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

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By Katie King on

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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