Big 5's US Legal Plans Dealt Killer Blow

Now accountants will find it difficult to gain a foothold to the US legal market - a key target for the Big Five, who employ thousands of lawyers themselves.

Three-quarters of US lawyers rejected "multi-disciplinary partnerships," (MDPs) which join lawyers with other professionals. It is interesting to note that the Law Society in England has approved the practice in principle.

Chris Hinze of Andersen Legal, a worldwide network of individual law firms associated with Andersen Worldwide, expressed grave concerns over the vote, which came after a commission reporting to the ABA came out in favor of MDPs.

"It is very distressing that an organization such as the ABA has seen fit to effectively override its own commission on MDPs. The commission had concluded that MDPs were a viable option for lawyers and we believe that there is a strong anti-trust argument that can be made in the restricting of competition in the provision of legal services."

Hinze felt that the motion was pushed through by a small number of state bar associations before the debate had run its course. He pointed out that during the commission's hearings on the possibility of MDPs, no clients came forward to disagree with the idea.

"In fact, the commission heard from more than 95 witnesses and 120 interested parties and groups and, with the exception of a small group of lawyers, they were nearly all in favor of MDPs."

But accountants and other professionals may yet have an escape clause - the ABA has only urged individual state bar associations to "revise" its rules governing legislation. Such rules must be taken on a state-by-state basis. "They've not shut the door," Hinze said.

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