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The formation of multi-disciplinary partnerships (MDPs) will represent a major change to the environment of professional services, but the Law Society, in its proposals, is not responding to these changes in the way it approaches the regulation of solicitors.Solicitors no longer work as individuals; most firms are now run as corporate entities. Furthermore, most services provided by firms of solicitors are not the exclusive preserve of the legal profession. Solicitors are competing with non-solicitor organisations in the areas of tax and trust advice, personal injury, employment, intellectual property, corporate advice and so on.Despite these trends, the Law Society’s draft proposals for MDPs intend to permit the sharing of fees by lawyers with non-lawyers, but propose to continue to regulate individuals rather than defined services. This regulation of defined service is the approach adopted by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) in the regulation of the financial services industry, where they regulate the conduct of investment business whoever it is conducted by.If the Law Society continues to regulate individuals and not the provision of legal services it will ensure that it regulates an ever-decreasing sector of the legal market. Will the next generation of lawyers see the value of the solicitor’s qualification if, through an MDP, they can still achieve their legal ambitions in terms of the ownership of their business without that qualification? Indeed, the current generation of qualifiers are already questioning the broad basis of knowledge required to qualify as a solicitor, when in practice they are required to specialise in a very narrow area of the law and can do so for a bank, accountancy firm, or company providing advice on legal issues such as employment law or personal injury, without ever qualifying as a solicitor.At Thomas Eggar Church Adams we have enjoyed the experience of different parts of our business being regulated by different approaches to regulation. On the one hand we provide financial services advice under an Imro-regulated business, Thesis Asset Management plc, and corporate finance services under a Securities and Futures Authority-regulated business, Thesis Corporate Finance Limited. All other services provided by the partnership are regulated by the Law Society simply because the owners of the business are solicitors, despite the fact that many of the services provided to our clients can also be provided by non-solicitors.Where the nature of the services is regulated rather than the individuals providing those services, there is a compliance regime which requires all individual practitioners to be threshold competent and the regulations are compliance not complaint driven. Through regulating individuals the Law Society cannot reach further than the individual solicitors who are registered with it. This means there are no threshold competence tests for non-solicitor practitioners, and vast areas of business conducted by non-solicitors are beyond the remit of the Law Society or any legally-oriented regulator.When MDPs are permitted, the forces of competition will ensure that if the Law Society continues to regulate individual lawyers, rather than areas of work, then work will move away from the practitioners – restricted and regulated as individuals with the strongest codes of practice – to businesses providing the same services in a free and unregulated environment. But it is debatable whether, in a commercial environment, clients will be able to evaluate the benefits of a more regulated climate until after things have already gone wrong.In preparation for the inevitable world of the MDP, the Law Society should seek support for the formation of a legal services regulator that regulates all legal services and has no regard for the ownership issues of the business providing the service. Thus we will have a level playing field for all legal practitioners whether in solicitors’ practices or MDPs.John Stapleton is the managing partner of Thomas Eggar Church Adams.

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