Testimony of Samuel Bufford,
of the Los Angeles County Bar Association,
ABA Commission on Multidisciplinary Practice
August 8, 1999
The next speaker was Samuel Bufford of the Los Angeles County Bar Association. With 23,000 members it is one of the largest local bar associations in the United States. Because of its late release, the L.A. Bar studied the Commission’s MDP report briefly. It found the Bar is very deeply divided on MDPs, a large number of its members had not had time to consider the issue with any thoroughness, and there are a large number of unanswered questions on the subject. Although this is considered a very serious issue, they urged the Commission to follow through with its resolve to delay House of Delegates action. They think that neither their own bar nor the ABA has had time to give the issue careful consideration and, although six months may not be enough time, it is at least an opportunity to explore the issue in more detail. A preliminary idea they discussed that merits further consideration is having two different models of law practice exist simultaneously: a lawyer-only practice under the present rules and a multidisciplinary practice. Some law firms may decide that to serve their clients they want to engage in multidisciplinary practice; others may decide that to serve their clients they want to preserve the values that are best guaranteed by practicing only with other professionals who are licensed to practice law. Another factor is that courts may limit practice before them to lawyers in firms that are not multidisciplinary. The critical issue is whether the lawyer’s core values can be preserved. Many lawyers in the L.A. Bar have serious doubts as to whether they can be preserved in the multidisciplinary practice context. More information on the subject is needed, that information must be delivered to members of the Bar and, after an opportunity to evaluate it, the Bar must develop a consensus, that is, decide on an informed, reasonable position on the subject. They also think the issue of ethical walls needs further discussion. Such walls are not permitted in California at the present time, except for lawyers either going to or coming from government service. Multidisciplinary practice does not appear feasible without authorizing ethical walls throughout the practice of law. The U.S. bars had been told multidisciplinary practice was common in Europe. Yet he had heard today that it is not so common in Europe, and that many European bar associations are seriously considering the issue. The trend could be to reaffirm the U.S. position that prohibits multidisciplinary practice. When it comes to changing the rules of professional conduct there needs to be coordination with the ongoing work of the Ethics 2000 Commission, which although it has already invested several years, has not yet taken up some of the issues that must be considered if multidisciplinary practice is to go forward. As chair of the L.A. Bar’s subcommittee on Ethics 2000 he has been working with the ABA Commission and urges that if these issues move forward in the ABA they go to Ethics 2000, as it has the capacity and background to give the ethics issues thorough consideration.
The Chair assured Mr. Bufford that a member of Ethics 2000 was also a member of CMDP and that Seth Rosner was Board liaison to both, so there is mutual input and coordination between the two entities. Mr. Bufford urged that any CMDP hearings in California be held in Southern California as that’s where the vast majority of lawyers are found. The Los Angeles County Bar was commended as one of the local bars that leapt in early to try and study the MDP issue.