What Should I Look For In A McKenzie Friend?


Choosing your McKenzie Friend

We all know that employing a Solicitor to handle your divorce or applications for children and finances can be prohibitively expensive, but the alternative of managing your case on your own can be a daunting prospect.  It is an unfortunate fact that taking on the Family Court system is not straightforward and has many pitfalls and traps for the unknowing litigant, who is simply trying to do their best.

The cheaper option that will help you avoid those pitfalls and traps is to use a McKenzie Friend, but what can you expect from them, and how do you find a decent McKenzie Friend who is able to help rather than hinder?

It is a reality that there is no regulation for McKenzie Friends.  Anybody can be one and there is no standard or even a simple minimum requirement.  As a litigant hoping to find a saviour in your time of crisis, there is no easy way to ensure that you find the right person to help.

The top ten qualities that your McKenzie Friend should have are:

  1. KNOWLEDGE.  If they don’t know Family Law in depth, they cannot give the right advice.  Very simply, there are many ways to tackle different scenarios and depending on your situation, what works for someone else may not be the right answer for you.  Without knowledge of process, proceedings, law, case preparation, skill at negotiation and preparing for cross examination, you might as well ask your next-door neighbour to help you.
  2. EXPERIENCE.  When you prepare your case, you need to know what the court is likely to make their decision on.  Having attended various hearings, your McKenzie Friend will begin to gain experience of what is needed, how to present information and how to react to fresh situations that occur in the hearing.  The best way to learn how to present cases is to experience them first-hand.
  3. HONESTY.  When you consult your McKenzie Friend for advice, you need them to be honest with you.  You need to know in plain English what your prospects of success MAY be, why you should take a certain path, or avoid doing various things.  It will be of no benefit to you to be told you will get everything you want when your circumstances indicate that you have little chance. It would just be wasting your time and money to be misled by a dishonest McKenzie Friend.
  4. QUICK THINKING.  During negotiations and throughout the hearing, allegations are made, circumstances change, misunderstandings become clarified, and in many ways the situation you thought you knew changes.  Being able to adapt to those changes is an essential quality in a McKenzie Friend.
  5. RELIABILITY. The court will set a date and time for your hearing, probably for statements to be provided and various other things that are required. Your McKenzie Friend should take an active part in assisting you with each of those, and should meet the deadlines for you.  Although it is common for Solicitors to pay scant regard to deadlines, it is always good practice to adhere to them yourself and to provide what is required on time.  You also need your McKenzie Friend to arrive promptly for the hearing and be prepared to assist you.  You have enough things to worry about without needing to be concerned about them even turning up for you.
  6. COST EFFICIENT. We all know that engaging a Solicitor is an expensive business, however they are expert at their job. As a litigant attempting to carry out the same task, with little or no knowledge of the process, can often leave you exposed to increased difficulties, believing that genuine offers are a trap, not understanding the law, or the process you are dealing with.  Some McKenzie Friends will take advantage of your situation and charge fees that are simply not justified.  They don’t have extremely high costs or overheads.  Their fees should be clear, reasonable and affordable.
  7. STRATEGIC. With many cases, there is often more than one way to proceed, with advantages and disadvantages of each. Planning a route through the court system can only be done with an awareness of a variety of approaches and how they will impact on your situation.  Sometimes a short term gain is needed, other times a longer term strategy is required.  Being able to explain the different approaches and explain the pitfalls and advantages is important for you to be able to make the right choice as to how to proceed.
  8. REALISTIC. Your case is won or lost on your circumstances and your approach to the situation. It is impossible to win every case, and you would benefit from your McKenzie Friend being realistic with you.  If your circumstances dictate that it is impossible to achieve something, what else is possible?  What are the risks?  What chances do you have of getting the order that you want?  Is it possible that your situation is one that could mean that you would achieve a lot more with a different approach?  There is no benefit in your McKenzie Friend persuading you that you can have everything when you clearly cannot.  Being realistic can go a long way to demonstrate to the court that you are sensible and are not only thinking about your own needs.
  9. ACCESSIBILITY. It goes without saying that you will need to be able to get in touch with your McKenzie Friend. The better and more successful they are the more their time is taken up with court hearings and preparation work, but you will need to find answers and check your situation when things happen that you are uncertain about.  Whether it is email, telephone or meetings, you should be able to get a response from them within a reasonable timeframe.
  10. PERSONALITY. You will spend quite a lot of time either discussing things with your McKenzie Friend, or sitting in court waiting for the hearing to commence, and so it helps to work with someone that you get on with.

SIMON WALLAND has been a McKenzie Friend since 2002, has studied a Law Degree and completed Bar School in 2010.  He has appeared in courts across England and Wales at all levels and been praised for his support by many judges.  He trains McKenzie Friends and is often contacted by other McKenzie Friends with requests for advice and guidance.  He is proficient in children, financial and domestic abuse cases.  All of our firms work is carried out on a fixed price basis so you know what your costs are at the outset.

Simon Walland