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U-turn: Westminster law student behind ‘rent a final year’ website no longer allowing ‘active students’ to give legal advice

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Fraser Matcham has released a statement following criticism from lawyers and Legal Cheek commenters

A University of Westminster law student who launched a website allowing litigants-in-person (LIPs) to hire out wannabe lawyers has now banned “active students” from giving legal advice as part of the scheme.

The website, ‘McKenzie Friends Marketplace’, originally purported to charge out law students for a maximum rate of £25 an hour or £100 a day, with higher prices available for non-students.

However, a new “definitive” statement released by the student behind the website, Fraser Matcham, said:

We will be introducing a new Code of Conduct clause prohibiting legal advice from being provided by student members that are active students. Those student members will still be able to vastly assist with multiple other legal services.

The clause in question reads:

All student trading members are prohibited from providing legal advice to customers that have been obtained through our website.

Speaking to Matcham this morning, he explained students will still be able to take part in the scheme — which has received support from academics at Westminster University, and backing from BPP Law School and two private investors — by doing admin tasks such as drafting. The introduction of the new clause comes, in Matcham’s words, “in response to some concerns and allegations” raised about ‘McKenzie Friends Marketplace.’

Many of these concerns came from our lively comments section. To give you a flavour, one reader said ‘McKenzie Friends Marketplace’ is a “dreadful idea”, and that “letting these kids loose on poor LIPs is just the blind leading the blind.” Another quipped: “oh good, more unqualified people giving advice. This can’t go wrong at all…”

Then there were the practitioners’ blogs, such as family lawyer Lucy Reed’s ‘Pink Tape’. Here, she said of the scheme:

It is all deeply deeply concerning. My concern is firstly for the litigants who may be reliant on such services, but also for the law students who may at best gain less valuable experience or skills than in more traditional, better supervised schemes and at worst may actively damage their career prospects.

Giles Peaker, a housing lawyer, shared Reed’s unease. Writing on his blog, ‘Nearly Legal’, he noted:

I am pretty sure that seeing the utter mess that a well meaning law student ‘assisting’ someone can make of the case is not an experience that is unique to me. Law students do not have any practical experience, they often have an inflated conception of their own abilities and they rarely know the law involved in the kind of matters that this site will attract.

Despite the fierce criticism, Matcham, who is in the second year of his LLB, is sticking by the scheme. Having confirmed ‘McKenzie Friends Marketplace’ “will continue on its journey,” he told Legal Cheek:

We obviously recognise that during their studies, students struggle to buy food and pay rent. This gives them the opportunity to make a small income.

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63 Comments

Not Amused

Medical students must also need to buy food and pay rent. Perhaps we could have them performing for small fees too.

(50)(3)

Gareth

That is not necessarily true. Medical students have the Feed The Medics initiative, the Hunter Gatherer Medics Society and the ShelterSkelter Nurse Project. What do budding young lawyers have? Absolutely nothing.

(6)(9)

Clueless

What? There are multiple legal advice and pro bono schemes which are properly supervised, plus vacation schemes and mini-pupillages are readily available.

(17)(3)

Clueless

(Or, if it’s money students need, try a Saturday job they actually have the skills for)

(19)(2)

Anonymous

Medical students get paid………

(6)(0)

Barrister

Oh dear God – he knows that drafting legal documents still counts as offering legal advice, right?

Right?

(40)(1)

Rumpus

10/10 for coming up with a project to help people; just get rid of the student input and connect LIPs to adequately-qualified people and let things come on well.

Good luck!

(8)(2)

Clueless

The main purpose doesn’t seem to be to help people, it seems to be to make money from students’ “skills” by charging vulnerable people 2.5 times the minimum wage per hour for someone who has no experience or relevant knowledge.

(26)(2)

Anonymous

Whether you’re a current student, or not. This is still flawed.

(9)(1)

Kristiyan

Oh… perhaps you can show him how to fix it Anonymous?!

(4)(1)

Anonymous

I can.

1. Take project
2. Place in bin.

(33)(4)

Clueless

Students “will still be able to vastly assist with multiple other legal services”.

