Are Unqualified Advisers Your (McKenzie) Friend? Duty of Care Explained

The High Court has provided helpful guidance as to the duty of care which legal advisors, such as McKenzie Friends, owe to its clients in the recent case of Paul Wright v Troy Lucas (A Firm) & George Rusz. It was ruled that if an unqualified legal advisor hold themselves out as a competent legal professional, then they will owe the same standard of duty of care as a competent legal professional.

In 2004, following a negligent operation at the Basildon & Thurrock University Hospital NHS Foundation, Mr Paul Wright, aged 70, was left with three plastic bags inside his body; he suffered severe injuries and was left permanently disabled as a result.

Mr Wright sought the assistance of Mr George Rusz, by way of his ‘litigation firm’, Troy Lucas, who described himself as ‘an experienced legal professional’. Although Mr Rusz did not describe state that he was a barrister or a solicitor, he boasted to Mr Wright that he was ‘as good as, if not better, than any solicitor or barrister’. Whilst the NHS Trust paid £20,000 in full and final settlement of the clinical negligence claim, Mr Wright had to pay £75,000 of the NHS Trusts’ legal costs.

Mr Rusz and Troy Lucas were held to the standards of the ‘experienced legal professionals’, which they had held themselves out to be. The High Court found that the defendants had been professionally negligent in their poor conduct of Mr Wright’s clinical negligence claim.

Not only had the defendants wildly valued the claim at £1.1million, then later £3million, without any supporting material, but also, adverse costs orders were made against Mr Wright, due to their failure to comply with court orders.

Accordingly, the defendants were ordered to pay the sum of £263,759, plus legal costs of £73,200, to compensate Mr Wright for what he would have otherwise likely recovered, had he received proper advice from a competent legal practitioner.

The ramification of this decision is welcomed as it protects unsuspecting consumers, who may not understand the difference or be able to afford the legal services provided by a barrister or a solicitor, in comparison to an unqualified legal advisor.

Given that there is an increase in the number of the likes of McKenzie Friends, there is a growing concern that these legal advisors are not regulated and do not necessarily have appropriate insurance or possess proper legal qualifications. Subsequently, this judgment acts as a warning to this growing, unregulated industry that it will face liability, if it falls below the standard of a competent legal professional.

This decision therefore serves as a cautionary tale that you cannot hold yourself out to share the same competency and skills as qualified legal professionals, whilst also demand to be held to a lower standard as you are not suitably qualified.

© 2019 Mina Heung




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