PracticeConsultingUS lawyers strike blow against MDPs

US lawyers strike blow against MDPs

Members of the American Bar Association's House of Delegates yesterday voted against fee sharing partnerships with accountants at the organisation's annual conference in New York.

The proposals, allowing so-called multidisciplinary practices which pair lawyers with non-lawyer professionals, were rejected by a margin of three to one, according to the Financial Times. US lawyers are concerned to preserve the core principles of the legal profession, but their opponents believe partnerships are now unavoidable.

After a bitter debate in October last year, the ABA chose to delay the controversial vote so further study could take place. And yesterday’s move is likely to have disappointed the Big Five accountancy firms, which have built up extensive legal networks in anticipation of the ban being lifted.

But although the ABA is highly respected, it has no real power on the MDP issue as it is up to the Supreme Courts in all 50 States reach a decision. Last year the UK Law Society backed plans for partnerships to be forged.

The largest hurdle yet to MDPs could yet be the US Securities & Exchange Commission, which has strict rules to prevent conflicts of interest.

But KPMG head of tax and legal Ian Barlow rejects suggestions that accountancy firms would be unable to cope with conflicts should they be able to join forces with lawyers in the same practice. He maintains that his firm already operates under extensive regulation.

‘It is principally a commercial issue,’ he said. ‘Clearly we do not want to upset clients and wish to respect necessary confidentiality. This issue is at its most intensive in corporate recovery and forensic accounting where we have had to pass on work because of some prior involvement with the company.’

‘We are used to conflicts and we do not regard extending that to legal services as a big problem,’ he added.

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