Despite only being set up in 2000, Matrix is one of the most renowned names at the bar, and continues to grow in size. Currently, there are 57 juniors and 41 QCs. If there is a legal case in the news, a Matrix barrister is most likely to be involved thanks to its leading human rights practice and roster of high-profile silks. The doggedly progressive set has ditched traditional bar terminology, recruiting “trainees” (rather than “pupils”) to join the approximately 90 existing “members” (rather than “tenants”), and listing its barristers in alphabetical order rather than by seniority. The set even has its own charitable fund which “provides support to organisations which promote access to justice, equality of opportunity or a sustainable environment”.
While best known for human rights, Matrix barristers cover a wider range of law, including commercial, media, inquests, employment and crime. Silks include European law guru Aiden O’Neill, media man Hugh Tomlinson and public lawyer Helen Mountfield. Not to be outdone by Doughty Street having a former Director of Public Prosecutions, Matrix has an ex-DPP of its own in Lord Ken Macdonald QC. In human rights land, Raza Husain QC has appeared in over 30 Supreme Court or House of Lords cases, while high-profile academics Conor Gearty and Phillipe Sands are also in the Matrix stable.
Recent member appearances include the Fishmongers’ Hall inquests, the Grenfell Inquiry, the Shamima Begum Supreme Court case and the Stanstead 15 appeals. Vocal Remain campaigner Jessica Simor QC threw herself into Brexit litigation like the decision on Vote Leave’s referendum spending. Karon Monaghan QC acted for the Equality and Human Rights Commission in a case which found gender critical beliefs to be protected beliefs under the Equality Act 2010, David Wolfe QC successfully represented Save Stonehenge World Heritage Site battling a planned road and tunnel within the site, and two members are acting in the ‘Wagatha Christie’ debacle between Coleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy.
Matrix is also involved in transgender cases including looking at children’s capacity to consent to puberty blocking treatment for gender dysphoria, and the Ministry of Justice’s policies concerning transgender prisoners. Across seas, members have worked in over 100 countries and have been involved in litigation concerning 7000 Malawian farmers’ claims against the British American Tobacco Group and the Imperial Tobacco Group, and 50,000 inhabitants of two rural communities in the Niger Delta claims against Royal Dutch Shell. Members’ work before international courts is supported by offices in Brussels and Geneva. Matrix is hot on the scientific and politically influenced environmental law too, with founding member Philippe Sands QC co-chairing a panel tasked to draft a legal definition of ‘ecocide’ as a potential international crime.
Commenting on the work received by the set, one member tells the Legal Cheek Junior Barristers Survey 2021-22: “Matrix – and sometimes I – am involved in most of the leading human rights and public law cases around. What’s not to be excited by?”. One newbie to the set said their “quality of work went through the roof” when they moved to Matrix. Leading experts are just around the corner for any queries, “offering a cup of tea, sympathy and ideas”.
One member tells us how after very busy periods of work, several members have been able to take six months away from practising, to rest and recuperate. The effort Matrix puts into promoting a work/life balance is described as “impressive” by one member, including practice reviews, yoga and back to work meetings for people coming back from parental leave, although due to the nature of the bar, this cannot always succeed. Another says how they do not work evenings or weekends but they do get up “v v v early” – we shudder to think how early they mean. Through the pandemic, social events were put on virtually including cocktail evenings to keep colleagues in contact.
Matrix has posted strong scores in the Legal Cheek Junior Barrister Survey 2021-22. Its nifty recruitment brochure explains that potential recruits are expected to be at the top of their game academically, but there are also points for practical legal experience, relevant life experience and displaying “Matrix attributes”. The set actively encourages applications from various minorities, and we get the sense this is more than just the standard lip service to diversity. The set is signed up to a whole host of equality, diversity and inclusion initiatives including Bridging the Bar, which provides mini-pupillages to those from underrepresented backgrounds, is a founding member of FreeBar, a network for LGBT+ individuals, and is a champion of the Neurodiversity in Law organisation. There is also a guaranteed interview scheme for qualified disabled candidates. Matrix is the only major chambers in the land in which nearly half the juniors are female.
Based at Gray’s Inn, the main building has recently been refurbished and includes a mighty eight meeting rooms which are all soundproofed and fitted with videoconferencing technology. The two main meeting rooms come with a partition, able to be rolled back for the set’s seminars. On hand for IT troubleshooting are two dedicated in-house specialists who are “knowledgeable” and “responsive”.
It’s worth noting the set takes on just two pupils a year, so prospective barristers will face quite a battle to get a foot in the door. Keep a look out for the set’s autumn open day and diversity open evening.