The Consumer Alliance
Commission on Multidisciplinary Practice
Center for Professional Responsibility
American Bar Association
541 North Fairbanks Court
Chicago, Illinois 60611-3314
March 31, 1999
Dear Members of the Commission:
We the undersigned represent a broad spectrum of consumer interests from across the nation. We have been following with interest the deliberations of the ABA’s Commission on Multidisciplinary Practice as it wrestles with whether to change the legal profession’s model rules to make it easier for lawyers and non-lawyers to partner on behalf of clients both small and large. It is our view that the Commission and the American Bar Association should take advantage of this important opportunity to improve access to legal services, enhance the legal profession’s image among consumers, and ensure a broader range of choices for consumers by recommending changes to the Model Rules.
As the Commission prepares to make its recommendations, we urge members to keep in mind the many ways in which consumers stand to benefit from a proposal that allows more intensive integration of services between lawyers and non-lawyers:
Changing the rules would offer consumers more choices. In most products or services they buy, consumers want choices. Choice is the backbone of America’s free enterprise, competitive business community. By allowing lawyers to partner with other types of professionals, every consumer could choose the method of service that best suits his or her needs. Not every consumer will want to consult a multidisciplinary practice that includes a lawyer – but all consumers would benefit from having that option and we believe that lawyers will benefit as well.
Today’s complex problems demand coordinated, cost-effective solutions. Few problems in today’s society are solely legal in nature. We believe that many consumer problems can be best solved by teams of professionals with different areas of expertise and that consumers would benefit from having lawyers as a part of that integrated problem-solving team.
More consumers would take advantage of legal services. We believe that changes to the rules would make lawyers less intimidating and more accessible. By allowing lawyers to partner with other types of professionals, more Americans will take advantage of basic legal services, such as will preparation and estate planning.
Rule changes will make consumers’ lives simpler. Many people are simply too busy with other obligations in their lives to make separate visits to a variety of different professionals. But a single firm that offers multiple services and expertise under one roof meets the needs of today’s busy consumer by allowing that individual to get services in a timely, cost-efficient manner. Consumers would benefit greatly from having that option.
Consumer protections must stay in place. It is critical that ethics rules of the legal profession, as well as other professions, such as accounting and financial planning, be preserved in a multidisciplinary practice. Consumers rely on professionals to uphold the ethical standards by which they do business, including confidentiality rules and avoiding conflicts of interest. Any weakening of ethical standards would be counterproductive.
We urge the Members of the Commission to adopt recommendations that make the legal profession more consumer-friendly. We support changes to the Model Rules that will allow lawyers to practice in integrated service organizations or multidisciplinary practices.
Lora Weber Louis S. Meyer
President, Consumers Alliance of the Southeast President, Pennsylvania Citizens Consumer Council
Dorothy Garrick James L. Brown, Director
President, Columbia Consumer Education Council, Inc. Center for Consumer Affairs
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Don Rounds Kenneth Benner
President, The Consumer Alliance President, American Council on
Florence M. Rice Jim Conran
President, Harlem Consumer Education Council, Inc. President, Consumers First
David A. Swankin Phyllis G. Rowe
President, Citizen Advocacy Center President, Arizona Consumers Council
Michael Rulison Mark Phigler
President, North Carolina Consumers Council President, Americans for Competitive Telecommunications
Ellen M. DeWind Jude Filler
Director, Niagara Frontier Consumers Association Executive Director, Texas Alliance for Human Needs
Albert Sterman Mary Horne Odom
Vice President, Electric Consumers Alliance Chairman, North Carolina Consumers for Affordable Electricity