The American Bar Association (ABA) delegates called a temporary cease-fire today after battling over whether attorneys in the United States should be allowed to team up with non-lawyers.
Following a spirited debate, the group's policy-making House of Delegates voted to postpone a final decision on a resolution that would have reaffirmed the ABA's opposition to multidisciplinary practices, which involve lawyers splitting fees and sharing ownership of law practices with non-lawyers.
In presenting the resolution on behalf of the Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA), President John E. Thies of Webber & Thies P.C. in Urbana rejected the notion that the American legal profession lags behind lawyers in other countries that allow multidisciplinary practice.
"We are not sticking our heads in the sand, but standing on the core principles that have served our clients well in the past and will continue to do so in the future," Thies said.
Lawrence J. Fox of Drinker, Biddle & Reath LLP in Philadelphia agreed with Thies.
"We are exporting our standards, not importing the lowest common denominator from overseas," Fox said.
But H. Thomas Wells Jr. of Maynard, Cooper & Gale P.C. in Birmingham, Ala., contended that delegates would send the wrong message to the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20 if they came out against multidisciplinary practice.
Such a vote would tell the commission, which is charged with examining the rules that guide the professional conduct of attorneys, to stop examining an issue that is still on the table, Wells said.
"Ladies and gentlemen, that is not the way to run a railroad," he said.
While saying she felt uncomfortable disagreeing with so many of her fellow delegates from Illinois, Cheryl I. Niro of Robinson, Niro LLC was among those who called for postponing a vote on the ISBA resolution.
Niro said the resolution did not provide a "substantive" solution to the problem posed by the existence of a multidisciplinary practice in countries where American lawyers' representation of clients sometimes takes them.
The ABA's stand on multidisciplinary practice would better be decided through a thorough debate after the Commission on Ethics 20/20 completes its work and makes it recommendations, Niro said.
Delegates discussed the resolution during the ABA Annual Meeting. They planned to continue debating resolutions this afternoon and Tuesday morning.
House Chairwoman Linda A. Klein of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz P.C. in Atlanta presided over the debate.
Resolutions do not become ABA policy unless the 560-member House of Delegates adopt them.
On another matter, delegates amended ABA standards to require law schools to provide "complete, accurate and not misleading" information to consumers about such matters as the employment rates of graduates.
Delegates also called for the adoption of standards for the detention of foreign nationals being held pending deportation.
A report accompanying the resolution noted that there is not a uniform set of guidelines for the treatment of such foreign nationals, most of whom are in local jails and private facilities.
And delegates urged lawmakers and regulators to adopt "breed-neutral" measures that address dangerous dogs based on the behavior of individual dogs rather than their pedigree.