Time to make a decision on MDPs

A decision on MDPs will have to be made by the Law Society, hopefullysooner rather than

later, although it is fair to say that the Law Societycannot have been much helped by

the poor response to the discussion paper.The arguments continue, but all have a common

thread. On one side of thedebate are the traditional lawyers who believe that MDPs

should be banned.They raise three objections:Unauthorised practice of law. Rules and

statutes generally seek to protectthe public against the practice of law by individuals

who are not licensed.The argument here is: what constitutes the practice of law? In the

UK thishas been addressed by identifying service areas as either reserved tolawyers or

unreserved, in which case either non-lawyers or lawyers canperform them so long as the

status of the non-lawyer providers is disclosedto the client.Lawyer independence. This

is a practice rule issue which deals with theprohibition of splitting fees or

profit-sharing. This can well be arguedalong the lines that there is no difference in

financial considerations inmulti-disciplinary practices than in wholly-owned practices

on alawyer-client relationship.Conflict of interest. Here the argument is that MDPs

present conflicts ofinterest based on the differences in the fundamental roles and

functionsbetween auditors and lawyers. Auditors have to whistle blow but lawyers,

ofcourse, are obliged to secure client confidentiality. Supporters of MDPsargue that law

firms frequently represent clients with conflicting interestby obtaining waivers from

clients and building Chinese walls. Lawyers canown ancillary businesses so why can they

not in business in an MDP havesimilar Chinese walls between themselves and their

co-owner?On the other side of the argument are those organisations which considerthat

MDPs are an essential way of moving forward and just plain commonsense.MDPs could well

be the saviour of the small local law firm, particularlythose with specialisms which

could enter into a perfectly valid businessarrangement with a non-lawyer to provide the

one-stop shop to local people.Obviously decisions will be made but the profession in

this country shouldwake up to the realisation that MDPs are not some two-headed monster

butactually a business opportunity which should be embraced and allow firmsboth small

and large to move forward into the 21st century.Attempts to ban MDPs, as seem to be

indicated in the World TradeOrganisation discussion, are seen as nothing more as

retention of thestatus quo and therefore the creation of a system of

economicprotectionism. As such, I believe the banning of MDPs is certain to fail.Brian

Marson, Marsons Solicitors