Paid legal advisers should be recognised as a ‘legitimate feature’ of the legal services market, says LSB chairman.

The oversight legal regulator has given a muted backing to the emergence of fee-charging McKenzie friends.

Legal Services Board chairman Sir Michael Pitt (pictured) supported the suggestion that paid legal advisers should be recognised as a ‘legitimate feature’ of the legal services market.

The Legal Services Consumer Panel called for a ‘culture shift’ in April to acknowledge that paid McKenzie friends can improve access to justice and had no widespread detrimental effect.

In a letter to the panel, Pitt agreed McKenzie friends may improve access to justice, but continued that he was ‘cautious about formally accepting’ them.

Pitt said safeguards are needed to clarify their role and limitations – but he stopped short of advocating the regulation of their services.

‘We are concerned that [McKenzie friends] may be misleadingly perceived as offering a service underpinned by the same standards and consumer protections that are provided by a regulated professional,’ said Pitt.

‘That is not to say, however, that we are advocating the regulation of the services provided by McKenzie friends. To do so might drive such provision out of the market.’

Pitt said judges should continue to have the discretion to grant rights of audience, with such rights not automatically given.

He added that the ‘sceptical – and indeed sometimes hostile’ view of many in the legal profession on the issue showed the importance of providing clear and targeted information for litigants.

He agreed with the consumer panel that McKenzie friends should form a recognised trade association, with client protection measures such as accreditation and indemnity insurance introduced to manage the risks.

The LSB is now set to consider the panel’s findings as part of its ongoing work on simplifying legal services regulation.

Pitt has also written to the judicial working group tasked with considering the panel’s report on fee-charging McKenzie friends.

The panel made 15 separate recommendations on expanding the role of the paid advisers, including initiating a ‘culture shift’ to see them as a legitimate feature of the modern legal services market.

The report also support them committing to self-regulation by establishing a trade association and code of practice.