By Dr. Thomas J. Venardos
Lawyers could become the envy of other professionals if the recommendations made in Atlanta by the Special ABA Commission on Multidisciplinary Practices are approved by the ABA and enacted in the various states. While the ABA has temporarily tabled the matter until further study and debate can be completed, it won’t be long until the issue once again comes to the forefront.
The multidisciplinary practice, also known as MDP, could create a significant thrust into the twenty-first century where lawyers and other professionals from various disciplines (e.g., accountants, management consultants, medical doctors, social workers, healthcare providers, counselors, etc.) form jointly owned practices. It is reported that these MDPs are common in Europe.
Why is this such an important issue at this time? It is timely for two reasons. First, it is client focused and will further the public interest. Second, it can energize the law profession and reinforces the idea of providing a cooperative venture in the client’s best interest. Lawyers could offer services to meet the comprehensive needs of the client.
Professionals from non-legal disciplines should be pleased with this approach as well. They will no longer have to attempt to understand or interpret laws they are partially knowledgeable about or unfamiliar with. With MDPs non-lawyer professionals will be able to work in conjunction with lawyers rather than remain at arm’s length. By the same token, lawyers will not have to learn about other professions like accounting, psychology, medicine, or business practices when representing a client. It could become a seamless approach to serving the client and solving many problems at once.
There appears to be several major concerns about MDPs which focus on the client and the lawyer’s ability to practice in an objective manner. Sharing client information with non-lawyer professionals could jeopardize lawyer-client confidentiality. MDPs may also increase the specter of conflict of interest. Finally, the lawyer may be subject to professional judgment issues when representing the client as a result of possibly compromising positions because of non-legal information about the client.
On the other hand these very same concerns apply to non-lawyer professionals who represent the same client. Therefore, it is imperative that a mutual solution be found for all involved. Every professional, who follows their code of ethics, is bound by confidentiality, conflict of interest, and independent judgment issues.
MDPs excite me as a non-lawyer professional because it has all the elements of a win-win situation for everyone involved. The clients get their needs met through having several professionals on their side. The lawyer gets professional facts and opinion from others. The non-lawyer professionals can offer alternative solutions to client problems that may not be considered by the lawyer. This appears to have a team approach with everyone contributing to real solutions and end results.
Perhaps the most appealing part of MDPs is the emphasis on ethical behaviors and outcomes among professionals. This foundation provides for a real workable approach that can have long-term effects on the working relationships of professionals.
Another appealing aspect of MDPs is that of involving professionals as part of the team in the decision making of a client’s life. This kind of collaborative effort can only improve the chances of successful outcomes for the client. This approach would be a clear signal to the community that we as professionals have the public’s best interest in mind as we practice our professions.
The MDP strategy fits into our social structure as well because it meets the needs of our more complex society with its complicated social issues. Many times client problems go beyond the need for legal services and require other professional services. Below is a list of common non-legal problems, experienced by the client, that can require professional assistance.
Without a doubt MDPs would be an image builder for the legal profession. The opinion and perception of lawyers has been and currently is poor. More than likely this would enhance their reputation, image and stature among the general population. It would also give many young lawyers another practical option to building their careers.
In addition to being an image builder with the public, it would also provide more positive relationships with other professional groups. There would be a chance for lawyers and non-legal professionals to work together, cooperatively, on a common task for the client. The rewards for both groups would be multi-dimensional. There could be new long-term relationships established. There would be new solutions found to existing client problems. Professionals could prosper and grow in ways not heretofore seen. This would help unite the professions in a way that would promise an innovative way to solving problems.
MDPs would allow lawyers to get more motivated about their careers. It would provide a new infusion of energy and enthusiasm for serving the client. Lawyers would begin to look at other relevant angles for solving client problems. Innovative ideas between and among professionals would create a real sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
MDPs would help redefine broader professional roles. All the professionals involved would have to learn another set of professional skills. For many this would be a breath of fresh air. It would also require a lot of hard work and energy to change old habits to new functional behaviors.
Below are only thirteen critical behaviors required to begin changing your role.
Assuming that the concept of MDPs is passed by the legal profession, at some time in the future, the path to making it reality will be filled with hard work and some through decisions. Some lawyers will like the idea and want to try it. Other lawyers will not like the idea and will not want to participate in it. Still others will sit on the sidelines until there is proof that the model works effectively.
However, it should be pointed out that models for this kind of human interaction do not work in a perfunctory manner. It is the “human relationships” that evolve out of working together which makes for a smooth approach. It means understanding where you have conflict and honest disagreements but still work toward the goal of solving the problem for the client in a professional manner. Lawyers do this all the time with each other and now they can apply it to other professionals.
Changing perceptions of others is a difficult task. It requires an entire shift in thinking from one way (usually in a negative way) to another way (thinking more positively). This shift requires the respect of one another as well as understanding the competencies that each can offer. It also requires the building of trust so that one professional can depend on the other and vice versa.
Who can best accomplish this with the least resistance and be most effectiveness? Perhaps the younger lawyers, who are newer to the profession, and who need an effective strategy in their arsenal of professional approaches to providing clients with more comprehensive results. It may take years if not decades to put MDPs in place. Most young attorneys would probably make the time and have the desire to accomplish such a change.
In the true entrepreneurial spirit, currently there is a need to think outside the box. The major purpose for thinking outside the box is to create new solutions to old problems. At the same time it re-energizes the professionals as well as the profession. Finally, it promotes global thinking because there are other countries that are currently using this model. Since lawyers are concerned about their code of ethics and how it effects their practice, this new model could cause lawyers to develop a relevant set of ethics to encompass MDP relationships.
Below is a list of four results to be accomplished by using out of box thinking as found in using MDPs.
Globalization is more than a buzzword–it actually exists. Currently there are multi-disciplinary partnerships in Europe. This demonstrates that out of box thinking exists and is beginning to influence global commerce.
Lawyers are in a position to ‘talk the talk, and walk the walk.’ They have the opportunity to take a leadership role and show others in the world how to work together more effectively for the client. Globalization requires a different set of ethics, new models for client service, leadership, and out of box thinking so that the next generation of lawyers are equipped to face global competition.
Here are some positive impacts MDPs can have for you:
Dr. Thomas J. Venardos is an adjunct management consultant with Olmstead & Associates, Legal Management Consultants, St. Louis, MO, and President of Venardos Management Group, Organizational Performance Consultants, located in Albuquerque, NM. Dr. Venardos may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.