Academic journal article Defense Counsel Journal

Multidisciplinary Practice

Academic journal article Defense Counsel Journal

Multidisciplinary Practice

Article excerpt

"I've been a fool for lesser things"


TEN YEARS ago, if you asked the average lawyer what an MDP was, the likely answer would have been a rock band from England. What rock-and-roll did to big bands and hip-hop is doing to music today, the advent of multidisciplinary practices or partnerships is doing to the way the law has been practiced in this country for the last 30 or 40 years. As one professor recently put it, the MDP train has left the station and the enforcement train is now on its final boarding call.(1)

What's happening in Europe and why? What ethical rules are involved in the United States if we are going to follow the lead set by Europe? What are some of the pitfalls for lawyers who practice with MDPs?

Europe today

London Calling, a special supplement to the November 1999 issue of The American Lawyer, recently featured a roundtable discussion of the future of MDPs in Europe.(2) The selection of the panelists themselves was extremely revealing. They included managing partners from Jones Day, Howry & Simon, and Mayer Brown & Platt, to name just a few. Mark Andrews, senior partner at London's Wilde Sapte, thought the market for MDPs would divide into three different levels of business in Europe: high street, mid-corporate, and global transactional business. All panelists agreed that conflicts of interest in such far-flung operations presented the greatest challenge to MDPs in general.

What does the future hold for MDPs in Europe? Tom Blass, a writer for London Calling, put it this way:

Runaway Groom

      When, in the Fall of 1998, Arthur Andersen called off its marriage to
   city law firm Wilde Sapte, there was an audible sigh of relief among many
   of the UK's commercial lawyers. This was the second time the firm had led a
   willing bride-to-be toward the altar--and jilted its betrothed. "I think,
   "said one City partner," that put the issue on the back burner. At this
   writing, the accountancy firm's legal adjuncts include Arnheim Tite & Lewis
   and Garretts and Dundas & Wilson. But while these are credible firms, they
   don't give the accountants the marketplace kudos to which they aspire. Law
   firms in the U.K. know the accountants and MDPs are live issues. But it
   isn't yet clear what form the threat will take. The Big Five, it is
   rumored, have made overtures to possibly all the U.K.'s leading law firms.
   But they know that breaking into the top end of the market is going to
   prove difficult. From a marketing perspective, the global dimension of the
   accountants is very seductive, but only if you are competing for a client
   that needs seamless service from Manchester to Mumbai. And they just don't
   have the clout to attract clients of that caliber. Without stronger
   marketplace credentials, the accountants can't get the best lawyers.
   Without the best lawyers ... res ipsa loquitur. U.K. lawyers voice their
   reservations on several planes. Conflicts of interest are inevitably
   invoked, as is a strong belief that lawyers can't just function well in
   organizations the size of the Big Five. But beneath the logistical
   arguments lurks a professional pride verging on snobbery. Those caught up
   in their own reactionary rhetoric are likely to be left behind. But a more
   compelling reason for not rushing into an MDP was summed up by the managing
   partner of a City firm who said, "As far as we can tell, it's just not
   something our clients either need or want yet. And until they do, it isn't
   something we'll even consider.(3)

United States today

Some very smart people in the United States see it differently. Robert Ruyak, managing partner for Howry & Simon, described his firm as the first to advertise, the first to have an economic consulting group, and the first to have an accounting group as a subsidiary--that is, the first firm to have an MDP law firm in the United States. …

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