Vol. 29, No. 2
Give Us Your Opinion on Multidisciplinary Practice ("MDP")
by Diane Hartman
Why would you want an MDP to come sit in your lap?
a — it might put money in your pocket?
b — it's going to sit in your lap whether you want it to or not and you might as well be gracious?
To tell the truth, MDP isn't a breed of big, thumping dog. It's a new form of law practice, one we are asking your opinion about.
MDP, multidisciplinary practice, means having lawyers work with other professionals in one office—in essence, offering consumers "one-stop shopping." It's a reality in some other countries. One of the first inroads in the United States is in Washington, D.C., where a law firm, under the ownership of an accounting firm, provides full legal services to clients. In Boston, a law firm has formed a partnership with an investment company to provide asset management services.
Recently, an ABA commission proposed that the Model Rules of Professional Conduct be amended to permit MDPs under certain conditions. A vote is expected at the ABA meeting in July; they have asked for input from state and local bars before that vote.
The CBA and DBA formed a task force (led by CBA president-elect Dale Harris and DBA president-elect Susan Smith Fisher). The task force has divided into groups to study the proposal and expects to have a recommendation for the CBA Board of Governors and the DBA Board of Trustees in May. Please go to the CBA website (www.cobar.org/mdp/index.htm), where there is a section on MDP and a place where you can e-mail your comments (or send them to the addresses at the end of this article).
Basically, what the ABA commission proposed was that lawyers be permitted to share fees with non-lawyers and that lawyers be allowed to practice in firms or organizations that provide both legal and non-legal services and have either direct or indirect sharing of profits. The recommendation also says the Rules of Professional Conduct would still apply to lawyers in MDPs, that the Rules of Professional Conduct that apply to a law firm would apply to an MDP, and that all clients of the MDP should be treated as if they're clients of the lawyers for purposes of conflicts of interest. There's more that you can learn on the CBA website, including links to the ABA report and recommendation, and links to comments from other state and local bar associations.
Much debate is going on in the legal community about the proposal.
- Will core values of the legal profession (i.e., confidentiality, independence of professional judgment, loyalty to clients) be preserved?
- Is there a real need for legal services to be provided through MDPs?
- Would passive or equity investments in law firms still be prohibited?
- Who would regulate a combination of professions—and how?
- How can the independence of the legal professional's judgment be safeguarded when practicing in an MDP that is controlled by other professions with other interests?
A typical problem mentioned is what might happen in a combined accounting/law firm where there's an audit to be done for a client. The accountants' job is to report publicly any critical information, while the lawyers have an obligation to keep the attorney/client privilege. The ABA sees this as a huge conflict.
While voicing concerns, some also point out that MDP would increase the availability of legal services and would encourage lawyers to reconfigure their practices to help clients in resolving problems that are entwined with various areas—say engineering and accounting.
The CBA/DBA task force first wants Colorado attorneys to be educated about the subject. It asks for input from lawyers about whether Colorado should allow MDPs (and how), input from those in other professions that might be touched, and input from consumers of legal services. The task force will be studying the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct and other rules that govern attorneys' conduct to pinpoint changes if MDP is permitted in Colorado. On the other hand, if Colorado rejects the concept, while other jurisdictions permit MDP, they'll look at whether other changes should be made in Colorado rules.
"The time is very limited," pointed out Susan Fisher, "and it's critically important that Colorado lawyers voice their opinions. We expect to complete the study phase and come to our conclusions and recommendations by the end of March and draft a report to present to the boards in May." These boards may in turn vote on the recommendations and give guidance to our ABA House of Delegates representatives for the ABA meeting in July.
A recent poll released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Corporate Counsel Association said that 70 percent of Americans favor changing legal professional rules to allow lawyers and other professionals to work together in the same firm.
"Our world is becoming a much smaller place. Some people see our legal system as antiquated, with state-by-state discipline, for instance. We already have lawyers practicing in multiple jurisdictions—what you can't do here, in some cases you can do in some other state, or vice versa," said Fisher. "The MDP debates really set the stage for examining some of the larger issues—for example, whether the global practice of law is really ever going to occur."
What do you think about all this? We want your input.
Responses can be sent to:
Susan Smith Fisher, 9200 W. Cross Drive, # 321, Littleton CO 80123-2224; phone (303) 932-0530; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dale Harris, Davis, Graham & Stubbs LLP, 370 17th Street, # 4700, Denver, CO 80202; phone (303) 892-9400; e-mail: email@example.com
E-mail to the Colorado Bar Association by accessing the CBA website: www.cobar.org/mdp/index.htm
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