Oral Testimony of Geoff Provis, August 1999 - Center for Professional Responsibility

Oral Testimony of Geoff Provis,

Law Council of Australia,

Before the

ABA Commission on Multidisciplinary Practice

August 8, 1999

The next person to take the microphone was Geoff Provis from Melbourne, Australia. He is past president of the state bar and on the council of the Law Council of Australia, the umbrella body encompassing the law societies and the independent state bars. He said much of the discussion taking place regarding MDPs has been going on in Australia for about five years now. It is interesting that the debate is exactly the same the world over. Noting that much of the discussion at today’s hearing has been about core values, he thinks it’s striking that all lawyers understand the notion of core values, they all share that same culture and values. He is concerned that the other professions involved in this debate do not share the same values. He used as an illustration a recent lunch conversation between his local bar members and members of the local accounting body; the conversation eventually got into MDPs as all discussions with accounting bodies do. The president of the accounting body said, what is so different about lawyers? Well, the four lawyers at the table were ‘gum smacked’ because they thought it blindly obvious what is different about lawyers. Lawyers have values that are deeply passionate to them, independence, being officers of the court, respect for the judiciary, all those things about the foundations of a democratic society which he doesn’t think other professions give quite the same importance that lawyers do. But the trouble is that despite all his concerns about the loss or diminution of those values there is absolutely no evidence of it. Moreover, what’s being proposed is the regulation of lawyers and the practice of law, not the regulation of those professionals with whom lawyers might be in partnership. For those sorts of reasons the Law Council of Australia has decided not to get into the regulation of the business structures in which lawyers practice. The Law Council will regulate the lawyers delivering legal services in whatever particular business structure they happen to be. Now the devil is always going to be in the details; the Law Council hasn’t yet developed a satisfactory model and that is the difficulty all lawyers will face. The Law Council is striving to find a model that meets the requirements of regulating lawyers with probably very little regulation of the nonlawyers in the partnerships. They are not going to try to regulate the nonlawyers because trying to regulate the accountant, the physiotherapist, or whomever else might be hopeless (and the Law Council doesn’t require of them the duties of lawyers). He called it the broad approach. His concluding comment was that at the end of the day, if all the bad things envisioned happen - attorney-client privilege can’t be maintained in an MDP and people’s respect of lawyers is reduced - surely market forces are going to mean that clients go to pure law firms. Why would a client go to an MDP if the firm can’t respect client confidentiality or provide privilege? He thinks in those circumstances clients will naturally gravitate towards pure law firms. "But we’ll see."