The cost of regulation is driving some solicitors to opt to become McKenzie friends so they can offer cheaper services to clients, the Society of Professional McKenzie Friends (SPMF) has told the competition watchdog.

In its submission to a Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) market study into legal services for consumers and small businesses, the society notes that a number of its members have previously worked as solicitors and are still on the roll, but have chosen to act as McKenzie friends.

The response, written by SPMF’s chair Ray Barry (pictured), states that a factor cited for this trend is the high cost of regulation for solicitors, which is passed onto consumers.

It claims: ‘Operating in the unregulated capacity of McKenzie friend, but with the protection the SPMF offers to the consumer, strikes the right balance for some, who feel that as a McKenzie friend they can offer the same professionalism and client care as they would do as a solicitor, but can do so at a cheaper cost.’

The body says that the CMA should widen the scope of its investigation to include family law, due to the significant impact the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 has had on family proceedings.

It also argues against imposing any additional regulation on McKenzie friends. ‘The essence of a McKenzie friend service is that it offers a low-cost alternative for someone who cannot afford the services of a solicitor or barrister,' it states. ‘Regulation would add cost to McKenzie friend services and make them unaffordable for many of those who most need them.’

The society says that its members carry professional indemnity insurance. But it admits that it has a membership of only 23.

The submission proposes that the legal services sector and judiciary provide incentives to encourage more people to join, perhaps by taking membership into account when deciding whether to grant a right of audience.

The judiciary is currently proposing a ban on fee-charging McKenzie friends as part of a consultation on the sector. The judiciary also recommends that McKenzie friends should sign up to a code of conduct.