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February 2000

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Web Watch

Multidisciplinary Practice Debate Moves To The 'Net

Many state and local bar sites are addressing the issues.

by 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 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, instead sending the matter back to the commission for further study of whether MDPs would further the public interest without sacrificing lawyer independence and loyalty.

But the commission's 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."

For lawyers seeking to educate themselves on the pros and cons of MDPs, what better place to turn than the Web, where a host of sites can be found devoted to the this debate.

Starting Points

The best place to begin is the Web site of the ABA commission that raised all the ruckus.

Here you can find the full text of the commission's June 1999, report, as well as a transcript of the debate by the House of Delegates during the ABA's 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. It includes links to ethics codes, seminars and papers on the MDP issue.

Local and State

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 Bar's Special Committee on Multidisciplinary Practice, which includes several articles and reports.

Others sites worth a visit include:

* The Minnesota State Bar Association's Task Force on Multidisciplinary Practice, which has articles and task force proceedings.

* The New York State Bar Association's Special Committee on Multi-Disciplinary Practice and the Legal Profession, which offers a comprehensive report.

* The Pennsylvania Bar Association's Multidisciplinary Commission, which includes that commission's report and recommendations.

Bulletin Boards

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, which includes a bulletin board on which members can post comments on the issue.

The Colorado and Denver bar associations have formed a Joint Task Force on Multidisciplinary Practice, which, among other undertakings, hosts a listserv for discussion of MDPs.

Other Resources

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. (You will need the free RealPlayer plug in for your browser.)

There are a number of articles online examining the MDP issue. The best single collection comes from the pages of the Minnesota State Bar Association's magazine Bench & Bar. It devoted an entire issue to the topic.

Other informative articles are:

* "Multidisciplinary Practice: What is It and Why Should We be Concerned?" by San Francisco lawyer Mark L. Tuft, former chair and special advisor of the California State Bar Standing Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct.

* "A Multidisciplinary Practice Primer," by Kenneth J. Vacovec, a tax and business lawyer in Newton, Mass., and a state delegate to the American Bar Association.

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.

Comments of the American Antitrust Institute Regarding Recommendations of the ABA Commission on Multidisciplinary Practice.

* Multidisciplinary Practices, Ancillary Businesses and the Legal Profession, from the Florida Bar.

Robert J. Ambrogi is director of the American Lawyer Media News Service.

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