Thoughts on ways to improve the management of professional services firms

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Partnerships - Problems with Multidisciplinary Workings

In New South Wales, the use of multidisciplinary partnerships and of solicitor corporations has been permitted within legal practice since 1987. However, the conditions attached made effective multidisciplinary practices difficult to create.

In 1994, the NSW legislation was changed to try to make it easier to create true multidisciplinary partnerships involving lawyers. Then, following a 1998 report, conditions were further eased in December 1999, providing great freedom in the formation of such entities. Despite this, very few true multidisciplinary partnerships have been created.

The reasons for this are partially cultural.

In Multidisciplinary Working - Introduction I spoke of the way in which project management approaches allowed professionals to combine across disciplines. However, I distinguished this from full multidisciplinary working. To my mind, this occurred when professions combined in some way to create an integrated outcome informed by the knowledge and insights drawn from the different professions.

I extended this argument in Multidisciplinary Working - Practical and Professional Issues 1. There I looked briefly at some of the models that had emerged to try to manage different business and knowledge domains, of which multidisciplinary working was but one.

Underlying the arguments in both posts were the profound cultural divides that place the different professions into distinct silos. Professional Mudmaps - Cultural Differences Across the Professions: Stocktake of Posts as at 24 September 06 provides an early consolidated list of posts I have written in this area, a list that I must update. In doing so, I also need to consolidate the posts I have written on the creation of a discipline of practice; I see this as a key requirement for the creation of true multidisciplinary working.

In writing on multidisciplinary writing, I have become more conscious of the way in which differing legal and commercial requirements among the professions continue to create divides. The rules attaching to legal trust accounts is one such example, problems with professional indemnity insurance another.

These differing requirements almost need to be traced on a case by case basis if one is to provide effective advice on the creation of multidisciplinary firms, whether partnerships or incorporated entities.

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