Caught without a lawyer or court without a lawyer?
All aboard the Hogwarts Express
I am sitting in the foyer at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.
My client hasn’t arrived yet. It’s a busy day at court today already – there’s a hearing for a case that has made the national press and the paparazzi and TV people are flocking around the entrance. At one point on the way in I have a camera and microphone shoved in my face and I’m asked what role I am playing in the hearing today. Ha. Maybe they think I’m part of the large legal team or a witness for the case presided over by His/Her Honour Whoever who is sitting behind the big desk looking down at everyone.
The building, I have to admit, is impressive. It is English gothic architecture at its best – clearly an inspiration for Hogwarts if you’re a Harry Potter fan. This is the place where the most senior of judges determine complex and international cases (like the one I’m not part of today). Legal history has been made here numerous times.
The judges that sit here wrote some of the legal books that I studied to become a paralegal. No pressure, Michaela.
Back in time
It is mad to think I’ve been supporting litigants in person in courts up and down the country for 12 years so far at this point. Where had that time gone? I let my mind wander over my career to date. I had been a debt collector, a fraud investigator and a benefits review officer.
Oh yes – it was me that made that call or sent that letter to ruin your day.
I had also worked in civil litigation for nearly 20 years. I had worked in a solicitor’s office repossessing cars and houses and preparing bundles. I was also a Master Practioner of NLP and hypnosis. Combined with my skills in the family law court it’s made me determined, sharp and caring. And kick ass when it came to negotiation. I knew how people ticked and how to reach agreement…or to persuade them when that was needed. I also had a whole toolkit on how to reduce someone’s anxiety, remove a phobia or reframe a situation for them.
I gazed up and admired the splendour of the portraits of long dead judges. They are the size of French windows. I wondered how long dead they were; what decisions had they made in their career?
My concentration was broken with a rushed and hasty “Hello! So sorry I’m late!”.
I look up and there he is. My client. He is a reasonably successful journalist. He is erudite, intelligent and articulate normally. Not today though. I have become used to the incoherent babbling that accompanies him whenever he is in court. He is dressed overly smart, if that’s a thing. He is also slightly mismatched. It’s clear that he doesn’t “do” suits very often. The tie is suspiciously 80s in its shine and the shirt still has the creases in it and tag in it from Marks & Sparks. He continues to waffle at some pace about his journey. Apparently getting a cab in the traffic from Liverpool Street to the Strand was a “nightmare”.
I smile warmly at him. I know he is nervous. I reassure him. This is our 3rd time here in Hogwarts. (That’s the nickname they have for this place over the road in Neros). We seem to float past the fancy cloisters and beautifully tiled floor; past the intimidatingly large portraits of senior judges out into an uncovered courtyard.
What a lot of people don’t know is that most of the decisions aren’t made in the mahogany filled and antiquated courtrooms. They are made in the slightly lesser famous 70s building at the back. Not quite so glamorous now is it?
Into the breach
His case involved the mother of his 6-year old daughter stopping contact and wishing to move to Hong Kong on a permanent basis. They had shared care; she was the light of his life and was upset at the thought that his daughter wouldn’t be able to spend the usual, regular time with her Daddy and the paternal family that she was used to. He was unhappy with the thought of her being a 12-hour plane flight away.
If only I had met you sooner…
…is a refrain that I hear from many and what my client says to me. I smile a knowing smile. If I had a pound for every time I heard that I would either be bloody rich or out of a job. And…spoiler alert I am neither. By the time he met me had already spent over £20k in solicitors. It was his 3rd case for his daughter so far. His complaints about using solicitors were exhaustive. His complaints about them included:
- They didn’t do any “joined up thinking” or any real case management to achieve his goals.
- They didn’t reassure him and their customer service left much to be desired.
- They charged a lot for what they delivered.
He was worn out, worn down and on the brink of giving it all up and walking away. He had done things `the proper way’ because…well….you use a solicitor when you have a court case don’t you? A legal professional who is regulated, honourable and knew what they were doing.
But for all the above – I have some exceptionally good friends who are both solicitors and barristers. We have passed each other work for years. They’ve passed me work. I’d happily recommend a dozen of them and would trust them with my own case if I weren’t permitted to represent myself. Some we’ve met through social events – some at court and they’ve turned my head because they’re proactive, helpful, constructive and/or do an amazing job at stuff like cross examination.
But I could not ignore my client’s protestations over using a solicitor.
If people can afford a solicitor they always get one (or do they?)
Over 2/3 of our clients don’t want one. I used to ask Steven `Why are they using us because they can clearly afford a solicitor?’ And then people would tell me and the answer would be simple – they didn’t want one.
My client had contacted me after Mother had suddenly stopped contact and his current tactic of sending a letters to Mother urging her to reconsider was ignored. The precedent had turned into the status quo and that was proving difficult to overturn.
Long story, short
I will skip to the end of the story. The hearing was a turning point.
Contact was re-established and my client was overjoyed. I had helped him negotiate with the barrister outside the Court room. We had successfully narrowed down the issues. The judge had agreed with my client’s argument on the things there wasn’t agreement on.
Of course, I was right beside him prompting and reminding him as to what to say. I was also the person kicking him under the table urging him to keep schtum when there was something being said he didn’t agree with. At one point the judge noticed that and had supressed a smirk.
And the prospect of his daughter being flown to the far end of Asia was averted.
What’s it all about?
Being a Family Law Assistant (or a McKenzie Friend as some call themselves) is a vastly different role from that of a solicitor and barrister. A good Family Law Assistant by your side is the perfect and empowering combination of legal knowledge, empathy, determination, and passion.
Family Law Assistance are the ONLY alternative to having a solicitor or barrister. Our job achieves the same function as those professions – but in many ways we’re chalk and cheese. We do different stuff – and as a result the people we help feel drastically different about the outcome whatever that is.
Ask yourself this: If you’ve been in court for a long period for an long and extended court case which means you believe you need a solicitor or barrister…what have you achieved with that belief? And how much has it cost you so far?
Want a chat? We’re on 0117 290 0274. Our initial phone/Zoom consultations are £50 (or `less than 12 minutes with your solicitor’ as it’s know on the billing sheet you’re paying each month).