International lawyers' group to act against MDP threat

The 4,000-strong Union Internationale des Avocats (UIA) has come out strongly against the movement of accountants into legal practice, with one senior figure claiming the threat they posed to legal independence was “unacceptable”.

Guus Braakman, the director of the UIA's legal projects who chaired a special session on the threat of multidisciplinary practices (MDPs) at the 70th anniversary UIA congress in Philadelphia last week, said his organisation was looking to set up a code of conduct to govern the role of auditors in relation to the legal profession.

He said he hoped the code of conduct would be adopted by national and European-wide legal and government bodies.

Braakman said: “What we are aiming to put together is a code of conduct saying that if a company hires a public auditor that same auditing firm will not be allowed to offer legal services to the client.

“In many countries you now have auditors turning up in the middle of the year giving advice on how to improve figures, who will also point out legal problems and say: 'We have wonderful people to solve these problems for you'.”

Braakman, who is a partner at leading Dutch firm Nauta Dutilh, said: “This situation cannot be tolerated.”

The Dutch Bar has recently made moves to settle its ongoing court actions with the Big Six accountancy firms looking to set up MDPs in the country.

The UIA is widely seen as the French-speaking world's equivalent to the International Bar Association (IBA), although it is currently trying to build up its English-speaking profile by staging recent congresses in the UK and US. Almost 1,000 lawyers visited the conference in Philadelphia and the UIA sees itself as a serious rival to the IBA.

Similar concerns as those held by Braakman were expressed by the president of the Canadian Bar Association Andre Gervais and, last month, the IBA announced the establishment of a working group to look into the burning issue of MDPs.

The MDP working party will present a position paper to IBA president Desmond Fernando PC at the IBA's 1997 annual conference in New Delhi this October.

Meanwhile, senior figures from the UIA joined Phillip Sycamore, the president of the Law Society, and Bar Council chairman Robert Owen QC this week at a special briefing for lawyers at the UN headquarters in New York.

The briefing by senior UN officers will concentrate on human rights and commercial issues of concern to the legal profession worldwide.