California Bar Journal
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ABA issues new MDP ruling
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The American Bar Association issued a revised recommendation that attorneys be permitted to develop multidisciplinary practices with nonlawyers, but tightened up proposed regulations to better protect ethical standards.

The recommendation would allow lawyers to share fees and join with nonlawyer professionals in practices offering both legal and nonlegal services. Such a change requires a revision of the ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct and, in California, a new rule of professional conduct approved by the Supreme Court.

The ABA House of Delegates had rejected an earlier MDP recommendation last summer by refusing to support any changes to ethics rules.

The new proposal explicitly states that revised rules should restrict lawyers to practicing with members of recognized professions or disciplines governed by ethical standards.

The earlier proposal was more general and would have left the states to determine what nonlaywer disciplines would be acceptable in a multidisciplinary practice.

In a bid to protect lawyer independence, a key obstacle for those who oppose any rules changes, the new recommendation would only permit shared practices where lawyers have sufficient control and authority necessary to assure independence.

It also would prohibit nonlawyers from delivering legal services, prohibits passive investment in an MDP and restates lawyers’ obligations to observe rules of professional conduct.

A fast-changing marketplace, in which accounting firms in particular have teamed up with lawyers to provide one-stop financial services, is driving the move toward MDPs.

But many attorneys are worried about traditional professional values that protect client rights of confidentiality and loyalty and preserve lawyers’ independent professional judgment. Some legal groups see MDPs as a threat to lawyers, but supporters say the profession needs to change in order to provide a better legal delivery system.

A vote on the proposal is expected at the ABA meeting in July in New York City. A full text of the recommendation is available at