How? How on earth will they be able to assist with legal services, “vastly” or otherwise? They have literally no vocational training. Would you let a second year medical student operate on you?

(15)(3)

Anonymous

This supposed equivalence between legal advice and surgery is wrong and tiresome.

There is, just for example, a guide for LiPs written by six distinguished judges. It is available from a government website. It is officially sanctioned. There is a recognition that some will have to, or will choose to, represent themselves.

I have never heard of a guide to, say, DIY hip replacement written by six orthopaedic surgeons.

I oppose Matcham’s idea and disapprove of all Mackenzie friends who aren’t known to the LiP and act simply as moral supporters. Every party in a case is better off with a (good) lawyer. But it’s stupid to argue that going to court is comparable to being cut open and dug around inside.

(13)(4)

Anonymous

Some people would rather have bad surgery than lose their house, or indeed child. Of course some people will act as LiPs, and those people will be assisted by Counsel on the other side and the court. However, we are talking about people being led to believe that they have paid legal representation.

(8)(1)

Not Amused

There are degrees of severity in both medicine and law. To simply select the most extreme version of medical intervention and then posit that not every court appearance is equivalent is a poor style of arguing.

What is striking is:
1. Not all court appearances are life changing
2. Several are
3. Not all medical intervention is life changing
4. Rather fewer are
5. The public tolerates a far lower level of state support in medicine than it does in law.

People clog up waiting rooms with sniffles and get prescribed 40p worth of paracetamol at inflated NHS costs. In contrast state support in civil cases does not exist at all. So no help at all in a hearing which might bankrupt the party. That is a stark contrast in the use of public funds versus the actual impact on a person’s life.

There is sufficient equivalence between court cases and medical intervention for the differences between how we as a society treat them to be informative.

(19)(1)

Anonymous

The statement I responded to was “Would you let a second year medical student operate on you?” *Operate.*

Not bothering to read the arguments properly is a very poor start.

(1)(6)

Anonymous

Well Put

(0)(0)

Anonymous

If it will only be open to qualified lawyers then:

i. it will become a moneysupermarket comparison site for legal services, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; but
ii. qualified lawyers certainly won’t be willing to charge £25 per hour, defeating the whole point of this project.

(5)(2)

Mr. A

This seems like an unnecessary service, straddling the line between, but neither fitting into, the categories of pro bono legal clinic and paid for legal representation.

As mentioned above there are many, very competent, very successful pro bono clinics around the country that provide student advisors and representation, with proper oversight by a supervisor.

In principle, I like what is trying to be achieved. In practice, I don’t think it would work.

(4)(3)

Anonymous

Maybe we should introduce a taxi service, for learner drivers who are aspiring entrepreneurs…

(17)(1)

Anonymous

Yeah, Uber!

(5)(1)

Xpert

The fundamental problem with this platform is that students who have literally no practical legal experience at have the potential to be giving life altering advice.

Matchem has clearly attempted to address this glaring issue by ‘banning’ students from giving legal advice, but if students are taken out of the equation… what exactly is the point of this platform?

As another commenter mentioned, he’s lucky no one has been adversely affected yet. Not a very well thought out business IMO and I would certainly question how informed his investors might be about the practicality of this platform.

(16)(1)

Blogger

Where can I buy shares? Sign me up… just kidding.

Looks like another Law Student gone wild with Daddy’s money.

(11)(1)

Not Amused

The problem will be that someone has told him it is a regulatory offense to provide legal services for money without being a regulated lawyer.

Like many a shyster he then declares that what is happening is not the provision of legal services. It quite clearly is.

(16)(0)

Anonymous

Yes, but worse again. Someone tells him it is a regulatory offence to provide legal advice for money without being a regulated lawyer. He then declares that what is happening is not the provision of legal advice, it is the provision of other legal services*.

*also an offence

(6)(0)

Anonymous

Wrong, legal advice is not a reserved activity. The only shysters are those who misrepresent this fact to perpetuate the myth that only lawyers can give legal advice in England and Wales. Even the advisory for LIPs state that Mackenzie friends can queltly give legal advice in the course of litigation hearings. There is no ban on Mackenzie friends.

