AMERICAN LEAGUE OF LOBBYISTS
August 3, 1999
Commission on Multidisciplinary Practice
Center for Professional Responsibility
American Bar Association
541 North Fairbanks Court
Chicago, Illinois 60611-3314
Dear Members of the Commission:
The American League of Lobbyists (ALL) is a qualified 501 (c) (6) membership organization representing hundreds of lobbyists who serve clients at the local, state and federal levels. Approximately one-third of ALL’s membership function as "independent" lobbyists providing services to one or more clients. As the representative organization for those lobbyists, we have reviewed the recommendations and report of the Commission on Multidisciplinary Practice, dated June 8, 1999 and are writing in opposition to those aspects of the Commission’s recommendations that will have an adverse effect on government relations firms and their employees. In particular, we are concerned that the Commission’s proposed definition of the "practice of law" would give the legal profession unprecedented control over lawyers and nonlawyers who work in entities other than traditional law firms. We question the need for such a broad new regulation and urge the Commission to modify the proposed definition, substituting the narrower, more traditional definition of the practice of law (one that clearly reflects that a lawyer creates an expectation that the client is receiving legal services), which better serves the public interest.
Many law firms across the United States have thriving lobbying practices on both the national and state level. In fact, more than half of the largest 100 government relations operations in the nation are law firms. Many lobby firms, however, are not law firms although they often employ individuals with legal training who provide strategic advice to clients on pending legislation and government policy-making and their effects on a particular non-profit agency, business, client, industry or profession. These lawyers do not practice law, do not hold themselves out as being engaged in the practice of law, and do not create an expectation with their clients that they are dispensing legal advice. They do, however , provide a valuable service to their clients – a service seriously threatened by the Commission’s proposed definition of the practice of law. As we understand this all-encompassing definition, the bar would regulate all such lawyer/employees, as well as their firms, because these lawyers are providing services that are provided by lawyers in a law firm. In addition, we have concerns that the bar could attempt to prosecute nonlawyer employees for the unauthorized practice of law simply because they do what lawyers in law firms do.
We are aware of the concerns some may have about application of professional ethical rules to lawyers in settings other than traditional law firms. The proposed recommendations go beyond simply ensuring that lawyers who practice law are subject to the usual ethical norms. They consider one to be "holding out as a lawyer" if he or she is "offering the provision of services that if offered by a lawyer in a law firm would be considered the practice of law." We believe this definition is overreaching, unclear, and unworkable. Perhaps lawyers would consider, for example, legislative drafting or giving strategic advice on legislative matters to be the practice of law, but the thousands of nonlawyers who make their living daily in such endeavors do not.
The Commission’s proposal would sharply curtail the services that these ALL members and many other similar businesses could offer to clients. Surely the Commission did not intend to expand exponentially the services that only lawyers can offer – a result that could only be viewed as anti-consumer.
Accordingly, we are opposed to any unilateral attempt to turn our members’ organizations, in effect, into law firms by extending the legal profession’s regulatory reach into organizations that have never before been regulated by the bar. We encourage the American Bar Association to reject this approach.
We request that you consider including our comments along with other responses to your proposal on your website.
Kenneth E. Feltman