The Legal Services Board (LSB) has accused the Law Society of misrepresenting its views on McKenzie Friends.
A stark difference of view between the two opened up this month in their responses to the Judicial Executive Board’s consultation on McKenzie Friends.
The oversight regulator objected to a Law Society press release that claimed the LSB had suggested in its response to the consultation that “legal aid cuts could be offset by unleashing non-professionals on the courts”.
The release continued: “The LSB and the Solicitors Regulation Authority are wrong to say that the best way to mitigate the damaging consequences of legal aid cuts is to allow non-professionals, who do not need to meet any standards of knowledge or performance, and do not offer clients the same rights of redress if something goes wrong, to charge vulnerable clients a fee.”
In a letter to Law Society president Jonathan Smithers, LSB chief executive Neil Buckley said he was “concerned that your press release attributed views to the LSB that do not reflect what we said in our response…
“Our response does not reference legal aid cuts and does not present McKenzie Friends as a means of mitigating the impact of such cuts. This reference is very misleading.”
The release also said it was “disappointing” to see the LSB promote “false assumptions that fee-charging McKenzie Friends are cheaper than lawyers”.
Mr Buckley wrote: “Again, there are no grounds for this comment, as our response does not comment on the relative cost of different providers.
“I am disappointed that the Law Society has commented on the LSB’s response in such a way that it could mislead other stakeholders and the public about what we have said.”
A Law Society spokesman said it based its comments on an LSB statement from 2014 that fee-charging McKenzie Friends were a “legitimate feature of the evolving legal services market”. He said the board also noted the contribution these services can make to “improving access to justice”.
The spokesman said: “In our view it is impossible to separate a growth in demand for McKenzie Friends from widespread cuts to legal aid and we made this inference about the LSB’s view.
“However the LSB has since sought to clarify its position and we have consequently amended our statement.”