US bar set to drop multidisciplinary partnership ban

The American Bar Association's (ABA) commission on multidisciplinary partnerships (MDPs) will this week recommend a rule change to allow their acceptance, according to one of its members.

The ABA's rules – like those of the Law Society – do not allow lawyers to combine with other professions, such as accountants and surveyors, in one firm.

Geoffrey Hazard Jr, a Pennsylvania University law professor, says the panel will recommend abolishing the ABA's rule that bars MDPs, because it is no longer relevant to legal practice.

But the change is likely to cause a stir. “There's really going to be a ferment,” Hazard says. “The whole issue is very controversial.”

The commission is due to reveal its recommendations tomorrow (Tuesday). A rule change at the ABA would not resolve the issue, as each of the 50 states' bar associations would need to change its rules.

But if the associations in New York and a handful of other major states made the change, the others would be likely to follow soon after, according to Alan Hodgart, a director of legal consultants Hildebrandt International.

“The change is market driven, and once that happens the regulations are usually forced to adapt,” he says.

The Law Society is due to decide whether to allow MDPs in England and Wales later this year, and is under pressure from the Government to decide in favour of a rule change.

Hodgart says the biggest issue facing both the ABA and the Law Society is how to reconcile lawyers' stringent standards on client confidentiality with those of other professions that might become part of an MDP.