July 12, 1999
Commission on Multidisciplinary Practice
Center for Professional Responsibility
American Bar Association
541 N. Fairbanks Court
Chicago, IL 60611-3314
Dear Members of the Commission:
As executives with some of the nation's leading public relations and public affairs firms, we are writing to convey our opposition to the proposal recently unveiled by the American Bar Association's Commission on Multidisciplinary Practice. Our reading of the Commission's recommendations suggests that any organization that employs a lawyer to provide law-related services may be seriously impacted by the proposal.
We support the concept of multidisciplinary practices because our clients are increasingly demanding integrated professional services to deal with their problems. To that end, we support the Commission's recommendation to lift the ban on fee-sharing between lawyers and non-lawyers. Consumers of legal services should benefit by having more options for the services they need.
Unfortunately, this positive step is overshadowed by the increased regulatory responsibility for the bar, which seeks to control and regulate any organization that hires and employs an individual trained as a lawyer -- regardless of whether that individual is engaged in the practice of law. The new definition of what constitutes to the bar's rules and regulations. The lawyers in our organizations are not holding themselves out to clients as providing legal services, but rather providing advice, based on their knowledge of the legal system, on how best to communicate with the public about an issue that may have a legal dimension. All of our clients are aware, both explicitly and implicitly, that we are not providing legal advice and that they must seek outside counsel for such advice. In that light, we question the basis for the Commission's proposal. If this proposal is adopted, we will have no choice but to require our lawyer employees to surrender their law licenses.
Moreover, many of our firms are publicly owned or otherwise owned by stockholders. Because the bar prohibits "passive" ownership of law firms and because the proposed rules would, in effect, turn any organization that employs lawyers into a law firm, such an organization would be required to terminate the employment of those lawyers or force them to surrender their licenses. That extreme approach serves neither clients nor lawyers well.
The Commission's recommendations have dramatic and far-reaching implications for firms like ours that employ lawyers. We hope the ABA will reject this unfounded approach, and craft a proposal that meets client demand for integrated services without unnecessarily impacting businesses that have hired individuals trained as lawyers for many years.
Stephen R. Conafay