A new trade association for McKenzie friends will insist that members are insured and meet minimum standards of qualification and experience within two months, its president has told the Gazette.
The Society of Professional McKenzie Friends was formed earlier this year after the Legal Services Consumer Panel asked for greater self-regulation in the business.
The group has met twice, both times in the offices of the panel, and is vowing that membership will be dependent on professional indemnity insurance (PII) and qualification at A-level or above in law or three years-plus experience as a McKenzie friend.
Ray Barry (pictured), chair of the society’s board, said the new mandatory elements will ‘inspire consumers and give them confidence’.
‘Any Tom, Dick or Harry can be doing this,’ he said. ‘The ordinary man doesn’t know who he is trusting these matters to. I am 100% behind [accreditation] – consumers need to know who they are dealing with and that somebody is doing checks.’
Barry, who previously worked for Jobcentre Plus and campaigned for Fathers4Justice, runs a company called Court Without a Lawyer. He said around half of the estimated 50 professional McKenzie friends in the country are members of the society.
He added that most members, including himself, already have PII and one broker has offered a discount on insurance to people willing to join.
The group hopes that through more self-regulation, the courts will be more willing to grant rights of audience.
Barry said judges have been careful to restrict the involvement of McKenzie friends in court proceedings in recent years due to complaints from the legal profession.
‘The simple fact is that often a McKenzie friend is the only person with any kind of professional competence to attend the court,’ he added. ‘Judges should use that expertise. I would accept we have not got the level of training a qualified solicitor has. In the grand scheme of things a McKenzie friend will often not be as good.
‘But I would point to the fact there needs to be some consumer choice here.’
Barry explained that McKenzie friends are simply an extension of the unbundling of work many firms are addressing, enabling litigants to decide how much their representative does for them.
‘Solicitors are too expensive for many people. [Those] who can’t afford solicitors should have the option of a cheaper alternative,’ he said.
‘Part of that is driven by the costs of regulation and I have a lot of sympathy for solicitors but you have to look at the reality. The market has changed and people have to adapt.’
A Law Society spokesperson said: ‘It is an interesting development, but we would ask how far this will prove effective in protecting the public interest. Membership will not be compulsory and we question whether the organisation will have the resources or expertise to deal with the worrying issues around paid McKenzie friends.’