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MacKenzie Friend or Foe(44 Posts)
Now that there is no legal aid, please stop and think very carefully before paying for any "services" of a McKenzie Friend. They are not qualified lawyers although there are a few struck off lawyers charging for their services as MF . Some may be very useful in preparing bundles and giving basic advice but please bear in mind that they are not fully trained, probably not insured and are certainly not regulated in any shape or form.
The rules on McKenzie Friends in family proceedings are such that paid MFs are generally NOT allowed to be advocates - only qualified lawyers are allowed under the Courts and Legal Services Act to charge for advocacy.
You can nnow go directly to a barrister in family matters and may find that a junior barrister will work out a lot cheaper as whilst their hourly rate may be more [though not that much more], they will need to do many fewer hours ...They will of course be properly trained and subject to quality checks ....
Having used and dealt with solicitors both as someone with a case in the family courts and as a McKenzie Friend it would be very fair to say that for all the talk of qualifications, regulation and assurance that using a the `services' of a `legal professional' entails there is no guarantee either that you will feel you have been well served.
For example - you may believe that membership of Resolution by a lawyer would help. In the history of the existence of that body not one complaint made by clients has ever resulted in any action taken against a lawyer. If a client makes a complaint to the Legal Services Commission you will, as a matter of course not be informed of the progress or any decisions made as a result. Should you choose to pursue your former legal representation through the courts you have a choice of either hiring another lawyer or representing yourself. Bear in mind that such a client is liable to be financially destitute as a result of a long case and many of the complaints are a result of overcharging and poor service.
In my work as a McKenzie Friend I am finding that legal professionals are getting more and more aggressive, particularly towards litigants and person as well as their McKenzie Friend if they use one. Speaking to friends who are legal professionals they tell me that there is an extreme worry that the changes in legal aid will put many out of business and they expect McKenzie Friends to take up a lot of the work that lawyers formerly did. Things are so bad that in many of the parts of the country, they are talking about industrial action:
Although these regulated and insured legal professionals are supposed to assist litigants in person (with or without McKenzie Friends)
it is extremely common for attempts to bully, mislead and even lie to them to `win' the case for their own clients. I often receive calls from people who are extremely worried only to reassure them there is nothing to worry about.
Often people will contact us after they have exhausted their funds paying a lawyer and we will help them straighten things out. It is typical to find procedures ignored, paperwork not completed and a complete lack of initiative and case management on the part of someone who is being paid in excess of £170 an hour. People are often shocked when they realise how poorly they are assisted and it is common to be told `I've made more progress in the last hearing than I did in the last year with my solicitor'.
Of course - it's unsurprising that solicitors and barristers would be so hostile to anyone they consider taking their business away from them. Many firms are liable to close and many lawyers are becoming McKenzie Friends as competition for funded clients rapidly falls away.
I would advise anyone who would like assistance in court (with a solicitor, barrister, McKenzie Friend, whatever) to ask them about their experience, qualifications and background. Ask for references too if you like.
Finally...I've am fully insured and most of my fellow McKenzie Friends are too!
Thing is babybarrister if you have very little money you have very little choice. I was lucky to get legal aid funding but there was no going to court costs - the consent order agreed without the need for court. Friend of mine with very similar circumstances ended up with over £15,000 secured on her property due to having to go to court again to get an order for the transfer of the house & she too was on legal aid.
Thing is, if you want PROPER legal advice from a trained and qualified professional, you should not be paying for advice from an unqualified person/MF, many of whom have no legal training/background.
Spending £15,000 could well be a good deal if you retain/acquire significant property or assets compared to paying £1,500 to an unqualified MF who gives poor advice which ultimately results in you losing significantly more.
<puts on tin hat, folds out campbed and opens popcorn>
LOL MOS we are not talking multi millions but it was qualified barristers /sols that ballsed it up first time round hence needing to go to court again!
Thing is, if you don't have the cash you don't have the cash & I bet a lot of people may not end up with as good a settlement as they might have before the end of legal aid. I suppose sols will wantmoney up front not as a charge on a property like you'd get with legal aid!
