The Lawyer Inquiry: FIONA BOYLE

The European chapter of the American Corporate Counsel Association (Acca) – the world's largest association of in-house legal counsel with 11,000 members – is to debate whether to take a stand against multidisciplinary partnerships (MDPs).

Acca will tackle the thorny issue at its fifth annual European conference, which is being held on 5-6 October in Versailles, France.

Heavyweight speakers lined up to take part in the debate include Carl Belding, vice-president and general counsel of IBM Europe, Baker & McKenzie partner Christine Lagarde and Antonio Garrigues of Garrigues & Andersen – who is also worldwide senior partner of Andersen Tax and Legal.

If Acca was to come out against MDPs, it would send a powerful shot across the bows of the Big Five accountancy firms which in recent years have been steadily developing their European legal networks alongside their traditional auditing practices.

Its views would have great authority because many of its European members are drawn from the in-house legal teams of some of the continent's largest companies – exactly the type of client that MDPs would look to target.

The European chapter's board of directors includes senior lawyers from companies such as Cable & Wireless, Michelin and Levi Strauss.

European chapter president Susie Flook, formerly general counsel with responsibility for IP at Guinness, said: "We will see whether we should take a position. We would like to reflect the majority view of our members."

Acca's decision to consider the issue follows hard on the heels of the American Bar Association's move to set up a top-level inquiry into MDPs.

The 10-person ABA commission, headed by tax expert Sherman Simmons of US firm Steel Hector & Davis, will report back to the ABA annual conference in Atlanta next year.

Delegates at the Acca conference will also discuss the future direction of the association.

According to Flook, there is growing pressure from association members based outside the US for a change in the organisation's name to the "International Corporate Counsel Association".

This, she said, would reflect the increasing diversity of its membership.