As a law student holding an MBA and working towards an MTax degree, I have been reading the various testimonies regarding multi-disciplinary practice with great interest.
I have interviewed with both accounting and law firms over the past few months, and by my own observations, have found that in large part the accounting firms are better equipped to deal with complicated tax problems, both in the expertise of the people they employ (lawyers and non-lawyers) and in the resources they have built to support their practices. Most of the law firms viewed tax as merely a collateral line of business, an addition to their general business and estate planning segments.
From the information posted to the ABA website, a primary component of conflict is the security of the attorney-client privilege when the tax-planner is a non-lawyer. This is a facial argument at best, as preservation of this privilege cannot come at the expense of sacrificing quality in the tax work itself. It would appear more as an attempt by the legal community to assert control over an area in which it has lost superiority, a means of guaranteeing future business to law firms exclusively.
It is such actions that have tainted the practice of law and have cast the judicial segment of our society in a negative light. As a future practitioner, I am concerned over the ABA's position that I work within a law firm that may offer an inferior product to its clients. Whereas I would object to a non-lawyer handling a personal injury or workman's comp claim, the reality of today's marketplace is that the accounting field is educated as a well as or better than lawyers in many areas involving tax, corporate structures, and estate planning. Reserving these practice rights exclusively to attorneys creates no advantage to the public that we are supposed to be serving as wards of the court.
It is time to break down these artificial walls and make it easier for the two professions to work together by permitting limited fee-sharing and perhaps structuring legislation to extend privilege to the accountants as fiduciaries. The legal profession may see a loss of business, but the public should realize the advantage in quality of service. Furthermore, the competitiveness raised between the professions may force the legal segment to provide the same level of service and dedicate the same resources to these businesses as the accounting sector has been.
Thank you for your time.