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McKenzie Friends will replace family lawyers

The family law sector will eventually be dominated by organised and self-regulated fee-charging McKenzie Friends (FCMFs) and counsel, an industry observer has claimed

28 April 2014

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John Junk, managing director of self-representation advice service Family Court Support, said that the solicitors' branch of the legal industry could suffer "severe detriment" as a result of the "inexorable rise" of FCMFs in family law.

"The junior branch of the legal order knows that they must stop lay advocates and FCMFs instructing barristers directly, or their family law business will fall further, as FMCFs organise into companies, access CPD courses and take on professional indemnity insurance," says Junk.

"This may eventually lead to FCMFs being accepted by legal services to offer legal aid in family law cases."

Such an eventuality would have severe repercussions for traditional family lawyers, believes Junk.

"This event horizon moment will cause solicitors' turnover to fall over yet another cliff, and the family law sector will eventually be dominated by organised and self-regulated FCMFs and counsel only. A nightmare scenario for the solicitors' branch in what was once a profitable cost centre," he says.

Non-lawyer advisers who provide courtroom assistance to litigants in person were given a boost earlier this month when the Legal Services Consumer Panel said that the "potential benefits to litigants of fee-charging McKenzie Friends outweigh the potential risks" and recommended that they "should be accepted as a legitimate feature of the legal services market".

While Junk welcomed this move, the LSCP's findings did not come as a surprise. "I predicted almost ten years ago that FCMFs would eventually come in from the cold and become part of the established legal order, though it seems that FCMFs will eventually sit below solicitors and above legal execs, not below legal execs as I originally prophesied.

"I also predicted that we could see a route for FCMFs to enter the solicitors' branch of the legal order, as is the case with solicitors' clerks at present.

"While these predictions are probably not what solicitors want to hear, the more business savvy among them will realise that forming relationships with companies that supply FCMFs is in their long-term interest, and we may see solicitors' firms including retained FCMFs among their associates and partners," says Junk.

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Marriage & Civil partnership