Academic journal article Washington and Lee Law Review

Ready or Not, Here They Come: Why the ABA Should Amend the Model Rules to Accomodate Multidisciplinary Practices

Academic journal article Washington and Lee Law Review

Ready or Not, Here They Come: Why the ABA Should Amend the Model Rules to Accomodate Multidisciplinary Practices

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

On June 8, 1999, the American Bar Association Commission on Multidisciplinary Practice (Commission on MDPs) recommended that the American Bar Association (ABA) change the Model Rules of Professional Conduct to allow lawyers to split fees with nonlawyers and to deliver legal services through multidisciplinary practices (MDPs).1 Philip S. Anderson, then President of the ABA, appointed the Commission on MDPs in August 1998 in response to significant debate among practitioners and scholars regarding the appropriateness of MDPs.2 Recent development in national and world markets prompted the appointment of the Commission on MDPs.3 In particular,

the Big Five4 accounting firms' delivery of legal services outside the United States attracted the attention of both the ABA5 and commentators.6 The ABA also recognized that numerous accounting firms in the United States were aggressively attempting to provide various legal services to their clients.7 With the recent growth of nonlegal professional service firms, more and more lawyers are joining firms that are not controlled by lawyers and do not resemble traditional law firms.8 Accounting and other professional firms have sought to avoid the ethical dilemmas that such employment raises by contending that lawyers are not practicing law, but merely rendering advice or consulting services.9 Legal commentators disagree about whether the Model Rules allow lawyers who work for accounting firms to perform these services.10 Some scholars believe that by addressing MDPs the Commission on MDPs really is addressing how to regulate entities that, to some extent, already exist.11

However, large professional firms are not the only ones interested in MDPs.12 Small firm partnership possibilities include estate planning, financial planning, juvenile defense work, and family counseling.13

After the Commission on MDPs made its recommendation in June 1999, the accounting firm of Ernst & Young further focused national attention on the issue of MDPs by launching the Washington, D.C.-based law firm of McKee Nelson Ernst & Young.14 The creation of this new law-accounting firm was possible because the District of Columbia Bar Rules, which unlike the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, allow fee sharing between lawyers and nonlawyers as long as the sole purpose of the entity is to provide legal services.15 Washington, D.C. is currently the only jurisdiction in the United States that allows lawyers to enter into MDPs.16

At the August 1999 annual meeting of the ABA in Atlanta, the House of Delegates, after considering the Commission on MDPs' report and recommendation, adopted a resolution providing that MDPs not be permitted unless or until additional study indicates that the change will advance the public interest without adversely affecting lawyers' independence and commitment to clients.17 Following the House of Delegates's adoption of this resolution, the

Commission on MDPs continued to solicit input from interested parties and investigate the consequences of allowing MDPs. …

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