Benchers say no to multi-disciplinary practice

In December the Benchers rejected a set of proposed Law Society rules that would have allowed lawyers to engage in multidisciplinary practice with non-lawyers.

The proposed rule changes required a two-thirds majority to pass, but received only a bare majority (14:13) of Benchers voting in favour.

The decision follows two years of work by a Multi-Disciplinary Practice Working Group, chaired by Nanaimo Bencher D. Peter Ramsay, Q.C., consultations within the profession and many hours of debate at Benchers meetings.

In 1999 the Benchers decided in principle to relax the current restrictions on multi-disciplinary partnerships, in particular the rule against fee splitting with non-lawyers, provided the core values of the legal profession could be protected. The intent was to allow lawyers more scope in structuring their practices and to facilitate one-stop shopping for clients.

In 2000 the Benchers agreed on the basic principles needed to protect the core values of lawyers in a multi-disciplinary practice setting - such as client confidentiality, privilege, avoidance of conflicts and the professional independence of lawyers - and asked the Working Group to develop a regulatory scheme based on those principles.

While praising the high quality and comprehensive material presented by the Working Group in December, many of the Benchers lacked comfort that the proposed rules could sufficiently protect the core values of the profession.

It was also flagged by several Benchers that there is currently a lack of demand within the profession for such a regulatory scheme, and that the cost of any proposed scheme would have to be examined carefully.