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As the debate over multidisciplinary practice (MDP) simmers within the American Bar Association and state bars, Britain will soon debate proposals on MDPs that Big Five lawyers say will send a strong message to the U.S. and other restrictive national bars. The Law Society — which both regulates and represents attorneys in England and Wales — will soon debate two new models that liberalize the rules on lawyers working with other professionals. This follows last year’s decision by the society that lawyers should eventually “provide any legal service through any medium to anyone.” One model would allow other professionals to become partners at law firms as long as lawyers retain “ultimate control” and are in a majority. A second, “linked partnership” arrangement builds on the model already used by the four Big Five firms — Ernst & Young, Arthur Andersen, KPMG and Pricewaterhouse-Coopers — that already have associated firms in the United Kingdom. The law firm would remain separate from its accountancy parent, and the two firms would be allowed to share fees but not profits. (Now, they can only share expenses.) These are the strongest measures that the society could adopt without the United Kingdom’s making changes to legislation regulating lawyers. The government is in favor of liberalization but is unlikely to grant parliamentary time to MDPs in the near future. Chris Arnheim, senior partner at Landwell, PwC’s associated law firm in Britain, says that his firm made representations to the Law Society’s working party on MDPs last year. He says that the proposals will “clear up a lot of gray areas and free people to do a lot of things they can’t do at the moment.” Landwell and PwC would be able to work more closely when pitching for work, and the costs would be clearer to clients, he says. The proposals would also make it easier for the two firms to make joint investments. The Big Five have been working within the current restrictions in Britain for many years now. Arthur Andersen launched Garrett & Co (now Garretts), the first Big Five associate firm, in 1993. James Hodgson, a partner at KLegal, the firm linked with KPMG, which was launched in May 1999, says that his firm has not paid much attention to the progress of the proposed rule changes. “It’s a bit of a red herring,” he says. “The regulation in the U.K. doesn’t prey on our minds. We are a multidisciplinary practice. This model will continue to work whether or not we share fees or profits.” Arnheim agrees to a point, saying that Landwell is “operating very happily within the existing rules.” But he adds, “The real benefit is the way it will change the international environment. It sends a powerful signal to the European bars and the ABA that the Law Society is moving further in this direction. We are already more liberal than [most] other jurisdictions, and if the situation in the States was the same as it is here now, then we would have a Landwell firm there already. London is an incredibly important legal market, and if it becomes more liberal and allows us to deliver services with other professionals, it will send a strong signal to those other bar associations.” The big London firms also favor the changes, says Clifford Chance’s Judith Mayhew. Mayhew is special adviser to the firm’s chairman, Keith Clark, and chairs the policy committee at the Corporation of London, the elected body that represents London’s financial district. She says that, leaving aside the Big Five’s associated firms, the accountants themselves have huge numbers of lawyers giving advice to clients that law firms might otherwise be giving. “There is a feeling of realization among all the London firms that they can’t stand by and watch huge amounts of other work being done elsewhere,” she says. In Britain, the MDP genie is already out of the bottle, and the question now is not how to get it back in, but how to make it take into account the wishes of all the parties involved.

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