This page provides information on the different options available when bringing a case to court, including legal aid, private representation, representing yourself, using a solicitor's unbundled services or instructing a direct access barrister.
Legal aid can help with the costs of mediation if you meet the financial requirements. Legal aid can also help with the costs of going to court in certain circumstances. For more information on the rules on legal aid and to see whether you might qualify, see our information pages.
- Legal aid for family law matters
- Legal aid if you have been a victim of domestic abuse.
- Legal aid if your child is at risk of abuse.
If you do not qualify for legal aid there are other options available to you as detailed below.
Instructing a solicitor or barrister privately
If you do not qualify for legal aid then you may need to instruct a solicitor or barrister privately.
Solicitors can be found on the Law Society website.
Barristers can be found on the Bar Council website.
Acting as a litigant in person
Several people apply to the court themselves and represent themselves through the court process without instructing a solicitor or barrister. See our information page on litigants on person for more information.
Using a solicitor’s unbundled services
It is possible for you to lead your case and carry out most of the work but to instruct a solicitor in certain parts of your case. This is known as “unbundling” and can include:
- A solicitor providing you with a self-help pack.
- A solicitor providing discrete advice on a specific step in your case or one particular issue.
- A solicitor checking or drafting a document on your behalf.
- A solicitor providing representation at court in a specific hearing.
Using a solicitor in this way may be cheaper than instructing a solicitor to run the whole case for you. It is important that you remain clear about what aspects of the case the solicitor has responsibility for and the extent of their services. The solicitor is under a professional duty of care to apply the relevant degree of skill and exercise reasonable care in the services he or she provides. For more information on standards to expect from a solicitor providing unbundled services see the Law Society Practice Notes.
Direct access barristers
It is possible to approach and instruct a barrister directly without having to go through a solicitor. Barristers can do the following:
- advise you on your legal status and rights
- draft and send documents on your behalf
- negotiate on your behalf
- represent you in court, tribunals or mediation
- Attend some meetings and hearings on your behalf
To find a barrister that you can approach directly use the Public Access Directory which you can search by town, city, area of practice or the barrister’s name.
A McKenzie Friend is somebody who accompanies a litigant in person to a court hearing for the purpose of assisting him in such matters as taking notes, helping to organise the documents, and quietly making suggestions - for example, as to questions to put to a witness. Although usually a non-lawyer, the McKenzie friend should not be thought of as a lay advocate and has no automatic right to address the court directly.
There is some Joint Practice Guidance for courts on how to handle McKenzie friends in court.
A McKenzie friend can ask the court to grant him or her a right of audience which will allow him or her to appear before the judge, address the court and call and examine witnesses. There are very strict rules in place which regulate the exercise of the right of audience. It is a criminal offence for a person to exercise a right of audience or a right to conduct litigation without the appropriate permissions.
The court can limit the involvement of a McKenzie friend if, for example, the McKenzie friend is only serving his own interests, or acts in a manner unreasonable or disruptive to the court or where a McKenzie friend effectively controls the litigation. A court can ban a McKenzie friend from acting in future if appropriate.
Some professional McKenzie friends charge a fee for their service, it is very important to do thorough research before deciding to appoint a McKenzie friend.