Americans for Competitive Telecommunications
February 3, 1999
Mr. Arthur Garwin
Staff Counsel, Commission on Multidisciplinary Practice
Center for Professional Responsibility
American Bar Association
541 North Fairbanks Court
Chicago, Illinois 60611-3314
Dear Mr. Garwin:
As a small businessman and as a consumer activist in California, I have taken an interest in the deliberations of the ABA's Commission on Multidisciplinary Practice from those perspectives. I understand that the Commission is holding hearings this weekend in Los Angeles, and though I cannot participate in the hearings in person, I would like to submit a written statement for consideration by the panel.
I have enclosed my statement for inclusion in any official record of the Commission's proceedings. I ask also that you distribute copies of my statement to each Commission member for their review.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to call me. Thank you very much.
Mark Phigler, President
Americans for Competitive Telecommunications
MARK K. PHIGLER,
PRESIDENT, AMERICANS FOR COMPETITIVE TELECOMMUNICATIONS
AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION
COMMISSION ON MULTIDISCIPLINARY PRACTICE
February 2, 1999
I am very pleased to submit written testimony for the consideration of the American Bar Association's Commission on Multidisciplinary Practice. I particularly welcome the opportunity to add two perspectives to this debate. First, I wanted to share my views as a consumer advocate, one who believes that consumers of all types, whether they be multinational corporations, small businesses or individuals, stand to benefit from a change in state bar rules that would allow greater freedom of choice when it comes to legal services. And second, I offer the perspective of a small businessman, a consumer of business services who believes that the current restrictions on the ways I can obtain legal and other professional services simply aren't good for American business and do not reflect today's changing world.
Consumer issues have been at the forefront of my agenda for many years. Currently, I am the president and founder of Americans for Competitive Telecommunications, a consumer organization made up of small business owners, community leaders, entrepreneurs, educational institutions, research organizations, senior citizens groups and other types of associations. We work together to ensure that the needs of consumers are heard in the rapidly changing, deregulated and highly competitive telecommunications field. While my organization's initial focus was on telecommunications issues, we take an interest in a wide variety of consumer issues, particularly those that involve increasing choices for consumers. And that, at its most basic, is what the issue before the Commission boils down to: choice.
My organization supports lifting the restrictions on where and how lawyers can practice law on behalf of clients because doing so would provide the consumer with greater access to a broader variety of services - and, more than likely, those services could be provided more efficiently and at a better value. It doesn't matter whether that consumer is a large company with offices and plants in 34 countries, a small business with 15 employees or someone like me - a solo practitioner with my own consulting business. The issue is that consumers don't want to be locked into certain limits on the kinds of services they can obtain and from whom. Prohibiting lawyers from practicing law in firms that specialize in a variety of other business services means that the consumer has to use multiple firms to provide services that could be more efficiently provided by a single entity. And that just doesn't make sense.
In the more than 20 years that I have worked in the information systems and telecommunications industry, I can tell you one thing that we have determined is that consumers like "bundling" of services. In the telecommunications field, that means, for example, that consumers want to have their phone service, their cellular service and their Internet access provided, where possible, by one company, preferably with one bill. That's what I see happening in the professional services world. As a small businessman, as a consumer, I want to be able to go to one point of access for my accounting services, my tax advice, my bookkeeping, my legal services, and whatever other support I need. I don't need four different professionals in four different firms scattered around me - that's inefficient and confusing. Dealing with all these individuals one at a time costs me time and money, both of which are precious. What I want is a firm that I am comfortable with, that I trust, to provide all these services as part of one package.
Frankly, when it comes to looking for legal services, I don't care about what kind of firm my lawyer practices his profession in. All I care about is whether I trust this individual to give me the absolute best advice possible. Is my lawyer ethical and honest? Does he or she work hard on behalf of my interests? That's what matters. If I can meet with my lawyer, then walk down a hall and meet with a series of other professionals that I trust, that, to me, is the best way to do business.
I also believe that the bar's current rules have become anachronistic as today's world has become more global. I can send e-mail to someone across town or across the globe in an instant. I can use my computer to invest in the Hong Kong stock market. Mega-corporations in the United States are merging with corporations in other parts of the world to strengthen their ability to compete in the world marketplace - just look at Chrysler's merger with Daimler-Benz, or Ford's with Volvo. In that kind of world, it just doesn't make sense any longer to have different rules in different parts of the globe. But that's what we have. We have multidisciplinary practices flourishing in Europe - and the sky hasn't fallen as a result. But here in the United States, we protect and preserve a system that was put into place a generation or more ago, a system that simply doesn't reflect the reality of the world in which we live and conduct business.
Finally, I think it is important to note that people are more and more finding themselves in need of legal services today. There are numerous common situations in which Americans would benefit from having coordinated services that can be provided under one roof. Home buying is an obvious example. Anyone who has ever purchased a house can relate to how dizzying it can be to keep track of title searchers, mortgage lenders, insurance specialists, home inspectors, tax experts, financial planners and, of course, lawyers - all of whom are needed for one step or another of the home-buying process. Settling an estate is another common example.
But in many ways, the day-to-day maintenance of one's own personal finances - indeed, one's own life - increasingly raises legal issues. With more and more people investing in the stock market, trading on-line, and devising ever more sophisticated ways to manage their lives, the call for full-service firms that offer accounting services, tax advice, legal services and other types of support is only going to increase. And as the government increases the difficulty of complying with countless regulations and rules, individuals, families and businesses of all types are looking for better support.
When our competitors in Europe and Canada and other parts of the world are adapting, so should the American bar. When people are demanding better, more comprehensive and more coordinated services, the bar should listen. I urge the bar to acknowledge that the world is changing. The establishment of this Commission is an important and positive first step. Now it is my hope that the Commission will help move the bar to broaden the choices available to consumers by crafting rules that are sensible, easy to understand, and better reflect the way business will be conducted in the 21st century.
Thank you again for the opportunity to share my thoughts with this distinguished panel.