♫ He roller-coaster he got early warning
He got muddy water he one mojo filter
He say “One and one and one is three”
Got to be good-looking ’cause he’s so hard to see
Come together right now over me …♫
Lyrics and music by: Lennon/McCartney.
On Friday Dec. 11, 2009 the Benchers of the Law Society of British Columbia passed amendments to the Rules of the Law Society that will allow Multi-Disciplinary partnerships in British Columbia effective July 1, 2010.
These changes, limited as they are, are momentous. For the first time in BC, a partnership, a LLP, or professional corporation that provides to the public legal services supported or supplemented by the services of another profession, trade or occupation may have as owners, at least one lawyer and at least one individual non-lawyer or professional corporation that is not a law corporation. Perhaps these changes do not go as far as the Legal Services Act in the UK, but they do represent a break in terms of BC, from the traditional view that only lawyers can be an owner of any entity that delivers legal services (and share in the revenues). These changes also seem designed to bring BC in line with Ontario.
Of course there are conditions that must be met:
Conditions for Multi-Disciplinary Practice
2-23.2 (1) A lawyer must not practise law in an MDP unless
(a) the lawyer and all members of the MDP are in compliance with Rules 2-23.1 to 2-23.12 and the Professional Conduct Handbook,
(b) all lawyers who are members of the MDP have obtained express permission under this Division to practise law in the MDP,
(c) all non-lawyer members of the MDP are of good character and repute,
(d) all members of the MDP agree in writing
(i) that practising lawyers who are members of the MDP will have actual control over the delivery of legal services by the MDP,
(ii) that non-lawyer members of the MDP will not interfere, directly or indirectly with the lawyer’s
(A) obligation to comply with the Act, these Rules and the Professional Conduct Handbook, and
(B) exercise of independent professional judgement,
(iii) to comply with the Act, these Rules and the Professional Conduct Handbook, and
(iv) to cooperate with and assist the Society or its agents in the conduct of a practice review, examination or investigation, and
(e) all members of the MDP who are governed by the regulatory body of another profession agree to report to the MDP any proceedings concerning their conduct or competence.
Along with the thorny issues of how an MDP will protect privileged and confidential information, handle conflicts of interest, ensure liability insurance and maintain trust accounts and trust accounting records will be the issue of requiring any non-lawyer member not to provide services to the public except those services that “support or supplement the practice of law by the MDP”.
There are other details in the changes to the Rules and Professional Conduct Handbook. But it is clear that the changes have been drawn to prevent some large consulting firm from gobbling up a law firm to supplement their delivery model…but one wonders how this will be applied in the context of smaller MDPs that compromise multiple professionals with a view to, say, render business advice that includes legal, accounting and perhaps marketing and business strategy as well. The legal component will be integral to the services rendered – but could it be said that the non-lawyer professionals would “support or supplement the practice of law?” It would seem in this situation that the legal services would support the overall advice being given…accordingly an MDP of this form may not fit within the present structure created by the Benchers. In particular, the wording adopted states:
“A lawyer practising law in the MDP must take all steps reasonable in the circumstances to ensure that the non-lawyer members of the MDP …. provide no services to the public except (i) those services that support or supplement the practice of law by the MDP….”
Lawyers in BC who may have been waiting for a wider ability to practice law in conjunction with other professionals may have to wait a bit for further changes to the Rules and Professional Conduct Handbook, assuming that the experiment with MDPs in BC is positive and there is a call to open up the regulations a bit further. For now, with this early warning of the changes to come in 2010, lawyers have to say to the other professionals that they have to come together over me.