Multi-Disciplinary Practices - Reality… or Only a Dream?

By Bobby R. Creech, Jr., CPA, partner, Webster Rogers & Company, LLP. President, 2000, South Carolina Association of CPAs

Is the union inevitable? Are we currently living together, just waiting on the judge's blessings? Who stands to benefit - Attorneys? CPAs? Clients? All of the above? While the U.S. legal and accounting arenas discuss and debate the possibility of Multi-Disciplinary Practices (MDPs), attorneys and accountants have already formed alliances and partnerships. Accounting firms already employ Valuation Experts, Investment Managers, Certified Financial Planners, Actuaries, Nurses, and Engineers. MDPs have already arrived! We just haven't formally acknowledged them.

MDPs are commonplace around the world. The Big Five employ the largest legal firms in Europe. Andersen intends to be the largest law firm by the end of the year. In Europe, KPMG and Ernst & Young employ more lawyers than the biggest law firms. The global marketplace demands the convenience and continuity offered by dealing with a single firm on highly confidential matters. The Internet has hastened the move towards globalization. With the demise of geographic boundaries, the public is becoming more frustrated by regulatory boundaries that complicate its needs.

Why do the professions debate? One reason: There is no one governing regulatory body. Each state has its own Bar association and Board of Accountancy. The framework on how to handle these details already exists in the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct as well as within the ethical requirements of the various State Bar Associations. The AICPA has reported that it is ready to wade through the details of MDPs with the American Bar Association (ABA). However the ABA has backed off of the issue.

While the accounting and legal professions may differ, the issues of whether a professional can deliver professional services in a non-traditional entity are the same. The accounting and legal professions seem to be on parallel paths. The end results? Perhaps the creation of a single regulatory system. The same forces that have driven many professions and businesses to "adapt or die" are pressing the legal profession to modify and accommodate MDPs. According to Lloyd "Buddy" Turman, Executive Director of the Florida Institute of CPAs, these forces include:

  • Marketplace demand for a coordination of systems, businesses, and personal association.
  • The precedent set in Europe.
  • Precedent set by courts allowing attorneys working for MDPs to make a truthful statement… "I am a Lawyer." (Ibanez v. Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations, 512 US 136(1994) and Miller v. American Express).
  • The boundaries between legal and non-legal services are not clearly defined.
  • The trend is regulating professionals, not entities.
  • Internal pressure, i.e., the 1,000 attorneys at Ernst & Young that will demand the ability to deliver a full range of legal services and be eligible for ownership opportunities in the MDP.
  • The incentives are huge and the resources exist.

The March 15, 1999 issue of The Florida Bar News reported on the events surrounding the All Bar Conference held February 12, 1999 in Tampa. According to the article, Ward Bower, an "international expert on multidisciplinary practices" said when referring to the Big Five, "The size of these organizations, their financial talent, their sophistication and management of the delivery of services, their marketing strength and brand names they bring to the marketplace make them formidable competitors. Even the largest independent law firms pale in comparison to the scale of the Big Five firms."

This article reprint courtesy of the Association for Accounting Marketing.


The Association for Accounting marketing (AAM) will hold its annual conference in Toronto, Canada on June 20th-22nd. The AAM Marketing Summit 2001: Your Passport to Growth" features different tracks for varying levels of accounting marketing experience. See www.accountingmarketing.org for registration information.

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