New York’s Controversial Ethics Code Changes: An Attempt to Fit Multidisciplinary Practice Within Existing Ethical Boundaries – Note by Laura Noroski

From Volume 76, Number 2 (January 2003)

Whether and to what extent multidisciplinary practices should be allowed in the United States has recently been described as the “‘most important issue facing the legal profession today.’” Multidisciplinary practices, or “MDPs,” emerged as an important ethical issue more than ten years ago when the accounting profession began to offer businesses a wide variety of professional services they had not traditionally offered. Consulting and other professional service firms followed suit, and began promoting services similar to those traditionally offered by law firms. The growth of these nonlegal firms led such firms to hire an increasing number of lawyers. Not surprisingly, this trend raised concerns about the unauthorized practice of law, conflicts of interest, and lawyer independence. Since the distinctions between legal and nonlegal professions have become muddled, the American Bar Association (“ABA”) has devoted significant resources to addressing the MDP issue.

While both supporters and adversaries of MDPs assert that protecting the client’s interest is of utmost concern, each side differs in its interpretation of what is best for the client. Supporters often point out efficiency and client demand for integrated services as central reasons to embrace MDPs as an inevitable practice structure. On the other hand, many lawyers believe MDPs are properly banned by Rule 5.4 of the Model Rules of Professional Responsibility, and are inherently dangerous to clients and the public because of potential conflicts of interest and compromises of client confidentiality. MDP adversaries also argue that the client is best served by lawyers, rather than collaborations of lawyers and non-lawyers, since lawyers must comply with a stringent ethical code that preserves confidentiality, loyalty, and independence of judgment, which other professions do not.



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