A multi disciplinary practice of law is a type of alternative business structure that provides a mixture of reserved and non-reserved legal services together with other non-legal services. It is a one-spot service. With the globalization and recent advancement in technology, the system of MDP is gaining immense popularity. It has many advantages as it provides various services in one place and hence it is time as well as money saving. But with advantages come disadvantages.
This system of MDP is not free from blemishes. It faces many challenges and to establish and develop itself, it needs to combat all these problems. Moreover, to develop in India, it needs to fight with the BCI Rules. Unless and until, BCI Rules are liberalized, we can’t expect MDP to flourish in India. Let us look at each and every aspect of MDP in detail.
The multidisciplinary practice of law may be defined as joint professional practice between lawyers and members of other professions where their joint professional activities in pursuit of such joint practice involve the offer of legal services to the public. Depending on the context, the term may also mean the professional grouping or entity under which or through which such joint practice is undertaken. In the latter sense, it is co-terminus with the term “multi-disciplinary partnership”.
The American Bar Association defined MDP as-
“a partnership, professional corporation, or other association or entity that includes lawyers and non-lawyers and has as one, but not all, of its purposes the delivery of legal services to a client(s) other than the MDP itself or that holds itself out to the public as providing non-legal, as well as legal services. It includes an arrangement by which a law firm joins with one or more other professional firms to provide services, and there is a direct or indirect sharing of profits as part of the arrangement.”
Multi-disciplinary practice is often described as the “most important issue facing the legal profession today.”
MDP is not new but found in a number of professions. They became important during the end of the 1990s when the accounting firm began to expand to the legal profession.
The American Bar Association Commission on MDP refers to five MDP models. These are-
• The Cooperative Model
• The Ancillary Business Model
• The Contract (Strategic Alliance) Model
• The Command and Control Model
• The Fully Integrated Model
ESSENTIALS OF MDP
• It is a group service under which an advocate can provide his service in conjunction with other professionals like doctors, engineers, accountants, LIC agents, commercial agents or so many others.
• Under this system of business, an advocate will be bound to share his remuneration with other professionals as it is a group service.
• This group business may be controlled by advocate or by other professional.
• Name and fame of advocates may be used by group or by any other member of group in accordance with their material consent or agreement between members of the group and the group itself.
POSITION OF MDP IN INDIA
There is no provision in India which directly prohibit or allow MDP. But in BCI Rules, there are certain rules which are directly in conflict with the characteristics of MDP. These rules are-
Part III Chapter III Rule Number 2 – This rule provides that an advocate shall not enter into a partnership or any other arrangement for sharing remuneration with any person or legal practitioner who is not an advocate.
Part III Chapter III Rule Number 37 – This rule provides that an advocate shall not permit his professional service or his name to be used in advertisement or to make possible the unauthorized practice of law by any agency.
These two rules provided in the BCI Rules, 1975 indirectly contravene with the provisions of MDP. Thus, one can infer that MDP is not allowed in our country. It is totally illegal and prohibited in our country.
POSITION OF MDP IN OTHER COUNTRIES
Most of the countries in the world like Canada, Germany, France, UK, Switzerland, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Spain, Ireland, South Africa, the USA have allowed this system of MDP.
The provisions of some of the countries in this regard are-
- Australia- Historically, MDP had been prohibited in Australia. But, in 1994, the American Trade Practices Commission, currently known as the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, recommended for the repealing of the rule which prevented fee-sharing between lawyers and non-lawyers.
- Germany– In 1982 a case was decided by German Court through which German lawyers have been given the Constitutional authority to enter into any partnership arrangement with non-lawyers. This has been done so because putting any kind of restriction on these MDPs would not serve the purpose of protecting confidentiality and independence of these German lawyers.
- Canada – The Canadian Bar Association adopted MDP resolution 00-03A in August 2000 hence allowing fee-sharing between lawyers and non-lawyers. However, the practice of law and business activities in the MDP must be effectively controlled by the lawyers in the MDP. These MDPs must also conform to the core values, ethical rules and standards of professional conduct as of that needed in the legal profession.
PROS AND CONS OF MDP
- MDP is a one spot service. The presence of other professionals along with legal professionals proves to be more feasible for the client as they don’t have to run here and there.
- MDP is a client-centered practice. It often makes sense to consider more than one professional viewpoint when trying to resolve a particular problem.
- MDP is both time-saving and money-saving. This is because of the very nature of MDP in which the different professionals can easily communicate with each other.
- MDP is beneficial to advocates as it provides a secured feature to them because of the payment of regular salary.
- The management of MDP is much easier as they have their own rules of professional conduct.
- MDP delivers an integrated team approach, thus it better caters to the needs of the clients rather than individual approach.
- It leads to an increase in employment rates.
- The important concern is the protection of the core values of the legal profession. Legal profession is considered a serious profession. It requires full time attention. Due to the new system of MDP this seriousness undergoes a potential threat.
- Advocates are officers of the court, an independent professional. They are an important wheel of chariot of justice. If these lawyers are engaged in MDP, then the firm owners will control them and the independent character comes under question mark.
- Duty to clients is impaired because the practitioners of each discipline or profession are not independent of each other.
- Advocates are prohibited to take any case in which he is personally interested but in this system of MDP, o restriction as such exists.
- MDP poses a possible threat to the confidentiality of information. For instance, the accountant with whom the client has shared his information could be called as a witness against the client.
- MDP is a mode of business rather than profession while law is considered a noble profession. Thus, there is a clash between two things- business and profession.
CHALLENGES TO MDP
- Business relationships– The rule prohibiting lawyers from sharing fees with non-lawyers not only bars the formation of a partnership or other business entity with non-lawyers; it also regulates the use of referral fees.
- Conflict of interests– Lawyers must avoid conflict of interests, such as, representing clients who have opposite interests.
- Fiduciary responsibility to the client– Lawyers and other professionals must remain mindful; as a lawyers’ job is to serve his/her clients.
- Communication with the public- It is vital that clients understand who is a lawyer and who is not. Any group of professionals sharing an office, must clearly explain the nature of each professional’s relationship with each other.
The Indian legal profession has, in recent times, undergone a major change. It has emerged as highly competitive. But the rather conservative or more appropriately; the “protectionist” stand of BCI on this issue has prohibited MDPs from operating in India. With the onset of the ongoing wave of liberalization and globalization, the question of MDPs has emerged to be a prominent one. What the future holds for us is quite unpredictable; but keeping in view the BCI Rules; one can very well say that the system of MDP is not allowed in India at present.
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