We have had a number of people ask us for advice on choosing a McKenzie Friend.
We have made it a policy decision not to endorse any individual McKenzie Friend, solicitor, barrister or other advisor on this site, albeit they might advertise with us now or in the future. We simply do not have time to track the capabilities of all to risk giving a personal endorsement or fairly exclude others.
We can however share some tips on identifying warning signs which make us question someone´s ability, experience or sanity without knowing them in more detail. We highlight things which make us feel more comfortable, and those which worry the bejeesus out of us.
So welcome to our subjective guide - Choosing a McKenzie 101 - and highlighting website content (or lack thereof) which raise questions with us.
We are not yet aware of any accredited courses for McKenzie Friends (e.g. accredited by or approved by Government/public sector bodies). If someone claims to be accredited, contact the organisation and more importantly... check that that organisation exists!
Look at the endorsements on the McKenzie Friend´s web site. It causes us more concern when we see the full name of the person giving the recommendation, than when there are no recommendations given at all.
Under section 97 of the Children Act 1989, it is an offence to make public any information which might identify any child as being involved in proceedings. If a McKenzie Friend includes a recommendation from someone, and includes their full name... be cautious! If they include their name and email address or own web site... run a mile! If they include initials only e.g. Mr P of London... fair enough.
Alternatively, if someone on a site suggests they hear details of how well that McKenzie Friend manages other cases, the McKenzie Friend may be in breach of the Family Procedure Rules in discussing details of court cases with individuals not approved by the court.
If the McKenzie Friend cannot get these basics right, do not trust them with your case.
Have you considered that no one posts bad reviews on their web site?
Experienced McKenzie Friends, solicitors and barristers are highly unlikely to guarantee an outcome to you. They speak in vagaries for a good reason. No one can guarantee an outcome in the family courts. You may have what appears to be a strong case, and a well-argued one, BUT... the final result comes down to an individual judge´s opinion, and the case will also be influenced by how well the other side argues their case, and the opinion of CAFCASS (if involved). There will be other variables too, such as the judge feeling sympathetic if someone breaks down in tears, their viewing one party as more credible than the other based on a subjective interpretation of their demeanour, and they too may simply have a bad day.
You can prepare a case to the best of your ability with the help of an advisor. No outcome is guaranteed (we see near identical cases get very different outcomes). A good advisor sets out what different courses of action you could take, explains the risks of each as they see it, and then YOU make the decision. If the advisor acts otherwise, they are naive.
If they guarantee outcomes, and especially before hearing your case details, or suggest success is within their gift to you, at best they´re naive and too eager, while at worst they will say anything to get your money. Neither is an attractive quality in a McKenzie Friend.
Be very cautious of narcissistic or egotistical claims such as "we are no 1" or "we are the best" or "the whole world loves me" or similar. Do not assume the claims are true. If strong assertions are made... challenge them. Who says you are number 1? What do you mean by number 1 or THE or Top? If it turns out they are no.3 out of 1000... give them a degree of licence and fair enough! You may find no-one has heard of them though.
We know of at least one McKenzie Friend who claims to be part of the only professional McKenzie Friend Group. It is a bare faced lie. If they appear narcissistic or odd, or claim things which are clearly untrue, avoid them! A modest site with modest claims is more likely to be legitimate.
Ideally, a McKenzie Friend will set out their service standards from the outset, and in writing.
If they do not return your calls within a reasonable time, and do not do things to an agreed timescale, why are you trusting them?
They should not be holding originals of your paperwork although they might hold a copy. The paperwork is YOURS and not theirs.
They should NEVER write letters on your behalf. Know what they should be doing on your behalf, and what they may not do. See our other guides in this section.
Any webhost can tell you it is fairly easy to get your web site on the first page of Google. Pay, and you can get it at the very top. Do not take web site ranking as a guarantee of ability. A good McKenzie Friend may or may not be knowledgeable on web sites or how to market them. A dodgy one may have a brother-in-law or friend who runs an IT company (or did web design at college)!
With the advent of template based web sites, anyone can set up a professional looking web site in an hour if they have the skills to type a letter.
If a web site doesn´t include photographs or at least the full names of advisors and business leaders / owners / directors etc, choose another site.
We know barristers, solicitors and McKenzie Friends who are highly professional, but also ones who are not. A qualification is not a guarantee or excellent service or even adequate advice.
You will see more and more people who are qualified as solicitors or barristers becoming McKenzie Friends. If qualified, you need to consider why they are a McKenzie Friend rather than a practicing solicitor or barrister. It may be because they lost their jobs, or no-one wished to employ them. The cause may be economic or down to competence.
It may be they have always been a McKenzie Friend who wanted to increase their knowledge. If so, how much involvement have they had in working in the third sector (since that implies their intentions are more charitable?).
A good advisor (whether qualified or not), has experience, sound judgment, common-sense, is objective, has an ability to think on their feet, and is articulate.
´There´s lots of case law, they must know what they are doing?´ Not necessarily, no!
They may have copied information from another site. Look for common sense and child focused rather than overly legalistic or technical advice.
If the grammar, spelling and punctuation are appalling, go elsewhere. Good punctuation is no guarantee, and you will find the odd typo on our own site, but there are degrees!
Avoid anyone who appears to be fighting their own battles, hates the courts, hates solicitors, hates judges, hates the opposite sex, and who is angry or overly emotional. You want someone calm and objective in your corner. If they are aggressive, be cautious. If they talk about beating the other side, be cautious. The best outcome is one where matters move beyond winners and losers.
An advisor who cares is appreciated, but one who isn't objective is a danger.
If you´re unsure... trust your judgment, and remember, the final decision on any course of action is yours (you and your children live with the consequences).
Do a Google search on the McKenzie Friend's name to see if there is positive or negative information about them.
...and if you find someone who doesn't ring any of the above warning bells... well, you should still be cautious, as they may simply have read this guide too.
Sadly, family law is a minefield.
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Michael Robinson © 2014
Family law information for parents whose children are resident in England and Wales
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