(3)(2)

Anonymous

(Continuation)…giving legal advice.

Honestly, it is quite sad that such a promising idea which would have brought efficiencies to the fragmented legal services market and also increased access to cost effective legal advice has been stifled by lobbying from corrupt and cynical lawyers that detest competition.

(4)(7)

Barrister

As a barrister of 12 years’ call I assure you that I am not afraid of competition from second year Westminster University students. I do, however, think that this is a bad idea.

Perhaps lawyers are against it not because they are quaking in their boots/ corrupt/ cynical but rather because they are very well-placed to know (1) how little law students know about legal practice (having been law students themselves) (2) how little the academic study of law has to do with the sort of cases commonly requiring cheap representation (possession hearings, family law etc) and (3) that such cases are extremely important to the individuals concerned.

(17)(1)

Anonymous

All the best Fraser, you’ve effectively brought your name to the attention of the legal world… for clearly, all the wrong reasons

(11)(0)

Anonymous

Hi Fraser

(0)(1)

A Concerned Criminal Barrister

On another note, it’s sad to see an aspiring entrepreneur bringing the University of Westminster down with him… a University with 3 law teachers of year, which is more than any other law school in the U.K. let alone bringing down BPP.

It would be interesting to see how he went about marketing this proposal to them.

(7)(3)

Anonymous

Glad someone said it.

(1)(0)

Current Law Student at Westminster.

Not sure how a student trying to be different goes about bringing either the University of Westminster, or BPP Law School down. Personally, i think credit should be given to Fraser for trying something new and breaking into the legal industry in a new and insightful way.

(4)(5)

Anonymous

Hi Fraser

(3)(1)

Pantman

The point you are missing is whether you would rather bleed to death on the pavement, or have a medical student take the risk of saving your life.

Once you’ve come to the only possible logical conclusion on that point, you may recognise that a little bit of (unqualified) help may be a lot better than nothing at all. Certainly some students will be clueless. But I’m also certain that we have all seen apparently qualified lawyers ably demonstrate that they have no idea what they are doing.

(1)(11)

Mary J

With respect, I think that it is you who is missing the point. This is a very poor analogy. A medical student is likely to be decent at first aid. A non-qualified passerby’s attempt to stem the flow and call an ambulance is highly likely to be better than nothing (and perhaps no better than that of a medical student).

A better analogy would be whether you would rather pay a passerby to save you or pay the same amount to have a recently qualified paramedic with all of his equipment have a go? Or perhaps a perfectly qualified paramedic who is willing to work for free?

You are implying that these people would necessarily be stuffed without Westminster Uni person, that Westminster Uni person is of necessity going to make things better than they otherwise would be, and that these people have no choice as to whether to rely on Westminster Uni person or someone more qualified and/or supervised.

I entirely disagree with these implications.

(3)(0)

Pantman

Given that the litigant has made the choice, for whatever reason, not to have professional advice on the issue – most likely because they cannot afford to – it isn’t unreasonable to suggest that they might be better off with a law student, than with no support at all.

I’m not suggesting that the litigant doesn’t have a choice, but that the choice may be Hobson’s.

(0)(4)

Anonymous

There are pro bono schemes available. In the alternative, a pupil would act for £100 or less. Unlike this scheme, instructing a pupil would mean the client getting:

1. Someone who has completed a law degree or GDL.
2. Someone who has completed a vocational course.
3. Someone of enough talent to beat off the bulk of pupillage applicants.
4. Someone with ready access to practitioners’ texts.
5. Someone with ready access to experienced barristers for guidance.
6. Someone with proper professional indemnity insurance who can be sued if it all goes wrong (as identified by way of comment on the original piece, it is difficult to see how insurance would work in respect of this scheme given that McKenzie friends have no recognised standards of practice).

There is also the real problem that at £25 an hour a client is likely to think that he/she is getting someone who will add real value. If you turned around to someone who has just got chucked out of her house to explain that she shouldn’t have expected expertise because the student is merely getting paid 2.5 times what a shop worker would make, and significantly more than the average wage, she would rightly look at you as if you had two heads.

