California Bar Journal
spacer.gif (810 bytes)
Delay urged
spacer.gif (810 bytes)
Continued from Page 1
spacer.gif (810 bytes)
its ethics committee that the American Bar Association defer changing its rules to permit the creation of multidisciplinary practices (MDPs).

"The recommendation that attorneys be subject to non-attorney control in MDP practices threatens the foundation of the attorney's duty of independence," the ethics panel wrote in its recommendation to the bar board.

It also suggested that the ramifications of MDPs outside of partnerships between attorneys and accountants have not been adequately considered.

An ABA commission recommended in June that professional rules be revised to permit lawyers and non-lawyers to set up shop under one roof. They would share fees, and legal ethics rules would apply to such practices, which would be subject to court regulation.

International accounting firms already offer integrated professional services and have hired lawyers as part of their teams, although they say those lawyers are not practicing law.

Opponents of MDPs worry that such practices could compromise attorneys' ethical obligations, particularly the duty to protect client rights of confidentiality and loyalty, as well as threaten a lawyer's independent professional judgment.

The ABA commission report is to be considered this month by ABA House of Delegates. If adopted, it will likely be referred to the ABA's Ethics 2000 Commission, which is developing revisions to professional rules. No action the ABA takes will be binding on California, although a rules change would move the legal profession in the direction of multidisciplinary practices.

After studying the proposal, the State Bar's Standing Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct (COPRAC) recommended that the bar oppose the MDP proposal and urge the ABA to study the issue further.

The MDP commission identified 15 core "principles" which it suggested provide a basis for changing professional rules. But COPRAC said those principles "do not clearly reveal an adequate infrastructure to support the changes being recommended." In addition, the ethics panel suggested that a rules change could lead to the unauthorized practice of law.

Despite its reservations, COPRAC did not suggest the bar reject the MDP proposal outright. In fact, it said it would "welcome proposals for new forms of legal practice designed to foster benefits for clients."