A leading solicitor is urging those representing themselves in court to ‘steer clear’ of unqualified legal advisors whose intervention could do more harm than good.
Paul Barnes, Head of Dispute Resolution at Kirwans law firm, said that sweeping legal aid cuts had led many people to try and access ‘law on the cheap’ by turning to unqualified, unregulated and uninsured legal advisers such as McKenzie Friends.
Traditionally providing informal advice, taking notes, and giving support in court, McKenzie Friends don’t need to be legally trained or have any professional legal qualifications.
But some McKenzie Friends now charge a fee for their support, and claim levels of experience and knowledge that they may not actually possess.
The dangers of using such unqualified legal advisers have become clear as a result of cases that have hit the headlines.
Last year an English couple, acting on advice from a McKenzie Friend, brought their child into Ireland in defiance of an interim care order and ended up in court. In another case, a man who had suffered permanent disability after three plastic bags were left inside him during an operation at the Basildon and Thurrock NHS Foundation Trust was able to pursue only part of a claim against the trust after acting on negligent advice given by George Rusz – who described himself as an ‘experienced legal professional’ and his firm Troy Lucas.
As a result, in a key ruling, the High Court found that the duty and standard of care should be determined by that which the unqualified legal advisor assumed – in this case that of an ‘experienced legal professional’, and went on to order Mr Rusz to pay £263,759 to Mr Wright, plus £73,200 costs as a result.
Paul said: “From groceries to energy suppliers, we’re all used to shopping around for a bargain nowadays. But when it comes to the law, there really is no substitute for a qualified legal professional who carries insurance and is regulated by an industry body.
“Those seeking to save money by scrimping on legal advice could find that it ends up costing them dear.”