June 18, 1999
To: Wisconsin Board of Bar Governors
From: Louise G. Trubek, senior attorney, Center for Public Representation and
Professor of University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School
Re: Proposed suggestions and comments on Multidisciplinary Practice
The Center for Public Representation (CPR) is Wisconsin's oldest nonprofit public interest law firm. Since its founding in 1974, the Center has been an advocate for consumers and low-income families through education, research, training, publishing and representation. Its mission is to educate and empower consumers by providing services and information. The yearly operations of the Center are performed by law students under the supervision of senior attorney of Center for Public Representation and Professor of University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School, Louise G. Trubek. CPR represents disadvantaged groups in legal and policy development in health and telecommunications through legislative lobbying, administrative agency advocacy, coalition building, and information dissemination.
Today we are seeing the development of multiprofessional service organizations into the practice of law. They have the potential to be one-step shops for their clients, offering a full-range of consulting services on legal matters as well as numerous interdisciplinary counseling services.
Multidisciplinary Practice (MDP) is a partnership/association owned by lawyers and professionals from other disciplines who work together to solve client problems. Such associations are allowed in Australia, Canada and many European countries. However, Wisconsin disallows a lawyer to form a partnership with a nonlawyer if any activities of the partnership consist of the practice of law. Today Washington D.C. is the only U.S. jurisdiction that has rules allowing lawyers to be part of MDPs, but with restrictions. Clients, who are underrepresented, including low or moderate-income people, are interested in the option to select and use lawyers who deliver legal services as part of multidisciplinary practice. One example is a lawyer, a social worker and a certified financial planner might form a MDP to provide legal and nonlegal services in connection with counseling the elderly about estate planning, nursing home care and living wills. Another instance exemplifying this collaboration between lawyers and nonlawyer is the Family Center which employs lawyers and social workers who work in tandem to assist those infected with AIDS requiring custody and conservator planning for their children. These innovations show how lawyers could collaborate well with other professionals, agencies, and clients while maintaining autonomy and providing essential services to the needy families.
Wisconsin prohibits MDPs, note Wisconsin Supreme Court Rules, Chapter 20 Rules of Professional Conduct For Attorneys, 20:5.4 (1998). In June 1999, the final report was issued on MDPs by American Bar Association Commission on Multidisciplinary Practice Report to The House of Delegates and the Report can be located on website at GOTOBUTTON BM_1_ . The ABA Report is an excellent document to initiate discussion about MDPs in Wisconsin. I especially applaud the use of an undertaking document as the instrument for approval and oversight. A similar system for group and pre-paid plans is working effectively under Wisconsin Supreme Court Rule 11.06. Also I applaud the strong statement regarding the support of the pro bono service obligation. I do, however, have substantial reservations about the proposed rule changes included in Appendix A of ABA Report. The definition of practice of law is extremely broad. If this definition is adopted, it might be utilized to define the unauthorized practice of law with serious negative consequences to our clients. Many excellent programs that provide needed services might fall under the overbroad circumscription.
Opening up legal practice to a variety of types is essential for all clients. It is important that as we create new systems these systems assist all clients. We must pay attention to how the rules are drafted to insure that underrepresented people as well as large businesses benefit.
I support the State Bar initiating a process to study MDP using the ABA report as a starting point. We would appreciate the opportunity to be part of that process.