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McKenzie Friends’ trade association introduces new rules

Society of Professional McKenzie Friends responds to Legal Services Board recommendations

The Society of Professional McKenzie Friends is to require all its members to have Professional Indemnity Insurance, and a qualification, equivalent to A level or above, in law or other relevant subject, or have 3 years experience as a McKenzie Friend.

In April 2014 the Legal Services Consumer Panel published its report on Fee-Charging McKenzie Friends, which made 15 recommendations including:

1) Fee-charging McKenzie Friends should be recognised as a legitimate feature of the evolving legal services market.

13) External regulation of McKenzie Friends should not be introduced.

14) Fee-charging McKenzie Friends should form a recognised trade association.

SPMF was established in response to the report. It was designed specifically to deliver on the report's recommendations. It currently has 27 members of whom many have law degrees; a number are, or have been, subject to regulation by SRA, BSB, CILEx.

In its September response to the report, the Legal Services Board was "cautious about formally accepting fee charging McKenzie Friends as a legitimate feature of the evolving legal services market," but the Board agreed with many other recommendations, including 13 and 14: i.e. that external regulation was not appropriate because "to do so might drive such provision out of the market" and instead of external regulation, McKenzie Friends should form "a widely recognised Trade Association."

Within the coming 2 months, SPMF's membership criteria will change to take account of this LSB response, in particular the Board's view that the trade association should have:

"an urgent focus on ... introducing measures to protect clients, including some form of accreditation and indemnity insurance to mitigate the risks posed to consumers."

In response to this, under SPMF's new membership criteria, all members will be required to:

1) have Professional Indemnity Insurance, and

2) have a qualification, equivalent to A level or above, in law or other relevant subject, or have 3 years experience as a McKenzie Friend. There will be a probationary category of membership for those who are working towards one of these criteria.

Ray Barry, joint founder and Director of SPMF, said:

"There are major shifts taking place in the market, and in the demands of consumers, to which some practitioners, both lawyers and McKenzie Friends, are adapting better than others.

"CAFCASS' figures show a continuing fall in new private law cases, the October 2014 volumes being down 13% on October 2013, which in turn were 9% lower than in October 2012. McKenzie Friends may be getting a bigger slice of the cake but the size of the cake itself is reducing. It is not only lawyers who see their work volumes falling; many McKenzie Friends have experienced the same in the last 12 months. The key to adapting to this changing market seems to be to understand what the consumer now requires.

"Taking control of one's own case is what motivates some parents to prefer acting in person –  often professional people, for whom a court environment is not intimidating and who don't want to trust someone else to speak on their behalf in relation to that which is most precious to them: their children. For such litigants, speaking in person with an adviser sitting alongside can be a more attractive option than being represented. For others, the out-of-hours accessibility of a McKenzie Friend at evenings or weekends is what attracts them.

"Now that legal aid has all but gone from family proceedings, the consumer is king. The consumer now pays the piper personally out of his own pocket and is starting to call the tune."