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It would be like participating in one of those World Wrestling Federation Smack-down events without a metal folding chair to whack over your opponent’s head. Well, not exactly. But California’s two-dozen delegates to the American Bar Association might feel just as helpless if they walk into next month’s annual meeting in New York without a bit more State Bar guidance on the controversial issue of multidisciplinary practice. There could be a hellacious debate on the subject during a two-day meeting of the House of Delegates — the ABA’s policy-setting body — and California’s representatives want some idea where the state’s lawyers stand on the concept. Currently, delegates have to rely on a year-old, hastily compiled State Bar committee report that neither outright approves nor disapproves of the idea. They’d like something more concrete and official. “There is something to be said in giving our delegation some direction,” Robert Hawley, the State Bar’s chief assistant general counsel, told the Board of Governors during a recent meeting in Los Angeles. Multidisciplinary practices (MDPs) essentially would let lawyers share fees with non-lawyers — such as accountants and other professionals — while providing mixed legal and non-legal services. The concept has led to strife, with some lawyers claiming it violates the core principles of the legal profession — such as competence and client confidentiality — while others say lawyering of the future won’t be possible without such alliances. Thanks to its two-year funding crisis, California’s Bar is only now getting up to speed on the issue, with Bar President Andrew Guilford appointing a study task force just last month. Meanwhile, battle lines have been drawn within the ABA, and a clash is likely in July when delegates look at a report by the ABA’s Commission on Multidisciplinary Practice. That study favors the concept, as long as lawyers retain control of the combined business and remain loyal to the profession’s core values. States like New York and Florida have resisted the idea, though, and might try to get the ABA proposal and others up for a vote in July in hopes of killing them. Some other states, meanwhile, would like to defer debate until next winter’s San Diego meeting to give bar associations time to do their own studies, like Arizona’s just released, gung ho report on MDPs. The California Bar’s Committee on Responsibility and Conduct took a brief look at the issue last year, giving MDPs a largely negative review, but not ruling them out. State delegates want something more up to date. “If it’s debated,” says Bert Tigerman, one of the State Bar’s ABA delegates, “then it seems to me that California, which, after all, is the largest state bar in the country, ought to have a voice shaping the policy.” The State Bar Board of Governors has promised Tigerman, executive director of the Beverly Hills, Calif., Bar Association, some direction during a meeting this weekend in San Francisco.

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