July 27, 1999
Center for Professional Responsibility
American Bar Association
541 North Fairbanks Court
Chicago, IL 60611-3314
Dear Commission Members:
I very much appreciated the opportunity to testify at the March public hearings in Washington and to offer the perspective of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) as the Commission deliberated. I am following up at this time to express my concerns with the recommendations put forward by the Commission. While I believe the Commission’s intentions are to improve the availability of legal services to consumers, the current proposal simply won’t succeed. Rather than providing more options to consumers, the recommendations will restrict further the already-limited choices available for securing professional services.
As I testified in March, seniors – indeed, all consumers – are primarily concerned with several basic issues when it comes to professional services: choice, access, convenience and cost. These factors become even more important as people age and the need for sound advice on legal and other matters becomes increasingly important. Consider the issues facing the elderly: there are estates to get in order, tax issues to settle, financial and other arrangements to be made for children and grandchildren, issues relating to the provision of quality health and long-term care, to name a few. AARP research has shown, however, that while seniors are aware of the need to deal with these problems, many are reluctant to see them as legal problems and, even if they do, reluctant to visit a lawyer. Many are simply nervous about trying to find a lawyer. There are also substantial concerns about cost and convenience. As a result, the elderly are increasingly looking to other types of professionals – social workers and case management services, for example – for advice on how to solve these problems and whom to consult about them. Many seniors would be much more comfortable if the social worker they trust had a lawyer partner that could solve a power of attorney or estate question during the same visit.
Another way to look at this issue is to take the perspective of the child of an elderly parent. Arranging for the care of an elderly parent is always a difficult problem, both practically and emotionally. There are financial planning decisions to be made, tax issues to address, health care concerns and very likely legal issues to resolve, relating to the dispensation of the parent’s estates. Under today’s rules, a consumer is unable to go to one firm to get advice on how to address all of these issues.
The ABA’s current rules prohibit professional in these areas – a financial planner, a tax advisor, a social worker and a lawyer, say – from providing the kind "one-stop shopping" team of problem-solvers that would make consumers’ lives easier. Again, allowing these types of professionals to form a multidisciplinary practice would be more cost-effective and convenient for consumers, not to mention less stressful.
The Commission’s recommendations purport to address that issue, and, at first glance, they do. The panel’s recommendation that the legal profession permit lawyers and other professionals to form partnership and share fees is a substantial step in the right direction. In concept at least, it clears the way for integrated, comprehensive services for consumers. Unfortunately, the Commission undoes that progress with a series of proposals that would bring these non-lawyer professionals under unprecedented regulation, a burden that not only discourages organizations from forming multidisciplinary practices, but inserts bar oversight into other services that are already provided today.
The Commission has created this negative impact on MDP’s by expanding the definition of the "practice of law" and by using this expanded definition as a rationale for applying all the rules governing lawyers to all the non-lawyers in the MDP. Clearly, this concept would discourage any non-law firm from forming an MDP. Moreover, it effects activities that have been offered for years, but are suddenly now deemed the "practice of law."
In the end, seniors want choices. For some, getting estate-planning services from a venerable law firm downtown might be the appropriate choice. But many seniors want to access legal services in the simplest, most economical, least intimidating fashion possible. We at AARP saw that first-hand when we sponsored a seminar at which lawyers were available to execute power of attorney documents at minimal cost. Literally thousands of seniors took advantage of this service.
The American Bar Association should be seeking ways to make the legal profession less intimidating, more cost-efficient and more accessible to seniors. Multidisciplinary practices would accomplish these goals. But the Commission’s recommendations, I fear, will not lead to true multidisciplinary practices. It is my hope that the Commission will revisit this issue and make changes to its recommendation that will better meet the needs of consumers – especially seniors. Adopting the approach used in the District of Columbia should accomplish these goals.
Wayne Moore, JD
Director, Legal Advocacy Group