Plus, it is already obvious that it will not be made clear to clients that students essentially don’t know what they are doing and if the clients don’t know that they cannot properly agree to this state of affairs. The statements of Fraser Matcham indicate that he genuinely does not understand how little he and his classmates know about litigation. In those circumstances, how can we expect that fact to be fairly communicated to potential clients?

(9)(0)

Anonymous

Westminster grads should to stick to asking if we’d like fries with that

(4)(4)

Anonymous

Can he just sack this ridiculously idea now?

It is so unbelievably flawed and all of the adjustments he makes don’t solve the issue!

If people can’t afford legal representation, why on earth would they pay someone £100 that isn’t qualified to “not give them legal advice”.

Also whilst I’m well aware that legal fees are higher than that, and students can’t give legal advice… why is this guy even doing something like this?

Can he just go and focus on his degree, it seems to be a money making idea for him and any students that attempt to do any work!

Seriously students get a part time job, don’t work on this, you could land yourselves in all sorts of bother!

(4)(1)

Westminister Alumni

Who the fuck are you lot, at least Fraser is out there displaying real world savvy. Such savvy is woefully missing in law, reason being its full of wankers like you lot who are already rich and have no life experience. So before you criticise Fraser ask yourself: what have you done to make yourself employable? And also Fraser is not living off daddy’s money, so go suck a lemon tossers.

(5)(8)

Anonymous

Dear Westminister (sic) Alumni (sic),

That’s the whole point. Fraser has no real world savvy, or at least no real legal world savvy which is, in this context, what matters. Legal world savvy could not be expected of anyone at his stage of legal education.

(7)(0)

Anonymous

Hi Fraser

(0)(0)

Anonymous

At the time this business first came to the public’s attention, Fraser had:
1) Failed to display company registration details on his website,
2) Failed provide evidence of any registration with the Information Commissioner’s Office, despite collecting personal data;
3) Uploaded substandard terms that provided no indication on what level of service would be provided, nor clarifying the actual substantive protections/limitations on liability that were in place (amongst other commercial issues);
4) on some level misrepresented MFM to the lay public in respect of the regulation of McKenzie Friends (“Quasi Regulator”).

This does not show “real world savvy” in any capacity. It shows a startling lack of knowledge in respect of some of the most basic tenets of contract law, corporate law, data protection and regulatory law. This is only looking at what is involved in operating the website, before we even move on to dissecting the business model itself.

His own conduct is the best evidence of why he shouldn’t be encouraging this kind of representation. Put a bullet in it; it is potentially dangerous to the clients it purports to want to help.

(9)(0)

Just Anonymous

To any law students still considering going for this, consider the following scenario

You sign up as a McKenzie Friend. One day, you’re contacted by Sandra. She’s highly distressed and upset. She tells you that she’s “got behind really bad with my mortgage, and now they want to throw me out.” She’s received what she thinks are court documents, but hasn’t read or responded to them. She’s tried speaking to the “mortgage people”, but “they say I’ve had loads of chances and enough’s enough.” She’s at her wits end and just wants you to “do whatever you can to let me keep my home.” There’s a court hearing in two days time.

Now tell me: do you know what to do?

Do you have the faintest idea?

Do you think Fraser Matcham knows?

Imagine further the judge grants you rights of audience to speak at the hearing. Do you know what to say? Do you even know what to do when you get to court?

Getting involved in this scheme is a recipe for total disaster. You will be completely out of your depth. You won’t have a clue what you’re doing. And I doubt you’ll have anyone to ask for help.

FRU will train and supervise you properly. If you want real advocacy experience, then use them. Not this.

(21)(1)

Pantman

Is it possible that no one would take on this case – just because of the short notice? Or they might read the docs and advise the respondent to get proper legal advice, from a professional.

It’s not reasonable to rely on a doomsday scenario, and believe that the fears you outline will manifest themselves.

FRU wouldn’t take on a case to be heard in 48 hours.

(0)(10)

Just Anonymous

And with that answer, I’m afraid you’ve just demonstrated my point: that the ordinary untrained law student (of which I assume you are one) wouldn’t have a clue what to do.

