(MDP). By ushering in MDP, the report says, the
State Bar can increase the public's access to justice while
regulating relations among attorneys and nonattorneys with amended
Rules of Professional Conduct.
The model chosen by the task force would allow
the creation of one-stop shopping centers for clients in which
accountants work with tax attorneys, scientists with patent lawyers,
therapists with family law attorneys, civil engineers and real estate
attorneys, and other such combinations. The idea is that clients would
get lower-cost, efficient services under one roof while lawyers enjoy
expanded business opportunities.
While the ABA's proposed models are welcomed by
the California bar, its own task force met with much opposition last
year, when the House of Delegates rejected the concept of MDP, calling
it "inconsistent with the core values of the legal profession."
According to the bar's report, other states are
divided on the issue: So far, 11 states have completed studies
recommending some form of MDP, while another 15 have opposed the
practice. Washington, D.C., currently is the only jurisdiction that
has adopted a version of the ABA model.
Opponents of MDP fear that the partnerships will
lead to ethics violations by reducing attorneys' abilities to
exercise independent professional judgment, protect client
confidentiality, remain loyal to clients in the face of other business
interests or avoid conflicts of interest.
But proponents maintain that the tide has already
turned, with Big Five accounting firms expanding their services into
legal territory overseas.
"We know that in the European Union MDP is a
growing part of their practice," State Bar President Palmer Madden
said. "Because of international trade treaties, it may become
difficult for us to take a different position on MDP than is taken in
And in the U.S, he said, some legal professionals
are toeing the line. "It seems a number of law firms have been
exploring MDP around the edges, getting as close as they can without
crossing ethical boundaries," Madden said.
"To say that it is as sure as sunrise may be an
overstatement, but that it seems to be the way the business is heading
is certainly true."
The report maintains that ethical MDP can exist
with the proper state regulations and a binding certification process.
It also recommends the creation of a concise definition of what
constitutes the practice of law and stricter enforcement of the
unauthorized practice of law to protect consumers.
The MDP report was up for discussion at the board
of governors' meeting in late July. If accepted, it will be subject
to a 90-day public comment period, then returned to the task force for
modification. It could be implemented within a year.