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Legal.online, January 2000
Copyright 2000 Robert J. Ambrogi
For three-quarters of a century, it has been an unquestioned tenet of legal ethics that lawyers should not create partnerships with non-lawyers to deliver legal services. That took a radical turn last June, when an American Bar Association commission unanimously recommended that lawyers be allowed to partner with professionals from other disciplines.
The ABA Commission on Multidisciplinary Practice urged that the Model Rules of Professional Conduct be changed to allow fee-sharing between lawyers and other owners of multidisciplinary practices, such as accounting firms. It recommended applying legal ethics rules to these entities, commonly known as MDPs, and subjecting them to court regulation.
The ABA House of Delegates later rejected the change in the Model Rules, instead sending the matter back to the commission for further study of whether such practices would further the public interest without sacrificing lawyer independence and loyalty.
But the commissions report nonetheless brought the matter firmly to the forefront of important issues facing the profession. As ABA President William G. Paul of Oklahoma City put it, This may well be the most important issue the legal profession has faced in many, many years.
If so, it is incumbent on legal professionals to become fully informed about the pros and cons of MDPs and come to their own conclusions about whether to permit them. For lawyers seeking to educate themselves on this issue, what better place to turn than the Web, where a host of Web sites can be found devoted to the debate on MDPs.
What better place to begin than the Web site of the ABA commission that caused all the stir, http://www.abanet.org/cpr/multicom.html. Here you can find the full text of the commissions June 8, 1999, report, as well as a transcript of the debate by the House of Delegates during the ABAs annual meeting in Atlanta last August. The site also details proceedings of the commission both leading up to its report and subsequent to the House of Delegates vote, and includes a calendar of upcoming hearings and meetings. Also here is a bibliography on MDPs and links to other sites focusing on the issue.
Another good starting point is the Multidisciplinary Practices page of the legal portal Hieros Gamos, http://www.hg.org/multi.html. It includes links to ethics codes, seminars and papers on the MDP issue.
Bar Association Sites
As debate about the issue has grown in urgency around the country, many state and local bar associations have created their own MDP committees, and along with those have come bar-sponsored Web sites devoted to MDPs.
Among the more substantive of these are the Florida Bars Special Committee on Multidisciplinary Practice, http://www.flabar.org/newflabar/organization/committees/scanc.html, which includes several articles and reports. Others worth a vist include the Minnesota State Bar Associations Task Force on Multidisciplinary Practice, http://www2.mnbar.org/mdp/mdp.htm, which has articles and task force proceedings; the New York State Bar Associations Special Committee on Multi-Disciplinary Practice and the Legal Profession, http://www.nysba.org/whatsnew/multidiscrpt.html, which offers a comprehensive report; and the Pennsylvania Bar Associations Multidisciplinary Commission, http://www.pabar.org/mdphome.shtml, which includes that commissions report and recommendations.
Other bar associations are using the Web to encourage discussion of the MDP issue. The Massachusetts Bar Association, for example, has created a Multidisciplinary Practice Center, http://www.massbar.org/mdp/index.html, which includes a bulletin board on which members can post comments on the issue. The Colorado Bar Association and the Denver Bar Association have formed a Joint Task Force on Multidisciplinary Practice, http://www.cobar.org/mdp/index.htm, which, among other undertakings, hosts a listserv on MDP.
Among other bar sites focusing on MDP are those of the State Bar of Georgia Committee on Multidisciplinary Practice, http://www.ganet.org/ga_bar/9900special.htm, the South Carolina Bar Association Taskforce on Multidisciplinary Practice, http://www.scbar.org/Committee_information/Task_Forces/committee_TaskForceOnMDP_information.htm, the Wisconsin Bar Multidisciplinary Practice Committee, http://www.search.wisbar.org/Committees/CommOutput.cfm?CommID=CDN00, the North Carolina Task Force on Multi-Disciplinary Practices, http://www.barlinc.org/pressreleases/future_pro.html, the Orange County Bar Association Task Force on Multidisciplinary Practice, http://www.ocbar.org/multidis.html, and the Utah State Bar MDP Task Force, http://www.utahbar.org/html/mdp_taskforce.html.
Last May, a group of legal experts from the worlds of journalism, firm management, accounting, and consulting met at the London office of Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue for a roundtable discussion focusing on the future of multidisciplinary practices. You can listen to the entire discussion, courtesy of Levick Strategic Communications, at http://www.levick.com/public_relations/MDP.html. You will need the free RealPlayer plug in for your browser.
Articles and Reports
There are a number of articles available online examing the MDP issue. The best single collection comes from the pages of the Minnesota State Bar Associations magazine Bench & Bar. It devoted an entire issue to the topic, and posted the articles online at: http://www2.mnbar.org/mdp/mdp.htm.
Other informative articles are:
- "Multidisciplinary Practice: What is It and Why Should We be Concerned?" by Mark L. Tuft, a partner with San Franciscos Cooper, White & Cooper and former chair and special advisor of the State Bar Standing Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct, http://www.sfbar.org/about/sfam/junejuly99/multidisc.html.
- A Multidisciplinary Practice Primer, by Kenneth J. Vacovec, a tax and business lawyer in Newton, Mass., and a Massachusetts Bar Association delegate to the American Bar Association, http://www.massbar.org/mdp/mdp-primer.html.
- U Pay Less ... Make Discounts Possible, by Texas Bar executive Tony Alvarado, http://www.texasbar.com/barinfo/tbj/july99/exec.htm.
Finally, several bars and individuals have posted positions papers or testimony that elaborate on issues of concern regarding MDPs. Among these:
- Statement of Position on Multidisciplinary Practice, Association of the Bar of the City of New York, http://abcny.org/mdprep.htm.
- Comments of the American Antitrust Institute Regarding Recommendations of the ABA Commission on Multidisciplinary Practice, http://www.antitrustinstitute.org/recent/34.cfm.
- Multidisciplinary Practices, Ancillary Businesses and the Legal Profession, from the Florida Bar, http://www.flabar.org/newflabar/organization/committees/scanc.html.
- Testimony of Harvard Law Professor Bernard Wolfman to the ABA Commission on Multidisciplinary Practice, March 12, 1999, http://www.law.harvard.edu/news/wolfmanaba.html.