Although 48 hours sounds terrifyingly imminent, duty advisers in county courts regularly deal with the above sort of scenario – maybe with only 10 minutes notice (30 if they’re lucky.)

The relevant principles (once you’ve been appropriately trained) are actually incredibly simple and straight-forward. As a result, far from being a doomsday scenario, mortgage repossession hearings are probably the simplest kind of county court hearings you could be asked to assist with.

And if even those hearings are beyond an untrained student, what makes you think you can deal with any others?

(15)(0)

Pantman

Oh my goodness, so many assumptions from so little evidence.

Clearly a mortgage repossession should cause an untrained representative to doubt their knowledge, and have concerns for the impact of the process on the lives of the individuals concerned. I don’t label it ‘doomsday’ because it is difficult, but because it is probably somewhat frightening to the untrained, and has a major impact on the mortgagor.

You know, all those classes reading Gray and Gray, or whatever is currently in vogue.

When you’ve seen LIPs stumble on basics, that you know competent advice would save them from, then you’ll also understand that a student is likely to be in a similar situation.

My only point as to 48 hours is counter your point about ‘court hearing in two days time’ and then suggesting FRU would be a better place to get experience. As previously, FRU would not accept a case under those circumstances. That is not to deny that some practitioners take on roles where they are giving advice at short notice, but that you cannot make that link between a relatively short lead time and the FRU.

(0)(4)

Quite Anonymous

The key assumption you are making is problematic – namely that students with a highly inflated view of their expertise would suddenly acquire the good judgement to decline instructions or refer a potential client to proper lawyers.

Plus, I don’t understand on what basis you seem to contend that a student should realise he is out of his depth for a possession hearing and not for all of the other hearings he hasn’t a clue about.

Anonymous

Giles Peaker – only working in law since his late 40’s, 8 years PQE, high street landlord & tenant, 1 firm, 1 service line. Created law firm blog ‘nearlylegal’ whilst ‘unqualified’.

What did you do when you were 19 years of age Giles? and what the hell do you know about anything?

Seems to me that the only ‘qualified lawyers’ who are worried about schemes like this are those ones operating in areas of law that are as complex as a refridgerator manual.

Same as the family barrister – another area of law that is seeing the rise of ‘self-helpers’ as she happily condones on her YouTube channel.

(4)(5)

Anonymous

Ah, the arrogance of youth.

(0)(1)

Anonymous

Nice LinkedIn stalking.

Landlord & tenant lawyer – probably jealous of the £25 per hour MacKenzie fees.

(1)(1)

M

Maybe expand your stalking a bit beyond LinkedIn; Anthony Gold (the firm in which Giles Peaker is a partner) is ranked tier 1 by the Legal 500 in respect of Social Housing. In particular, Giles Peaker is noted as being “one of the best solicitors in the business today”.

So when asking what he knows about anything, the answer appears to be “quite a lot, actually”.

(7)(2)

Equity Eric

Maybe you should re-read the point. It’s a perfectly valid one.

Housing is a fairly non-complex area of high-street consumer law. It does appear to be true that Giles has only 8 years PQE which seems to be spent with one single firm.

I too would question his knowledge of the wider legal sector or certainly wouldn’t criticise someone trying to obtain a foothold.

(1)(3)

Billy big donga

Hi Giles

We all know how the Legal 500 and Chambers works. We get the girls in marketing to send a spreadsheet with a list of our friends and the silks we send business to.

Don’t be a prat.

(4)(3)

Anonymous

*refrigerator*

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Thanks Giles. Ill spell properly next time. You are still a twat though.

(2)(2)

Anonymous

You are not leaving a good lasting impression in this Fraser.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

He may be a twat. Then again he may not. It doesn’t change the fact that you are still incapable of spelling a basic word in the day and age of auto-spell checking.

Attention to detail is important when applying the law. I’m sure you’re aware of that though, with all that real world legal experience you have.

(2)(1)

Anonymous

Also:

*I’ll

(1)(1)

shaw

almost as bad as the employment law clinic SWERC offered at Plymouth university

(0)(0)

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