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George Jones has a track record with the Washington, D.C., Bar. The 47-year-old partner at Sidley Austin Brown & Wood is a past general counsel of the Bar and sits on the board of governors. And on June 15, he was elected president-elect of the organization, getting 76 percent of the vote. A year from now, he will step up to serve the one-year term of the Bar’s presidency, following the incoming president, John Payton of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering. What made Jones run? A Yale University Law School graduate, the litigator has handled cases for the Hilton Hotel Corp., IMC Global, and Black Entertainment Television, among other clients. He says he has also counted other lawyers as clients, counseling attorneys on ethics matters. His interest in bar rules and ethics is one of the things that led him to put his name forward for the Bar leadership post. Jones is a vocal advocate of multidisciplinary practices, or MDPs. The melding of law firms with accounting, consulting, or other professional firms remains an issue of great debate. Jones is already in the middle of that discussion — and is likely to play an even more central role when he becomes D.C. Bar president. A member of the D.C. Bar’s Special Committee on Multi-Disciplinary Practice, he is currently working on a report on MDPs he says is likely to go before the board of governors by year’s end. The report is likely to propose a rule change that would allow lawyers to share legal fees with nonlawyers — a step that could greatly boost the acceptance of MDPs in the D.C. legal market. If any rule changes are approved by the Bar’s governing board, they would then move to the D.C. Court of Appeals for final consideration. That could happen sometime next year, as Jones ascends from president-elect to president of the D.C. Bar. Last week, Jones discussed MDPs, pro bono, and other priorities with Legal Times‘ Wheatly Aycock. The following is an edited excerpt of the interview. Legal Times: What is your response to claims that MDPs could compromise attorneys’ professional responsibility? Jones: I’m not the slightest bit persuaded by the argument. The reason I’m not persuaded is that today, in virtually every jurisdiction in the country, lawyers can work closely with nonlawyers; they can own nonlegal services providers; they can provide services jointly with those nonlegal services providers. The only bar is to sharing legal fees with nonlawyers. I am at a complete loss to understand how sharing legal fees with a nonlawyer will compromise a lawyer’s ability to serve his client or his incentive to serve his client. I don’t have any reason to believe nonlawyers will be less sympathetic to the notion that it is absolutely vital for anybody providing legal services to comply with his professional responsibilities — to conduct himself in a professional manner and abide by the rules. Because if you fail to do that, one, you will not have any clients; two, there is the potential for civil liability; and three, there is the potential for disciplinary action. It seems to me that in response to a nonlawyer saying, “I want you do something that’s inconsistent with your obligations under the rules of professional conduct,” a lawyer would say, “This is my license. I intend to keep it. Thank you, no.” Just as a lawyer would say to any lawyer who suggested he do something inconsistent with the rules of professional conduct. Legal Times: Do you think that larger firms, which might own these ancillary businesses, stand to benefit more from the rule changes than would small firms? Jones: No. If the District of Columbia embraces multidisciplinary practice, firms like Sidley Austin Brown & Wood — which has offices in half a dozen states with different rules — would still be prevented from taking advantage of the D.C. rule even if we wanted to. That comes from an ABA committee suggestion that one can only take advantage of a provision like that if it had offices only in that jurisdiction, or all of the jurisdictions in which it had offices had the same rule. But putting that aside, it seems to me that for law firms with only one office in the District of Columbia, this is still potentially a very good thing. The vast majority of lawyers in this country don’t practice in large firms. In fact, it’s a relatively small percentage — much smaller than people seem to assume. In the District, there are a tremendous number of lawyers who practice only in the District, and they could take advantage of it. During the course of the ABA commission’s work, they got testimony from a number of people suggesting that the biggest beneficiaries of a change in the rules that prohibit MDPs would be small practitioners. A bar official, I think from Arizona, testified that she had taken many requests from individual practitioners about the permissibility of partnering with nonlawyers. She didn’t get the requests from large firms. She got requests from sole practitioners. For instance, a personal injury practice could partner with a medical professional. In some respects, that makes all the sense in the world. Why should a lawyer try to learn everything a doctor knows when he could partner with a doctor, get the doctor to consult — not to testify — but to educate the lawyer on what evidence the case needs: what documents to go after, what documents to think about going after, and how to look for them. There are so many opportunities for lawyers and nonlawyers to work together to the benefit of clients. In my mind, you have to have a very good reason for saying that the ethics rules should prohibit that. Legal Times: I would think that the president of the D.C. Bar would have to encourage pro bono as a matter of course. What exactly do you have in mind? Jones: The D.C. Bar is, compared to other bars, good in the area of meeting the obligations to provide legal services to people who can’t afford them. That’s not to say that we are absolutely good, but we are relatively good. The new pro bono initiative, which [former Bar President] John Nields started and John Payton has embraced and promised to continue, is one that I expect to be spending a fair amount of time on. In addition, one of the ways in which the D.C. Bar president can help in this area is, I hate to say it, the bully pulpit. I think in my case, rather than exhorting people to do more, I think I can say, “Look at the things I’m doing and do at least as much.” I think you can lead by example much more effectively than you can by exhortation alone. John Nields and John Payton are both perfect role models in that regard. I think that if those guys can devote time to serving people who can’t afford legal services at their billing rates, anybody in the D.C. Bar can make time. The legal service providers in the District over the last few years have worked toward coordinating their efforts through something called the Consortium of Legal Service Providers. Coordinating the work allows us to do more with less and to make sure that we’re not wasting scarce resources. Former Bar President Andy Marks [of Crowell & Moring] is working with the consortium to try and implement a Web site for pro bono service providers, which will allow people to access form documents for use in particular types of cases and allow people to exchange information and new developments in the area, all from a laptop, which you can have anywhere. Getting together all of these organizations to support something like this is fabulous, and the D.C. Bar has been involved in that process.

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