St. Mary's Law Journal


Michael Kelly


In 2000, the American Bar Association House of Delegates voted to uphold the ban on multidisciplinary practices (MDPs) set out in Rule 5.4 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct (Model Rules). In 2009, the ABA announced the creation of the Ethics 20/20 Commission to review the Model Rules in the context of globalization. The Commission announced it was looking into alternative business structures, including MDPs. In an MDP a client can seek the advice of several professionals with experience in different disciplines working in a single business. Under Rule 5.4, a lawyer is prohibited from sharing legal fees with a nonlawyer or forming a partnership with a nonlawyer if any of the activities of the partnership consist of the practice of law. The majority of objections against allowing MPDs involve ethical issues as well as the standards of conduct governing lawyers and how they will be affected by the new practices. According to a comment to Rule 5.4, the justification for these limitations is to protect the professional independence and judgment of lawyers. Yet, proponents of MPDs are concerned that if lawyers are unable or unwilling to remain competitive in the ever-changing global market for legal services, they may become marginalized or even displaced completely. The ethical considerations surrounding MPDs are real and must be properly addressed. The considerations must be properly regulated before MPDs are permitted, but the benefits that will be associated with the new type of practice justify the change. Among the benefits cited is that providing both legal and nonlegal services in an integrated firm will provide the public better service through a cost-effective “one-stop” approach. MPDs make sense for the legal profession as well as for its consumers.


St. Mary's University School of Law