PracticeConsulting‘Multi-firms’ in pipeline

'Multi-firms' in pipeline

Law Society considers possibilities of multi-disciplinary practices. Jonah Bloom reports

Mixed accountancy and law practices could be commonplace by the start of the new millennium.

The Law Society is considering changing its rules on mixed practices to allow solicitors to work in the same firm as accountants. The subject has been discussed in a secret meeting of the society’s council and may be the subject of a consultation paper this summer.

The society has provided the one major obstacle to multi-disciplinary practices, by ruling that solicitors are not allowed to share their profits with anyone who is not a qualified lawyer. Their major concern is that it would be too difficult to regulate mixed practices.

But the Office of Fair Trading is believed to be keen on multi-disciplinary practices, and sources close to the OFT suggested the government would be happy to draft the necessary legislation to regulate mixed firms.

Ronnie Fox, chairman of the newly formed Association of Partnership Practitioners, said: ‘We are very likely to see progress on the lawyer/accountant link. We can’t just bury our heads in the sand while all the large accountancy firms move into law with apparently independent firms.’

Andrew Daws, the consultant recruited from solicitors Denton Hall by Ernst & Young to look at the expansion of the legal side of the firm’s business, thought E&Y would want to be an MDP if possible. He added: ‘It’s an artificial separation, there is simply no reason why professional services firms should not exist. It’s great news for smaller firms. The synergies will make the smaller players more efficient and more attractive.’

Paul Downing, Price Waterhouse’s European managing partner for law, agreed it would benefit small and medium-sized partnerships and their clients.

‘If lawyers, accountants and maybe insurance brokers can share their premises it’s got to be good news for the client. We can’t hold it back, the clients won’t allow it.’ But Downing was less sure about the future for the Big Six, pointing out that even if UK practices change, the divisions may stay on the continent.

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