(Year of call: 2020)
Matthew joined Kings Chambers at the start of October 2020 as the Personal Injury and Clinical Negligence pupil and was supervised by Stephen Maguire and Toby Coupe.
Since becoming a tenant at Kings Chambers, Matthew has developed a broad practice within Personal Injury, Clinical Negligence, Professional Negligence, and Coronial law.
Before being called to the Bar in 2020, Matthew studied Physics and Geology as an undergraduate and then subsequently earned his Ph.D. in Earth Sciences and his graduate diploma in law.
I think that the independence that comes with life at the Bar is what appealed to me most at the outset – being self-employed as a Barrister, you can often work in your own way and to your own timetable, and this gives you quite a bit of control over your work-life balance. You also get to have a say on the type of work that you are taking on and when you take it, which isn’t something that is offered in most other careers. What is more, the work is intellectually stimulating most of the time, with plenty of variety week to week.
I always enjoy a challenge, and so for me the best bit of first six was the paperwork. My pupil supervisor often set me drafting exercises that required much more thought and effort than the more run-of-the-mill writing tasks that were set on the Bar Training course. I greatly enjoyed getting stuck into these. I also took a lot from knowing that in some instances my input might actually be counting for something in the progression of the case that I was working on, and that it wasn’t all just being done for academic purposes.
For me it was certainly the limitations placed upon me and everyone else by the COVID-19 pandemic. Much of my first six was remote, meaning I had a lot of time in my own office staring at the same four walls. However, I think that even without the restrictions, just adjusting to the workload and time pressures was the biggest challenge, and I am sure that is something all pupils will face and in the first few months especially. Getting yourself into a workable system or rhythm is perhaps the hardest part of it all.
Proper preparation makes everything so much easier. It sounds obvious, but your best days in court always come when you have spent a lot of time really getting to know your brief beforehand. Sometimes it is very hard to find the time to prepare all of the material as thoroughly as you might like, and there is also a definite risk in the early stages of over-preparing the simpler things and not leaving enough time for other things in your diary. However, my advice would still be that it is better to be slightly over prepared than under prepared for most things, especially during the first few months on your feet. This requires a bit of self-discipline and sacrifice of some evenings/weekends in your second six, no doubt, but this gets easier one you get more comfortable with turning briefs around faster.
Definitely never be afraid to ask the question – if you don’t understand something or need someone to confirm that you are thinking along the right lines on a case, or whatever it is, just ask. People in Chambers are incredibly helpful and friendly and can always give you a point in the right direction if needs be. That goes not just for your supervisors and mentors but literally every member at Kings. You’re not expected to arrive as the finished article either, and everyone was once at the same starting point.
During my pupillage I saw quite a wide range of complex, high-value cases with my two pupil supervisors. I also had the chance to shadow some of the more junior members for a few days, to see the kinds of work that I would more likely be doing in the early stages of my own career. One case that really stood out for me amongst these was a claim being brought by a fairly high-profile prisoner against the prison service, and which was being defended by a member of Kings. The Claimant was also a litigant in person who had done a law degree whilst in prison in order to represent himself in the matter.
It was a great feeling. Getting my offer of pupillage gave me great peace of mind, obviously, but even with one foot in the door there is still the task of completing pupillage and being made a tenant. It was a good day when I got the call confirming that my membership application to Kings was accepted and made the previous 12 months of graft seem even more worthwhile.
You better enjoy reading because you’ll be doing a lot of it! But don’t worry, the material is always interesting and is very variable, meaning you rarely fall into a pattern of dull repetition. Some people have described it as being a lot like revising for an exam almost every day of your life, but for me that feeling of always having new material to learn and analyse actually becomes part of the enjoyment when the initial nerves and stresses die away.