Australian state gives green light to MDPs

Multi-disciplinary practices (MDPs) are set to be legalised in Victoria, Australia, after a report backing a liberalisation of regulations for lawyers and accountants was tabled in the state's parliament last week.

The report, by the Victorian Legal Ombudsman's office, suggests removing the current ban on profit-sharing between the professions and on lawyers entering into agreements with unqualified individuals.

But it also says that individual members of an MDP should still be regulated by their own profession and any MDP would have to be incorporated, rather than being a partnership.

If adopted by the state parliament, the regulatory regime would be more liberal than the one operating in neighbouring New South Wales, where MDPs are already legal.

The rules in New South Wales stipulate that lawyers should retain control of any joint venture.

In Victoria, accountants Arthur Andersen, KPMG and Ernst & Young currently have separate legal practices while Pricewaterhouse Coopers and Deloitte & Touche are said to be looking to take over law firms.

In a separate development the influential umbrella organisation for the individual state law societies, the Law Council of Australia, will vote in December on whether to support removing all restrictions on how lawyers practice.

The move follows a vote last month by the Law Society of Upper Canada to lift its long-standing ban on MDPs.

The English Law Society has just launched a major consultation on MDPs and president Michael Mathews expects one-stop shopping to be a reality within two years.