That's the way of the world though, teaching assistants taking classes, nurses prescribing etc etc. Suppose law is going the same way!
The only cases in which I have personally encountered MFs has lead me to be concerned. In these cases the MF had a poor grasp of the law and procedure, and encouraged the litigant to take steps that caused harm to their case. Well meaning but ultimately damaging.
Better to pay what little you have to get proper advice rather than poor representation for a few more weeks.
Not everyone can afford a new car, but we have legislation in place to ensure cars are safe. It's the same for legal services. Would you pay me for medical advice? No. But why would anyone pay a MF for legal advice when they lack the qualifications?
I always follow your posts with interest because they are the voice of reason and realism and respect what you do on here.
However, have you ever been a litigant in the family courts?
I have. I have used an MF, who offered his services for free. This got me started. He has been helping parents for nearly 25 years and is well known and respected within the Family courts in his area. So much so one judge allowed him rights of representation.
I since moved to the services of a solicitor and a barrister because I could afford it. A lot of people can't. When you're up against a Legally aided LIP and you yourself arent eligible and yet cant afford representation an MF is the last line of defence against a usually very hostile party.
I am now going to dispense with the services of my solicitor because I no longer feel they are providing any value. From my last invoice a lot of what they have done is a lot of paper shuffling and the case management is not really out of the realms of my own capabilities.I feel they have provided a level of indirection between me and my barrister who really is my representation. I have grown weary of their repeated reply 'Well, I wasnt in court so I cant really comment...'
I understand why you would want to defend the service a solicitor provides but there are alternatives.
There are bad MFs there are also very good ones.
In the same way there are good solicitors and also very bad ones.
The point is that we can't have anyone deciding to set themselves up as providing a professional service (especially not making a profit from it as well) unless they have undergone specific training, education, and have insurance, and are regulated.
I can't decide one morning I want to be an architect, so I'll put an advert in the paper offering to design extensions for people, or that I fancy offering medical advice or accountancy services.
Sometimes MFs can be helpful but when they think they have what it takes to offer advice just because they've been through it themselves and have got involved in a few other people's divorces then I think it poses a real danger to the public, who are being conned.
I agree with Collaborate - I could set myself as many things and I MIGHT be yore good at some of them but generally this is not the way Western societies work which is why we have long training periods, disciplinary bodies and professional indemnity insurance ... If you would like to come round to my house for a haircut though for £5 though, please so - don't worry - I've watches loads of other people do hair cutting and some of my best friends have had hair cuts so I am sure I must have picked up enough en route to offer a great service
The Merseyside Family Justice Council has recently published some good guidance for self-represented litigants. It's here:
Worth a read. It also gives guidance on MFs.
I know MFs who have seeon more of the inside of a court room than some family law solicitors.
What you havent been able to square is how expensive it is for people on low incomes or very little means to get good, reliable representation.
Would you rather these people go in there alone? Some opposing solicitors barristers relish this scenario becuase even the most capable people outside of a court can get tied up in knots.
Nobody should ever go to court alone.
The fact of the matter is Family Law litigation is very expensive if you were so worried about LIPs then you should be working to bring it within the reach of the ordinary parent who are simply trying to do well by their children.
Yes lawyers are expensive but legal firms have some of the biggest overheads of all businesses. First of all there are the premises, rates, staff, IT equipment, year on year professional training and insurance I believe is typically a third of the fees they charge. If you look at the recruitment columns the average high street family solicitor earns between £27k-£40k which isn't that much for someone who has studied law for 3 or 4 years, completed another couple of years' training on the job and further training year in year out. There are far more lucrative specialisms to work in.
Sadly some people can't afford representation and the danger is being conned and/or grievances being ratcheted up by someone who has their own axe to grind.
I've seen plenty of football matches. Doesn't qualify me to be a football manager.
I've watched casualty a few times. Can I be a doctor too?
