In recent years there has been a change in the way that legal services are offered and indeed the types of people who offer those legal services. It used to be that legal services were the sole domain of solicitor firms and barristers.
However, the world has changed and in recent years there has been a rise in the number of unregulated companies offering legal advice particularly in the form of Will writing or acting as professional Mckenzie friends (a McKenzie Friend assists a litigant in person in court and does not need to be legally qualified) and advising in a variety of court proceedings.
Inevitably as a solicitor I approach this subject with my own preconceptions which will have been influenced as a result of my experiences. Before becoming a solicitor, I studied Law at University, attended the Legal Practice Course and undertook a two year training contract. In short, 6 years of training before I was a newly qualified (and still supervised) solicitor. So as much as I try to write objectively, this experience is going to be a factor in shaping my views.
Having said that, there are some factors that I feel potential clients should take into account before seeking legal advice.
What qualifies a person to provide advice?
As I have already indicated above, when becoming a Solicitor, Chartered Legal Executive or Barrister there is an extensive training process designed to provide that person with the framework of knowledge to be able to advise upon a particular topic.
It’s true that there are some legal professionals who have been through this process but nevertheless fall short of the expected standards. However, it still indicates a minimum level of training.
That is not to say that all unregulated Will writers or professional Mckenzie friends do not have some form of training or do not have the skills to advise. What it does mean is that there is no minimal level that they have to meet in order to provide these services.
What if something goes wrong?
If you have instructed a lawyer at a regulated firm then that firm has to have a complaints procedure in place. There are professional bodies where complaints can be escalated to if the unsatisfied client does not feel they have received a satisfactory response. Regulated firms are also required to have professional indemnity insurance. In short, if something goes wrong there is a safety net.
In the event that someone instructs an unregulated person to provide legal advice then there is no guarantee that they will have such procedures in place.
I have no doubt that there are unregulated Will writers and professional McKenzie friends who provide a valuable service for those people who simply cannot afford to instruct a regulated firm. However, that does not mean that there should not be a sensible degree of caution when instructing someone who is unregulated. Ultimately, the consequences to the individual seeking advice if something goes wrong may be the same, but the safety net in place if that does happen and the chances of something going wrong in the first place may be very different.
For more information and advice on what to look for in a family law firm please contact us.