What Are The Differences Between a Family Solicitor, Lawyer, Consultant and a McKenzie Friend?

There are various types of legal professional who can help in different ways. Their costs can also vary and generally depend on experience, seniority of role, and qualifications. The rates they charge are in direct correlation with those criteria. Read on for an overview of the main roles and duties of such professionals.


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Solicitor

A solicitor provides expert legal advice and support to clients. In order to call themselves ‘solicitor’, they must be fully qualified and be registered to practice with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). Solicitors provide specialist advice and deal with all the paperwork and communication surrounding their client’s cases, including drafting documents such as forms and statements. They will also write letters/emails, issue court applications and generally progress their client’s case.

Solicitors can also negotiate with clients and opposing parties towards agreed objectives via mediation and collaborative law and represent clients in court. Their work ranges across the whole spectrum from high-value cases to those of more moderate means.

Consultant Solicitor

Consultant solicitors are fully qualified legal professionals and tend to work on a self-employed basis, sometimes with the support of another ‘umbrella’ law firm and other times working as a sole practitioner. They are often in the autumn of their career, so are likely to have a vast amount of experience to draw upon. A consultant solicitor can also assist and advise legal firms with their workloads. They may have expertise in a particular area of law but because of their skills and experience, can represent someone in another area in line with current laws and regulations.

Family Law/Legal Consultant

Legal consultants cannot represent their clients in litigation cases. In practice, this means a legal consultant’s job stops at advice and preparing documentation. Although they may be fully qualified, or at least have some legal qualification, they are not acting as a solicitor when providing services. Law firms and solicitors are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), however when a legal consultant provides services, they are not regulated or authorised by the SRA. Legal consultants may also act as McKenzie Friends – see below.

Legal Executive

Chartered legal executives are qualified lawyers who do similar work to that of solicitors, specialising in specific areas of law such as conveyancing or family law. Work varies according to specialism, but duties generally include: assisting solicitors, giving legal advice, preparing cases, drafting legal documents, etc. Their day-to-day role is like that of a solicitor, however, the training route is narrower than for a solicitor. Chartered legal executives specialise early in their training and study one area of law to an advanced level. Their charging rate varies and depends on the level of experience they have. They can be referred to as lawyers, e.g. ‘family lawyers’ but not solicitors.

Paralegal

The role of a paralegal is to support other legal professionals. Their duties typically involve preparation of legal documents, administration of cases, research, interviewing clients and witnesses, and sometimes even attending court. Paralegals do not generally hold legal qualifications, although this is not always the case. Sometimes, those with law degrees wanting to move into the legal profession start off in paralegal roles.

Because access to legal aid has been severely curtailed over the years and has essentially been eradicated in all but a few areas, paralegals are filling the gap left by providing cost-effective legal assistance. Solicitors can be expensive, charging on average over £200 per hour, and some of those in more senior positions will charge significantly more. Paralegals can charge significantly less. There may also be occasions when a paralegal will undertake most work on a case, supervised by a fully qualified solicitor, who may take over once the case has reached a certain point.

Legal Secretary

Legal secretaries perform valuable administrative duties and support their team in the smooth running of clients’ cases. Their duties include producing legal documents, filling in legal forms, typing correspondence, liaising with clients and responding to enquiries. Solicitors rely on secretaries to ensure their clients are looked after, as they are often the first point of contact. Because they record and relay information between clients and solicitors (and vice versa), they tend to have exceptionally good knowledge of each client’s case and their needs. Sometimes, certain tasks performed by a legal secretary are charged to the client, so it is sensible to make sure you are aware of this at the outset.

McKenzie Friend

Not everyone can afford legal representation. Sometimes, the only option is to represent yourself in court. However, going to court without assistance can be stressful, particularly when you are unaware of the intricacies involved. This is where McKenzie Friends may come in; named after the 1970 case, which first established the principles. McKenzie Friends can:

  • Provide moral support for the litigant in person (LIP)
  • Take notes at court
  • Help draft and collate court paperwork and documentation
  • ‘Quietly’ give advice in court on: points of law, issues that the LIP may wish to raise in court, provide questions the LIP may wish to ask witnesses.

A McKenzie Friend cannot:

  • Act on behalf of a LIP
  • Act as the LIP’s agent in relation to the proceedings or manage the case outside court
  • Sign court documents on behalf of the LIP
  • Address (speak to) the court or cross-examine any witnesses. Although in exceptional circumstances, a judge may temporarily grant a McKenzie Friend ‘right’s of audience’. This allows the McKenzie Friend to address the court and conduct the LIP’s case for them. However, this is rare.

McKenzie Friends are not controlled or regulated by any body, so it can be open to abuse. That said, some McKenzie Friends are members of the Society of Professional McKenzie Friends, which is a self-regulatory body set up to help protect consumers and courts. Its members must be insured, have qualifications, and comply with court rules and practice. Additionally, a second group’s members, the McKenzie Friend Organisation, have agreed to adhere to the Practice Direction for McKenzie Friends. It also has its own complaints procedure.

It is important to note that not all McKenzie Friends have legal qualifications. Some have been through the court process themselves and simply wish to help others.

Some McKenzie Friends do not charge, others charge expenses only, but others charge fees, which can become expensive over the life of a case. If you pay for the services of a McKenzie Friend, you are protected, to a degree, by the Consumer Rights Act 2015. However, if you use the services of a McKenzie Friend and things go awry, you will not have the same protections that you would have had if you had used a regulated firm or solicitor.


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