Cooked chips - I entirely agree that in family cases EVERYONE needs some assistance from someone with no personal axe to grind - I say that as someone who is a specialised-family lawyer but HAS been divorced and certainly did not do my own divorce! I always advise my family lawyer friends who are divorcing of the same ....
IMO there are three main reasons for this
1. All family litigants are too involved in their own cases and cannot see the wood for the trees - me included
2. Knowledge of the actual law
3. admin help - particularly useful for people who cannot manage their own paperwork
My issue with MFs who are CHARGING is that they may be great at 1 and 3 but no. 2 is simply not their expertise
As for the issue of family lawyers ensuring everyone gets represented, well Worksop due respect WE were the ones who were campaigning against legal aid cuts- NOT the general public - where were YOU then????? Did you write to your MP? I did !!!
And what response did family lawyers get to their pleas? They were told it was all about self interest ( even people like me who don't do legal aid)
So I am afraid to say that on this issue it is the PUBLIC who failed to stand up for the service -NOT the lawyers. Sadly it is very much the case of complaining after the horse has bolted ....
I recall starting a thread on this subject around a year ago highlighting the proposals. Absolutely no interest at all. I shall try and find it...
This is very interesting, thank you BB.
There is a new and excellent guide for litigants in person written by the Bar www.barcouncil.org.uk/media/203109/srl_guide_final_for_online_use.pdf
In my opinion it is a sweeping statement to say that McKenzie Friends "are not qualified lawyers although there may be a few struck off lawyers, not fully trained, probably not insured and certainly not regulated!" There is no guarantee that you are going to get an excellent service because someone is a solicitor/barrister and they are heavily regulated, insured and qualified! Some of today's solicitors have become more like salespeople with unrealistic targets that they are expected to achieve, what pressure does that put them under when dealing with a case and balancing clients interests with hitting targets. As someone who has worked as a family lawyer within a high street practice for years dealing with complex financial/contact cases and I am legally qualified, I do feel I have something to offer clients who cannot afford or choose not to use a solicitor. I walked away from being a high street family lawyer because I wanted to provide a personal/cost effective service for LiP's and I am glad that I did. I successfully work alongside barristers, mediators, solicitors, counsellors to ensure my clients who are LiP's get the expert advice they need whilst doing as much of the work as they can themselves. Oh and I am insured, have been recommended as an affiliate member of Resolution and am a member of the IOP so abide by their code of conduct. I would welcome paralegal's like myself being regulated because its a shame if we all get a bad name because of a few bad 'apples'. What I find most disappointing is that many people within the legal services industry are very protective regarding the work they do and criticise others unnecessarily in order to justify their own services. It's a shame we can't work together to provide a range of services that clients want in a way they want them.
You clearly are very different to the majority of commercial MFs - you are legally qualified, insured and wish to be regulated. You are sadly not the 'norm' as you must know well
I certainly agree that here is no guarantee of an excellent service by a qualified lawyer - there is a rather higher chance though than with an unknown MF ....
3xcookedchips is on the money.
There are good and bad everywhere - when it comes to barristers, solicitors and McKenzie Friends. Any of these who are good can be worth their weight in gold. Any of these who are bad can utterly wreck a case.
I've seen examples of both types.
Both my partner and myself (she is a qualified paralegal incidentally) have been thanked on numerous occasions by the court and lawyers for our assistance in court - reassuring people, advising them of their options and drawing up orders and assisting with paperwork for courts.
I've also seen (again on numerous occasions) lawyers criticised by judges for failing to follow practice directions and be clearly ignorant of the law - their legal qualifications, insurance and faith in regulation (sometimes evidenced by the `Resolution' logo on their letterhead) apparently counting for very little - clearly to the detriment of their client's case.
As I have stated before: Anyone wishing to engage a solicitor, barrister or McKenzie friend should ask for a CV, references and speak to them before handing over any money. I know many people who have engaged and then sacked lawyers failing to act under instruction (or often act at all) and are more than happy to fire letters back and forth indefinitely with no evidence of case management or an attempt to resolve the matter in hand.
