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The Role of Multidisciplinary Practices (MDPs) in the Globalized Legal Services Industry

The Role of Multidisciplinary Practices (MDPs) in the Globalized Legal Services Industry (Program)

David Wilkins, Harvard Law School (US); María José Esteban Ferrer, ESADE Law School (Spain); David Fennelly, Trinity College Dublin (Ireland); and Matthias Kilian, University of Cologne (Germany)

Moderator: Jim Varro, Law Society of Upper Canada (Canada)

The Role of Multidisciplinary Practices (MDPs) in the Globalized Legal Services Industry


David Wilkins and María José Esteban Ferrer: Is the Legal Ethics Sky Falling? The Role of the Big Four in the Global Legal Services Ecosystem

In the booming legal services market of the late 1990s, the major accounting firms attempted to exploit the natural overlap between “accounting,” “tax,” and “legal” services to build “legal services” networks that would compete with international law firms. Few lawyers openly objected to these multidisciplinary arrangements (MDPs) on the ground that they were a threat to law firms' profits. Instead, the preferred ground for attack was the assumption that there was “no demand for MDPs”, and particularly the assumption that multidisciplinary arrangements between lawyers and accountants were a threat to the core values of the legal profession. The passage of the Sarbanes Oxley Act of 2002 in the United States favored these assumptions to prevail globally - or so it seemed. In 2015, more than a decade after the legal businesses of the Big Four - PwC, Deloitte, EY, and KPMG - were proclaimed dead by most pundits, their increasingly integrated and expansive legal networks are major players in the global legal services market. Nevertheless, to paraphrase the Australian regulator Steve Marks, there are no reasons to believe that the legal ethics sky is falling. After succinctly describing the assumptions and regulatory reforms that lead to the crisis of the accountants' "multidisciplinary version” during the period 2002-2003, this paper provides empirical evidence on how the Big Four have characterized their role in the global legal services ecosystem, and reflects on what assumptions against MDPs have been broken as well as on how the legal profession has evolved with regard to these assumptions.

David Fennelly: Ever the Adversary?: the Legal Services Regulation Act 2015 and the Irish Legal Profession

The Legal Services Regulation Act (LSRA), enacted by the Irish Parliament in December 2015, represents a watershed in the regulation of legal services in Ireland. Building on a paper presented at ILEC VI, this paper will examine the LSRA from two perspectives.

First, the paper will examine some of the key changes introduced by the LSRA. Driven by Ireland’s participation in an EU-IMF Programme of Support, the Act introduces for the first time an external regulator of the legal profession in Ireland, establishes a new disciplinary structure, and makes provision for new structures for the provision of legal services, including MDPs. For the purposes of this presentation, the paper will focus on the new regulatory regime which the LSRA puts in place for the Irish legal profession and will draw on comparative perspectives in so doing.

Secondly, the paper will consider the process by which the LSRA was adopted and, in particular, the approach of the legal profession to this process. Strongly resisted by the legal profession over a number of years, the legislation as finally enacted has been criticized as having been watered down in response to intensive lobbying by lawyers. The paper will consider what lessons might be learnt from the Irish experience and reflect on how the profession should respond to demands for reform. Is the legal profession destined always to be an adversary to such change?

Matthias Kilian: MDPs - a matter of constitutional law, not just policy: Germany's Constitutional Court opens the door for MDPs

On January 12, 2016, the German Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) delivered a landmark ruling that will open up the door for Multi-Disciplinary Practices in Germany. The court held that a partnership between an attorney and a health professional must be registered and that any professional rules prohibiting such a partnership were unconstitutional. The court rejected traditional justifications for a prohibition of MDPs, such as the need to protect the independence and the professional secret of attorneys. The paper will analyze the court's well reasoned ruling and the ramifications it will have on the regulation of attorneys in Germany. It will also present empirical data on the attitude of German attorney towards MDPs.

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