The American Bar Association (ABA) House of Delegates recently rejected, by an overwhelming majority, a proposal from an ABA multidisciplinary practice commission that, if approved, would allow attorneys to share fees and partner with nonattorneys in multidisciplinary practices (MDP). Such a change would also allow accounting firms to employ attorneys that, subject to certain restrictions, could offer a full array of legal services to their clients.
The proposal’s defeat was a disappointment to the accounting profession as well as to The Consumer Alliance (TCA), a national coalition of organizations providing a unified voice on issues affecting consumers. As the MDP issue was gathering force, TCA praised the ABA study group “for acknowledging consumer demand for one-stop access to professional services” including legal, tax, financial planning, and real estate advice, but said the time has come to move from study to implementation.
“The bar association’s archaic rules, offered in the guise of legal ethics, are really about protecting law firms’ economic interests,” TCA President Dan Rounds said.
The SEC recently cited the ABA’s opposition to MDPs in support of its own current proposed rulemaking for auditor independence. An SEC spokes-person’s interpretation of the ABA’s rejection of the MDP proposal was that the ABA “couldn’t see providing legal services to audit clients.”
However, a new committee of the State Bar of California has been appointed to study the MDP concept. Speaking to the Orange County Business Journal, Andrew Guilford of the Costa Mesa office of Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton and president of the state bar association termed the ABA vote “draconian,” adding that “California is remaining open to seeing if there’s a way to do it without affecting [the legal profession’s] core values.
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