Grace’s Week at Matrix

From the moment I walked in, on my first morning at Matrix, everybody was so warm and welcoming.  After meeting the two other students, also on the same placement as me, we met Lindsay Clarke (head of HR) who gave us our induction. She set out what our week would consist of and introduced us to Team X. Everyone was very friendly and just as excited as us, so I immediately felt comfortable.

After meeting the team James talked us through our timetable for the following 4 days and explained the first task to us. We sat with the Fees Team and learnt about how a Barrister’s work is billed and the difference between funding privately and funding through legal aid. We spent half an hour before lunch researching, independently, these different types of funding. Funding for criminal cases, legal aid and conditional fee agreements. It was very interesting to learn about the different ways that legal representation is paid for, enabling all to seek justice and ensuring the law is accessible as possible.

Before lunch we began preparing our presentations for our interviews for the Future Lawyers Mentoring Scheme.

During the afternoon, we spoke to Zoe and Nandini from the Legal Support Service Team (LSS). We learnt that Matrix was unique in having such a team. This team of 3; consisting of Zoe, Nandini and Dan dedicate their time to researching all the potentially necessary cases for the Barristers. They use a specialist database, Westlaw, that enables them to view thousands of cases along with their judgements and the judicial consideration it has received. From here, they can work out what is useful and relevant to the case and consult Counsel with cases in the most suitable format.

On the second day of my placement, we were fortunate enough to be able to attend a hearing for the Shamima Begum case. What’s more, we were able to see several Matrix barristers in action- as they were acting for both sides. We were told about the importance of information barriers within the Chambers in cases like this, to ensure complete confidentiality and avoid conflict of interest.

We arrived at the Royal Courts of Justice at 9:15am for a 10:30am start to make sure we were able to get seats. The building was beautiful and nothing like I had seen before. It was fascinating to watch counsel prepare to go into Court, each with big suitcases filled with paperwork!

Upon entering, we were spoken to by the Court Usher who explained the proceedings and general Court protocol. We were able to sit and watch both teams enter and set up- along with many members of the press due to how high profile the case is and how much media coverage it has gained.

In the morning, we watched Samantha Knights KC and in the afternoon Dan Squires KC. Along with Junior Barristers Tim James-Matthews and Ayesha Christie. It was intriguing to watch their different styles of delivery, all equally engaging. What struck me most was the continuous interaction between the judges, one being the Lady Chief Justice, and the barristers. The Judges often questioned the barristers and confirmed their own understanding of points with them.

During our lunch break we saw Samantha Knights KC in the queue in Pret! She was very approachable, and it was amazing to be able to speak with her during the middle of her working day, before going back to Court for the second half of that day’s hearing.

On day 3, we went back to the Royal Courts, to continue to watch the Shamima Begum case. This time, however, we were watching the barristers for the government (acting for the Secretary of State). We spent the morning watching Sir James Eadie KC and returned to the Chambers for the rest of the day.

This appeal was a matter regarding the Law itself, as opposed to the facts of the case. We watched the Law being picked apart and argued by experts. Whilst it was very technical in some places, watching the barristers unravel complex, and often alien, terms – sometimes having to give a detailed explanation of a particular word in their argument – was remarkable.

Watching the Junior barristers in the courtroom was also very cool! They were taking notes during the hearing and carrying out research, on the spot, to find any cases that may strengthen their argument or weaken the other side’s. After the main delivery, they were consulted by their Silk to check if everything had been covered or if something new could be added. It was very exciting to watch the mechanics of both sides and it made me realise the amount of time and effort (along with teamwork) that is spent not only setting forth a case, but also constructing it.

In the afternoon, we were set a marketing task where we had to summarise a case taken on by a Matrix barrister, Jessica Simor KC, in under 200 words, using reputable news sites. The purpose of this was to produce something that could be advertised on the Matrix website and draw attention to cases this Chambers are involved in. The second part of this task required us to condense these 200 words even further, to produce an advert for LinkedIn and a post for Twitter, with the aim of engaging the public and directing digital traffic towards the Matrix site. This enabled us to practice shrinking an idea down, to make it both attractive and succinct – something which a barrister would have to do daily.

Our final day at Matrix was just as busy as the three previous. The day began with speaking to Frank Osborne, Head of Facilities. He told us all about the technology and software everyone at Matrix has access to that allows them to work remotely when necessary and, vitally, kept Matrix running during the lockdown period. Whilst the majority of barristers are back in Chambers, in-person, their infrastructure means that they are able to be more flexible with family commitments but still possess the hub that is Matrix that will provide the support a top barrister needs.

Matrix are the frontrunners of modern Chambers. Their building uses 100% renewable energy due it being totally electric, and they are making a conscious effort to reduce their use of paper. Furthermore, as a Team, they are on track to be carbon neutral by 2025. We also spoke about the use of AI within Matrix and how, over time, it is thought that this will play a large role throughout the legal field whilst keeping people in their jobs.

It was fantastic to hear about the actual logistics and procedures that are in place to keep Matrix functioning; it was evident in my short time there that this is a modern and progressive Chambers that cares about the impact it has on the world around it.

The task set by the Facilities team was really enjoyable as we decided to work together. We had to produce two packages, one with a budget and the other without, that included an online storage software and wireless cameras for the buildings. We also got given a riddle to work on, that encouraged us to think critically and ‘outside of the box’. A skill that is crucial for a barrister.

Our second task of the day involved a fictional case between a celebrity and a newspaper. We were given Article 8 from the Human Rights Act and were asked to apply it to the supposed defamatory statement that the newspaper would release about the celebrity. We had to identify what could and could not be published by applying the law to this scenario and, as a team, we decided to investigate both sides to ensure we truly understood what we were arguing. I felt this task brought the legal analysis to life which really helped my appreciation of how submissions from both sides can be constructed.

In the afternoon, we had a brilliant conversation (plus coffee and cake!) with a barrister. She answered all our questions and explained her journey to getting where she is now. She gave us an honest insight into what life at the bar is like- both the good and the difficult. She also explained the process and timescale of applying for pupillages and what we should look out for as we get nearer to finishing our degrees.

Our final task of the placement was another legal research case, looking at the outcome of R vs Trowland. (A case where two individuals were imprisoned after they hung in hammocks over a bridge as part of a ‘Just Stop Oil’ protest. This resulted in severe and lengthy disruptions to the general public). It posed us the challenge of reading through very dense material in a short space of time- yet another skill a barrister could not work without. Subjectively, we had to decide and justify what we believed were the key submissions on behalf of the protestors, the key arguments in setting aside the sentence initially and the grounds used. This task was a lot of fun and gave us the opportunity to pick apart a real judgement, that made headline news. By employing different Articles of the Human Rights Act and comparing the case to others of similar gravity we could form our own judgement.

We ended the final day with a discussion with Zoe. We talked through the tasks we completed and received feedback with regards to the approach that would be taken and which aspects of the case to look at first. It was great to be able to receive feedback from an expert with their wealth of experience.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Matrix Chambers and I cannot thank them enough. Everyone I met was beyond friendly and helpful, and willing to share their expert knowledge with us. From learning about how the building itself is run, to how the barristers deliver in court, everything was incredible. I feel my time spent there was invaluable and has helped to confirm my goal of becoming a Barrister and urge anyone who is considering a career at the Bar to apply for work experience at Matrix.