Paralegals, Solicitors and Barristers and McKenzie Friends – Who to Choose and Why
Everybody will have heard of the term ‘lawyer’. Lawyer is a generic term which denotes a law professional with relevant legal qualifications, training and experience.
As with the medical profession, the law is divided into many subparts or disciplines. Unlike the medical profession, however, solicitors may work across various legal areas such as property, commercial, wills and trusts and family law.
Indeed, many law firms are multi-disciplined with several partners. It is not always clear how much time a solicitor devotes to each practice area they operate within. In a multi-discipline firm, it is hard to know how much of the solicitor’s time is dedicated to the particular practice area you may need help with.
Paralegals traditionally are the backbone and support function within a law firm. They are not glorified legal secretaries but instead highly skilled and well-trained staff who handle the vast majority of the workload of a solicitor. Most paralegals have undertaken legal training and examinations.
What differentiates solicitors from paralegals is ‘reserved activities’. Reserved activities are duties that are highly regulated and reserved to an exclusive list of qualified and regulated law professionals. Examples of reserved activities are the right to litigate a case (conduct of litigation) and the right of audience in court.
Solicitors are licensed to carry out the short list of reserved activities. The court must grant paralegals those same rights on a case-by-case basis. But are they both as capable of doing these activities to the same high standard? Absolutely.
Barristers spend their life in the court. Their primary role is to act as the client advocate and argue your case with the judiciary. Unlike solicitors, barristers do not undertake litigation (with limited exceptions). Litigation involves everything from issuing applications to case management and cross-liaison with the other parties. And unless a barrister is ‘direct access’ accredited, they can only be instructed by the solicitor or paralegal who has the right to conduct the litigation. (Paralegals must first be granted this right on a case-by-case basis).
While barristers may advocate your case at any hearing, the essential hearings where a barrister brings both skill and maximum benefit are evidential hearings, such as fact-finding or contested hearings.
Solicitor advocates are experienced lawyers with additional training to advocate client cases in lower and higher courts. Not every solicitor is a solicitor advocate. And not every solicitor is good when advocating cases in court. (Having a license to drive a car is not a statement of how good the driver is!)
There is a deficiency in the legal system whereby the judiciary (that is, the court) does not independently recognise paralegals. For this reason, when a paralegal attends the court, the court can only admit them as a ‘McKenzie Friend’.
A McKenzie Friend is traditionally a lay party and considered an unqualified source of support for parties attending court. There is a strong presumption for the admittance of a McKenzie Friend into the family court, and there is guidance from the former President of the Family Division, Lord Neuberger, which was drawn up in 2010. It has not been updated since. Anyone wishing to use the services of a McKenzie Friend must familiarise themselves with the guidance and, in particular, paragraphs 18 to 26.
The presumption for a McKenzie Friend to address the court (rights of audience) or to conduct the litigation in a case is entirely the other way. Judges are instructed to be wary of unqualified representatives, especially those with little or no legal qualifications, who are unregulated and who do not carry professional indemnity insurance.
Any McKenzie Friend who makes out that they can guarantee to address the court or litigate for you is making a false promise! Please be very aware.
Moreover, McKenzie Friends have brought upon themselves an abysmal standing with the courts because they do not have the etiquette or pedigree required to conduct themselves professionally in court. And the ones that make false promises are very likely to fall into this category.
When we attend court with our clients, we must submit ourselves as your McKenzie Friend. If we require rights, this must be granted by the court. However, what differentiates us from those individuals who operate as a professional McKenzie Friend is that we satisfy the broad criteria within Lord Neuberger’s 2010 guidance. We are legally trained and appropriately qualified; we are licensed as a paralegal by the Institute of Paralegals (IoP); and we are regulated by the Professional Paralegal Register (PPR). In addition, we have demonstrated the necessary skills and qualifications and carry professional indemnity insurance.
Therefore, we have been granted a practising certificate in family law. This gives the court a measure of faith in our skills and conduct. As a result, we frequently obtain the right of audience and/or the right to conduct the litigation. But we make no promises of that.
In 2023, the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEX) is taking over the IoP and the PPR. This is an essential milestone for qualified and regulated paralegals because CILEX is one of the few regulators whose appropriately qualified members are permitted to undertake reserved activities under section 12 of the Legal Services Act 2012. And with any hope, this will eventually address the vacuum where well-respected, qualified and regulated paralegals are recognised in our own right within the court system. Currently, #ParalegalAdvocates have the guaranteed right to represent their clients in tribunals only.
So, what is the difference between using a #ParalegalAdvocate or a solicitor in the family court? The answer is that it comes down to only those two reserved activities – Right of audience and the right to conduct litigation. In a nutshell, that is it.
In all other respects, there is little to no difference. Case management, drafting applications, preparing statements, supporting you in court, and managing the lawyer-client relationship are parallel. If you want help with any of these things, then a paralegal is the support you need. They have the qualifications, the skills and the right price tag! Yes, the most marked difference is the cost. Paralegals are often more than 50% less expensive than solicitors. For those on a tight budget, the fee is a paramount consideration.
As qualified and regulated paralegals, we work harder and smarter for less ££!
Most of all, with McKenzie Law Partners, you are not engaging with a multi-discipline law firm working across a range of specialisms – we only practice Children and Family Law. Our focussed specialism is in the subject area of parental alienation (PA). PA is becoming a significant problem in the family court today and requires careful understanding and ways of working because parental alienation can be very subtle and not at all obvious.
This results in better outcomes—the right outcome in 98% of our client cases. Our attention to detail and the fact that we only practice within one area of the law place us in a better position to support you. We have said it before, but we will say it again…choosing a paralegal representative is the right choice for you.
For those who can fund expensive legal cases, solicitors are more than willing to work on your case and handsomely charge you for the privilege. Paying for that privilege is no guarantee of success. Finding the right law professional is not easy or cheap.
At McKenzie Law Partners, if our client’s case requires a solicitor or a barrister, we will not hesitate to make that recommendation. We have developed a ‘hybrid scheme’ whereby we operate seamlessly with solicitor advocates splitting the roles for the best outcomes. The advantage of our scheme is taking the lion’s share of case management at the lower cost of paralegal services. This means that your precious funds can be saved for those occasions (such as evidential hearings) where the weight of a solicitor advocate or a barrister will bring significant benefits and outcomes.
All in all, this makes us the number one choice for anyone needing cost-efficient legal support in children or family law matters. We are the #ParalegalAdvocate you want in your corner - not a McKenzie Friend, not a solicitor – you need us. Why? Because we believe that everyone has the right to be represented fairly. So let us help.