A big office, a nice letter head, insurance and regulation mean absolutely nothing as the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
We will have to agree to disagree as there is no way I would agree that there is not a higher likelyhood of getting a good service from a qualified lawyer than from a MF - that is not to say that there are not good MFs or bad lawyers. I don't really understand why very experienced MFs who do know the law and procedure don't then qualify as legal execs ...
What does a parent do who hasnt seen their kids for 6 months because of a hostile ex and yet doesnt have the means to afford professional legal representation?
The legals on this thread donet seem to appreciate what parents on low incomes are up against.
I am fascinated by this discussion, peering in from the outside as I am - someone who can barely afford legal representation and is currently reading up on my options for what lies ahead. I've borrowed £1500 from friends to get me started on the divorce process and after that will have to get divorce loans if my STBXH doesn't help with legal bills.
My case is proving rather complicated and acrimonious, and my lawyer has already refused to do work for me on a fixed fee basis. I can't say I blame her! I am trying to do as much of the work myself as I can in order to keep costs down, but agree that for many people on low incomes, the legal system really is about to implode with the withdrawal of legal aid for most cases. Something is going to have to take the place of lawyers in those cases where they can't be afforded, and perhaps in time the role of the McKenzie Friend will have to be more regulated and more insured as it assumes a greater position due to necessity.
Do all McKenzie Friends charge for their services?
Babybarrister - thanks for posting that Bar Council guide; so useful and I had a bit of a read last night.
ladymuckbeth some McKenzies do, some don't. The ones that do work in different ways. There are ones who charge fixed fees for hearings (I've never known a 30 minute hearing to start on time or actually last 30 minutes) although charging a fixed fee for a case is a problem as you never know how many hearings it will take till the case is closed. In my personal experience fee-charging McKenzie Friends cost around a quarter what a solicitor would.
Most are more than happy to give free advice, help draft letters, etc. but charge for helping prepare court paper work and attending hearings.
As a general rule though, the more work the LIP does the cheaper it is. A lot of it isn't rocket science and certainly low-end solicitors are nothing more than expensive letter writers you can do without.
My personal case is a good illustration. A long five year case that took 15 hearings to get to a final (well...the second final hearing) cost me around £5,000. I estimate my son's mother's costs were around £20,000. I did all of the paperwork myself (with the assistance of a few McKenzie Friends). My son is now with me 40% of the time and all was agreed by consent - even in the face of my ex refusing to agree to anything more than a contact centre initially.
I can't recommend this course of action more. As it was my case I knew it inside out and also had the motivation to do everything I could to achieve what I sought. My McKenzie Friends told me when I was acting unreasonable, told me when I was barking up the wrong tree and held my hand when I needed it - they were available pretty much 24/7 when I needed them too.
I could not afford solictor or MF so had to represent myself and tbh not as bad as I thought it could be and yet xh solictor charged loads for load of paper shuffling and was pretty shit say the least .
So you say MF no good well can tell you not all solicitors are good either .
Oh and I won his solictor lost case adding in get got told of by that judge to
Money no gurantee
Ladymuckbeth: All cases have the capacity to be "complicated" so, whilst I don't know the details of your case, I doubt that a solicitor would not take it on for that reason.
There are various McKenzie Friends. Some charge. Some don't. Some operate a fixed fee and/or an hourly rate.
I agree with some of Babybarristers concerns. The drop in legal aid has certainly prompted a wide arrray of people putting themselves forward as a McKenzie Friend.
A McKenzie Friend has to put forward a CV to the court on relevant experience. Like with any service you use I would always ask to see a CV, request if they have insurance and ask for references.
A McKenzie Friend isn't a lawyer and nor should they pretend to be. Many McKenzie Friends do have a legal background and therefore are a great asset to the Litigant in Person, helping case manage; drafting documents and attending court but they are also there for support. As McKenzie Friend don't have automatic Rights of Audience it's important for their role to be a more varied one. It is a role that offers support; availibility for their clients out of usual office hours and the ability to respond quickly and efficiently both in their case and on a practical level.
I have worked in litigation for over 15years myself and I choose to be a McKenzie Friend. I find the role immensley rewarding.
