Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Matthew Burgess, the deputy chief executive and general counsel of the Independent Schools Council, which represents more than 1,200 schools, advised the council on its judicial review of the Charity Commission's public benefit guidance in the upper tribunal of the High Court. The tribunal ruled that the guidance must be rewritten and that decisions on how schools operate are for that charity's trustees and not the commission.

  • What were the main challenges in this case and possible implications?
    The main was presentational. We were disputing the legality of a regulatory approach that put disproportionate weight on bursaries, but at the same time we are proud of the work our sector does to assist those who cannot afford the fees of independent schools; it is worth more than £260 million each year. That's a fairly nuanced message to get across. The implications are positive for charities. Trustees are firmly back in the driving seat on decisions relating to public benefit and this lays to rest any notion that the commission can threaten independent schools with the loss of charitable status.
  • What was your worst day as a lawyer?
    As an articled clerk being left in charge of a complicated management buyout by the senior partner whose handover notes read, in full: "Watch out for the B preference shares."
  • What was your most memorable experience as a lawyer?
    Discussing with the Duke of York last month what more he could do to represent and promote British education overseas. I'm a governor of Brighton College. We recently opened a campus in Abu Dhabi and I know first-hand the value and kudos of royal support overseas.
  • Who has been the most influential person in your life and why?
    Anyone who has ever hired me, particularly because I have a tendency to apply for jobs that interest me, rather than ones that necessarily match my experience.
  • What would your advice be to anyone wanting a career in law?
    Don't be afraid to step outside the mainstream. A legal training opens up a variety of career options; being a solicitor in private practice is only one of them.
  • Why did you become a lawyer?
    At university, I enjoyed a combination of logic and quirkiness that makes up English law.
  • If you had not become a lawyer, what would you have chosen and why?
    Probably an author of historical fiction although too many years of legal drafting have rather blunted my creative writing skills. Of course, its not too late for me to become a full-time dad and let my wife, Penny, go back to work as a doctor...
  • Where do you see yourself in ten years?
    Still in the education sector, although not necessarily in a legal role.

LAWYER OF THE WEEK ARTICLE PRINTED WITH KIND PERMISSION OF THE TIMES

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