life experience” and connections with “the set’s core values.” Skinner adds that there are “16 marks available for candidates, including one mark for exceptional circumstances.” The committee also makes adjustments for a disability.
Around 40 applicants make it through to the initial interview stage. This interview “is usually comprised of three standardised questions” and conducted by two members of varying seniority and practice area. Matrix also tries to make all of its interview panels as diverse as possible. To increase diversity and accessibility, the set has “put up a recorded interview with a previous applicant on the website, so people who haven’t had interview experience can see what a good interview looks like,” says Skinner, who adds: “We’re aware that people may not have a law degree, so we ask questions about current affairs and interesting ethical points.” Matrix also has a guaranteed interview scheme for disabled applicants. From that pool of interviewees, “we identify ten candidates for the second round, which involves a much longer interview with a bigger panel.” On this panel you'll find five members of Matrix and the CEO. Candidates at this stage will go through a problem (which is normally legal-based but presented with all the info interviewees would need regardless of degree background) with the panel on top of answering other questions.
We need tech. Lots of tech.
We’re sure that Matrix was already pretty tech-savvy before lockdown, but of late we heard that the set has been using tech to its advantage more than ever. “Two barristers started a podcast and we’ve been embracing webinars. It’s been nice to get together over Zoom!”
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This Firm's Rankings in
UK Bar, 2021
- POCA Work & Asset Forfeiture (Band 2)
- Police Law: Mainly Claimant (Band 2)
- Protest Law (Band 1)
- Administrative & Public Law (Band 2)
- Civil Liberties & Human Rights (Band 1)
- Community Care (Band 1)
- Competition Law (Band 3)
- Crime (Band 2)
- Data Protection (Band 2)
- Defamation/Privacy (Band 2)
- Education (Band 1)
- Employment (Band 2)
- Environment (Band 2)
- European Law (Band 2)
- Extradition (Band 2)
- Financial Crime (Band 2)
- Immigration (Band 2)
- Local Government (Band 3)
- Public International Law (Band 2)
- Sport (Band 3)