Let's be honest about the level of knowledge of MFs of the law and procedure though .... One of the larger commercial MF firms offers a 4 day training course
I studied for 2 years plus a further year of apprenticeship
The real difficulty is that the way the MF websites present themselves to the public makes it very difficult for an uninformed person to realise that they are not legally trained and they should ask whether they are insured and for a CV etc
People on this thread may understand only too well the differences. I suspect most of the public do not
`One of the larger commercial MF firms offers a 4 day training course'
I assume you're not basing your view on all MF's on this are you?
I once met a barrister who told me about a `father's rights to see a child' but couldn't get out of the door fast enough when I asked him which section of the Children Act that was in.
The real difficulty with using `legal professionals' is the sometimes often unfounded belief that their training and qualifications will help your case as opposed to costing you tens of thousands of pounds.
I'm guessing that the uninformed people who use them don't know what the insurance you're referring to is for either...protecting themselves against being sued by clients for incompetence, having costs awarded against them, etc.
Costs are very rarely awarded in Family Law too although I have noticed an increase in threats just recently - although I imagine that's a result of the changed to legal aid, with lawyers trying to recoup funds for clients who would have formerly been eligible for it.
And I repeat: All the McKenzies I know have insurance.
And I repeat - NONE of the MFs I have encountered will openly state that they are being paid ( which I strongly suspect was untrue) and therefore it would be very unlikely they were insured ..
Are you in favour of regulation?
I think any competition tends to be good for people. There are loads of areas you can set up without any qualifications eg counsellor, therapist, tutor etc etc. Only certainly words are legally restricted - eg solicitor, barrister, nurse etc when you have to have the exams although what is said above about who is allowed to represent who in court is correct.
In most family law matters it is much much better to resolve things without going to court. In a sense you've failed if you have to end up in court and on contact disputes there are so few penalties if people disobey an order you might win in court but still not see the child. Psychology is as important as law and compromise is usually the better course.
There are lots of people who do better for using solicitors or barrister in their family disputes but it needs to be proportionate. If the sum in dispute is £50k which is not unusual in divorces that is a fairly small amount compared to the costs of going to court. Conversely if the sum in dispute is many many times more than the legal costs might be it can be worth spending money on good lawyers.
Totally agree re being commercial in relation to disputes about finances - people's feelings come into
Play though re children ..
I have no objection to regulated and insured MFs who are upfront about their qualifications. Reality is generally very different ....
babybarrister - seems a strange thing to ask a MF at a Family Court hearing. Would be interested to hear how you feel asking that question at a has any relevance.
Seems as relevant as a party to hearings asking if you are free charging or working pro bono!
As you'll know from Practice Guidance: McKenzie Friends (Civil and Family Courts) :
27) Litigants can enter into lawful agreements to pay fees to MFs for the provision of reasonable assistance in court or out of court fees to MFs for the provision of by, for instance, carrying out clerical or mechanical activities, such as photocopying docu ments, preparing bundles, elivering documents to opposing parties or the court, or the provision of legal
advice in connection with court proceedings. Such fees to MFs for the provision of Fees cannot be lawfully recovered from the opposing party.
...and as for qualification we provide a CV as per Practice Guidance too (which you'll also know!)
6) A litigant who wishes to exercise this right should inform the judge as soon as possible indicating who the MF will be. The proposed MF should produce a short curriculum vitae or other statement setting out relevant experience, confirming that he or she has no interest in the case and understands the MFs role and the duty of confidentiality.
Don't be provocative - you know perfectly well that it directly affects whether a judge would grant rights of audience so of course it is relevant as you would know better than anyone ....
As FPR the issue of whether I am acting pro Bono - of course I would answer that as it would be relevant to any issue as to costs
Again re CVs - what MFs should do and what they do do are two entirely different matters and in the real world they get away with it all the time ...
BB and Coll you have both attacked the quality of MFs and questioned if they should be allowed anywhere near family law cases and felt the need to justify your professional charges.
