The professions should join forces

It was recently reported the American Bar Association (ABA) had decided to relax the rules allowing multidisciplinary partnerships (MDPs). However, it also appeared that the executive summary was that other professions that wanted to join would have to abide by ABA rules.

It is arguable that in the US the lawyers are in the driving seat. But in the UK the professions are much more balanced.

In the Law Society's paper on MDPs, the issue was raised as to whether the governing body, because it had the highest standards of rules, should insist on its rules being followed in any MDP in which solicitors were involved. This seems to me to be part of the wider issue of regulation of solicitors, irrespective of MDPs, on which the Law Society published a strategic discussion paper some months ago.

But in the real world the search to protect individual professional self-interests is not missing the point. Over the last 20 years or so, the culture of external regulation has grown. The financial services area is a good example of this. Financial services started with separate bodies governing stockbrokers, the life insurance and pension industries. But this was unsatisfactory and all the bodies have now been brought together under a new financial services regime.

I would suggest that the Financial Services Act has produced a bureaucracy at a cost disproportionate to any benefit and which has to be funded from the industry, making products more expensive or cutting profit. What is worse, regulation in that industry seems to centre on whether the forms of “know your client” have been filled in and not whether the advice given had any merit to it.

Do we want the same external regulation, which no doubt we will have to fund and which will be intrusive of our rights, for example, deciding on conflict of interest?

The professions should identify together what distinguishes them as “professions” as opposed to other businesses such as the financial services industry.

Our professions overlap so much that it must be possible to identify the important standards and go for the highest common factor rather than the least common multiple, as perhaps the FSA targets in the financial services industry.

Built on these standards, there would be rights we should require for the benefit of our clients, such as entitlement to the privacy between a client and a professional. This would enable us to offer ourselves as independent of the executive.

Who would be covered? The obvious are the Bar, solicitors, accountants, surveyors, actuaries and maybe others.

To ask the professions to work together would focus attention on the real advantages we offer to our clients, and which mark us out from other industries.

If it is only professional jealousy and prejudice that is holding this up, then we do not deserve to be able to maintain our own ability to control our own destiny.