Work experience blog – “My week at Matrix allowed me to discover how ahead of the curve it is”
“We’re the first and probably only chambers in the country to have something like this”, Ross – a Legal Support Assistant – explained as I sat with Kira, another work experience student, furiously scribbling notes on the pad in front of me. Although Ross was referring to Matrix’s Legal Support Service, the team that helps barristers with research and bundle preparation, his words could be applied to most aspects of Chambers. My week at Matrix allowed me to discover how ahead of the curve it is, evidenced by its communal working areas and usage of non-hierarchical terminology, where pupils are “trainees” and barristers are “members”. Around us, the contemporary open-plan office space enabled me to hear snippets of “anyone for a cup of tea?” and friendly conversations between barristers and practice managers about weekend plans.
Despite only having been at Matrix for a few months, Ross spoke highly of its community feel – and it took me less than a week to feel the same way. The warm welcome certainly contrasted to the airport-style security check we received from Westminster Magistrates Court later in the week! Despite the formalities of the court process, we were reassured through friendly and insightful conversations with Mark Summers QC, the barrister we were shadowing. Somewhat ironically, the only knowledge I previously had about extradition was in reference to Julian Assange, who happened to be a former client of Mark’s. I was spoiled as the first in-person court case I had ever watched included such an expert in the field, demonstrating the type of cases that afford Matrix its unbeatable reputation.
As we observed the hearing, it was pleasing to see that justice continues in an age of uncertainty, albeit behind Perspex screens, with an ever-present whiff of hand sanitiser and amid remarks of “sir, you need to turn your camera on”. I felt truly involved in the action, from being able to sit next to a paralegal instead of in the public gallery, to being asked by the instructing solicitor to send the notes I had written to challenge a point made by opposing counsel! The proceedings were fascinating yet poignant: they highlighted how a lawyer can be the only person in the way of a defendant being extradited and potentially subject to harsh conditions without a fair trial. I originally assumed an extradition case concerning financial crime would solely entail detached, robotic arguments over sums of money. However, Mark used a combination of procedural and ethical arguments to present why extradition would be unjust, oppressive and unlawful. This enabled me to realise that the law, even in cases that initially appear devoid of human impact, inextricably involves and affects real people – not just bank balances – at every stage.
Kira and I watched tensely for the judge’s poker-faced reaction to each witness’ answer. Mark proved that advocacy is also powerful when you choose to say nothing at all, playing a harrowing video to the court to prove that corruption was rife in the requesting country. Mark also had to deal with the disappointment of a witness not being as helpful as he had hoped but was unfazed nevertheless.
When considering stereotypes of the legal profession, the essential function provided by chambers staff is often glossed over in favour of the supposed glitz and glamour of the court process. Barristers work alone – or so it is said – but I was constantly supported, as all Matrix members are, by a team of friendly practice managers, receptionists and administrators. It was also revealed to me that the Bar is not entirely all work and no play: one of the week’s highlights was a chat over coffee and cake with Katy, a trainee, about life at university! Matrix therefore strikes me as a set that understands the necessity for the Bar to become more inclusive, through providing flexible working models and by coaching and hiring those who can understand innovative technology and fairly represent all aspects of society.