“Evolution in the public interest rather than revolution for the sake of it” was the Bar Council’s rather snappy take on Sir David Clementi’s consultation paper published yesterday. Change might be on its way, but that’s not likely to be quick enough for some, it would appear. Take Marks & Clerk, the UK’s largest firm of patent and trademark attorneys, who announced this week that they will bring their associated law firm Blair & Co under the Marks & Clerk banner. They might have been hoping for more of a demonstration of revolutionary zeal from the chairman of the Pru and former deputy governor of the Bank of England – as for further responses to the Clementi paper see below. Taking full advantage of the uncanny timing of their rearrangement, Marks & Clerk are challenging ministers to speed up the liberalisation process to allow them to go all the way and run as a fully merged multidisciplinary partnership (MDP). Meanwhile, high street practitioners fearful of “Tesco Law” project proposals will be heartened by its conspicuous absence. “No supermarket has approached me about this,” Sir David was reported to have said. “It is something of a diversion.”
Marks & Clerk claim that the artificial restrictions on rules preventing full integration annoy and confuse clients, especially those from overseas. “While the Government and [Sir David] Clementi are consulting and making up their minds, we’re going ahead and doing it, because that’s what our clients are asking us to do,” commented Marks & Clerk senior partner Chris Gibson. They claim to be as close to an MDP as you can possibly be under the current regulatory framework.
Blair & Co managing partner, Mark Blair voiced an impatience no doubt echoed by many in the City, when he said: “The Law Society’s views are that they want to move along the lines of MDPs. There’s commitment there in principle, there’s commitment from the Government, but nothing much has happened.” Blair will head Marks & Clerk Solicitors, the new name for his firm while Marks & Clerk Patent and Trademark Attorneys will continue as it is.
In this week’s paper, Sir David draws a distinction between Legal Disciplinary Practices (LDPs) and MDPs. The distinction being that LDPs are law practices which bring together lawyers from different professional bodies (as opposed to different professionals) working on an equal footing to provide legal services to third parties. “I regard LDPs as ‘walking’ and MDPs in a sense ‘running’. I am pretty keen on learning to walk first,” he said. “There has been so much discussion about MDPs when we have never really grappled with the idea of lawyers working together.”
The cautious approach is endorsed by some in the City – most notably Clifford Chance who this week welcomed LDPs as “an initial step” – and welcomed by many throughout the wider profession, it will no doubt be stretching the patience of the likes of Marks & Clerk.