1) i don't believe anyone as has asked either of you to justify your fees. Its only been stated that using the services of a solicitor and or a barrister is expensive. That is fact.
2) You choose to ignore there is poor service solicitors out there also. How much more do they cost in wasted time and outcomes.
3) You are not able to propose what alternative an LIP has when faced with going in to court alone or with an MF?
babybarrister - `you know perfectly well that it directly affects whether a judge would grant rights of audience'
The only link in the practice directions between remuneration for a McKenzie Friend and their being granted rights of audience are in paragraph 30 and that states that fees are recoverable `in principle'.
If it's an important enough question to require an answer it would best raised before a judge for the court's consideration.
If it's not, it's not relevant.
And as for what MFs do and what they shouldn't do...I think we'd both agree that applies to lawyers too.
My CV is always presented to the court complete with case law relevant to the use of McKenzie Friends. On the rare occasions I have been examined on it the court has been satisfied by my responses.
Asking the lawyers here - how do you think things are going to change now that LA is almost no more? Do you think lawyers will ever bring their prices down?
Surely something's going to have to change radically - either McKenzie Friends becoming far more prominent (with more regulation?) or lawyers adapting somehow to help people who can't afford the fees.
As I said earlier in the thread, my lawyer's firm have just started offering 'fixed fee' structures, but already mine has said she's not prepared to offer me that, because my case is too complex/involved. McKenzie13 - so you see, it's not that she's refusing my case, just refusing to charge me on a FF basis. And I can understand that - I don't really see that fixed fees change much if inherently they're being costed at the lawyers usual rate and assuming next to no divergence from a set expected course of procedures.
But unless lawyers become cheaper, surely more people will be looking to see what they can get by paying eg. £50 per hour.
What has happened in other areas is that unless you have private means or are so left wing you are happy to live on £10k - £20k a year you move away from areas which are badly paid in law and anything else into areas which are better paid rather than prices reducing. I would certainly recommend people pick work they like but which also pays them reasonably well. I don't fear competition at all and every week I send people off to cheaper or free alternative sources of advice (I am nothing to do with family law but got interested in it on my divorce).
There are schemes where you can borrow the fees - eg say husband is worth £10m and you have nothing and it is pretty clear you might get £2m you could be loaned for the fees until the assets are recovered. Legal aid was always a loan which you paid out of the assets you obtained I think.
I believe most expects that for the lower value cases (i.e. most divorces) people will represent themselves. You can ask people qualified and unqualified to bid for work for you for individual tasks on website sites like peopleperhour. Most people are happy to give a fixed price for a fixed bit of work eg if you know writing a particular letter will take you one hour then you can say a price for that. My ex husband and I did most of the negotiating etc ourselves and we just used lawyers as back up and I paid both side's lawyers as I earn more.
Lostdad - I think you are being a little disingenuous. You know perfectly well that at para 23 of the Guidance one of the factors likely to be considered in relation to whether to allow an MF rights of audience is whether they are a 'professional' - whether for reward or otherwise.
Of course complain about fees all the time - a good part of our additional costs though goes in regulation and insurance - that is why it is not a level playing field!!!
as I said below, I did write to my MP about the cutting of legal aid ( though I do not do it myself) . I feel strongly that there everyone has the right to be represented by a fully qualified lawyer at v stressful times of separation should they want to be so represented.
I entirely agree that particularly in simple children act disputes, lawyers may not be necessary and what is needed is some straight talking and common sense on both sides ...that may be by mediation or negotiation using friends, MFs etc
Can you please resins to my question as to whether you wish to be regulated?
I agree with regulation for MFs but strongly believe that if it's on a par with the regulation of lawyers it's meaningless. As I've said before there is very little penalty for any kind of wrongdoing even when it is blatant and proven.
On a personal note I must say that I chose to represent myself not for financial reasons but because I mistrusted a lawyer to properly represent me. While I understand there are good and bad lawyers I was not prepared to take the gamble of getting a good one.
And yes: I have met good solicitors and barristers in court. I've met bad MFs too. And vice versa.
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