Canada fears MDP threat

The new president of the Canadian Bar Association (CBA), Andre Gervais, has highlighted the increasing threat his 34,000 members are facing from the creeping presence of big-six accountants in the Canadian legal market.

Gervais, who made his inaugural speech at last week's CBA annual conference, said there was a “growing concern among Canadian lawyers about the shifting areas of practice to non-legal professionals”

He added that he planned to “champion” the lawyer's cause both nationally and regionally.

Gervais said he intended to be the CBA's mouthpiece to tell the public how vital it is that they are served by an “independent” bar and judiciary, saying: “Both are fundamental to the maintenance of a truly democratic society.”

He also pointed out that client confidentiality was being threatened by the encroachment of auditors into the legal profession.

Gervais said it was “inevitable” that the big-six accounting firms would be increasingly dominant in the Canadian law market.

He added that recent moves, including Ernst & Young's association with a Toronto law firm, were the “thin end of a wedge” which was “going to get much thicker”.

However, the CBA has no regulatory powers with which to tackle the threat posed by the accountancy firms.

The individual law societies representing Canada's provinces decide who can practise law.

The heads of the regional law societies have been meeting over the past week at the CBA conference and it is expected that some recommendations will result from the meeting.

Gordon MacKay, president of the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, said that while the issue of multi-disciplinary practices (MDPs) was on the CBA's agenda in an “informal way”, the representatives of the law societies would decide the way forward.

“The theme of the CBA conference is practice in the 21st century, so the whole issue of MDPs is unavoidable,” he added.