The Incursion of Multi-Disciplinary Firms: Any Regulation? By Hon. Mr. Sulaiman Usman, SAN


A Paper Presented at the Showcase Session of the Nigerian Bar Association Annual General Conference Held at Iris Hall, Eko Hotel, Lagos, Nigeria on 26th
August, 2019.


I am extremely delighted to be requested to deliver a speech or talk on the Topic “The Incursion of multidisciplinary firms, Any Regulation.” as part of the activities marking this year’s Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association holding at Eko Hotel, Lagos.

The topic of this discourse appears to have thrown up into discussion the need for law firm regulation in Nigeria.

A fruitful discussion cannot be done without undertaking a regulatory audit of how law firms and their regulation in other common law jurisdiction works.

This paper examines the incursion of multidisciplinary firms, multidisciplinary practice and multidisciplinary partnership in the practice of law and provision of legal service and the need to regulate and govern their activities and put them in check so as not to disrupt the extant legal practice architecture in order to guarantee the future of legal practice in Nigeria.

Multidisciplinary Law Firm and Multidisciplinary Practice 2 Multi-disciplinary firms are firms that combine practice of law with non-legal service as one spot service thereby saving time and money. In multi-disciplinary law firm there is joint practice between lawyers and other professionals to offer professional service including legal services. Multi-disciplinary are firms conterminous with multidisciplinary partnership and Multi-disciplinary Practice. Multi-disciplinary practice is widely acknowledged as the practice of more than one profession jointly leading to establishment of multidisciplinary partnerships as distinguished from practice of different professions severally.

In fact, multi-disciplinary practice has over the years developed into five models namely; a. Cooperative b. Command and Control c. Ancillary Practice d. Network e. Multi-disciplinary Partnership. At the global level, we have five major accounting firms namely, KPMG , Ernst & Young , Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, a UK private company limited by guarantee (“DTTL”), its network of member firms, and their related entities4 , PriceWaterHouseCoopers (pwc) and Arthur Andersen have expanded their professional practice from Accounting, Tax, Consultancy, Risk, Audi, Financial Advisory into provision of legal services except legal representation in Court.

For instance PwC on their website expressed their commitment to provide the best legal solution to their client through integrated approach to service and through efficient and precise management of our clients’ needs; we are able to provide practical legal solutions and advice. They added that : “Our purpose is to build trust in society and solve important problems. We seek to do this in all the services we provide – including legal. For each important problem you face, we can bring together the right mix of lawyers, consultants and financial advisers to help you develop an efficient and commercially viable solution.

This approach gives you:

1. An end-to-end service without the friction/handover points between different providers

2. Early visibility of broader business issues

3. One key point of contact” Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited indicated on their website as follows; “Multinational organizations need legal advisors who can assist with day-to-day activities as well as corporate life events across many jurisdictions. Deloitte Legal practices provide holistic guidance around strategic business decisions, offering cost-effective support for routine legal activities.” Andersen on the other hand, indicated the company was established in 2013 as the international entity surrounding the development of a seamless professional services model providing best in class tax and legal services around the world. Ernst & Young provided also legal services by means of an integrated multi-disciplinary approach. The Website published the following words; “We can provide you with the detailed guidance you need to navigate the increasingly complex legal environment of the global economy. Our lawyers understand the complex tax, regulatory and commercial laws of today’s economy. With our multidisciplinary, one-stop shop approach, we help reduce the gap between business advisors and legal counsel, increasing efficiency and speed to market, while reducing costs. Serving you across borders, our sector focused, multidisciplinary approach means we offer integrated and detailed advice you can trust. Throughout the service, we take time to understand clearly what matters to you. With centrally managed cross-border teams and single responsible country contacts, our controlled, efficient services can assist your business around the world.”

The Globalisation of Multidisciplinary Practice and firms MDP is becoming a front burner issue in professional legal practice today. It demands the expansion or extension of legal services to include accountancy, estate valuation, facility management et cetera.

In Canada, Australia, France and Spain, multi-disciplinary practice is permitted. In United States, the American Bar Association Commission on multidisciplinary partnerships (MDPs) and fee sharing between lawyers and non-lawyers recommended that MDPs should be allowed.

Equally, in the United Kingdom, the Law Society of England and Wales recommended that MDPs should be permitted. Clifford Chance UK’S largest law firm and Rogers, a well know New York law firm decided to merge in the first transatlantic big law firm merger. In Saudi Arabia, the law firm of Badr Alarishi, is leading the incursion of multidisciplinary practice in the middle east with firm roots in England that provides legal services and also provides legal service and Estate.

Despite its incursions into professional practice, multidisciplinary practice is not being embraced in many jurisdictions including Nigeria because it poses a threat to lawyer client privilege, constitutes a hindrance to age long concept of conflict of interest and erosion of professional independent judgement that lawyers currently enjoy in the practice of law.

The Nigerian Perspective

Tracing historical perspectives, it will be seen that until the middle of the 20th Century, Law has been seen and regarded as an autonomous discipline, distinct from other spheres of knowledge, that only legal experts can manipulate, and practice. This traditional view is associated with the postulations of Christopher C. Langdell and is widely acknowledged as the Langdellion theory or doctrinal legal analysis. Langdellion theory is to the effect that law student and lawyers should be concerned with the closed study of law and analysis of judicial opinion only in order to formulate legal principles without recourse to other areas of knowledge other than Law. Under this concept the “boundaries are effectively established, widely understood and efficiently patrolled.”

It is following this traditional view that multidisciplinary firms are indubitably prohibited in Nigeria though the prohibition is observed in breach to some extent. The Rules of Professional conduct in the legal profession, 2007 (hereinafter referred to as RPC), made by the General Bar Council under the legal practitioners Act which operates as subsidiary legislation, prohibit lawyers from multidisciplinary practice and establishment of multi-disciplinary firms.

RPC are rules of reason formulated to ensure legal representation and practice of law is conducted with the best ethical and moral standards. Rules 3 of the Rules of Professional Conduct forbids a lawyer from aiding a nonlawyer in the authorised practice of law or permitting his professional services or his name to be used in aid of or to make possible, the unauthorised practice of law by non-lawyers or lawyers that are have been suspended or debarred from practice. Similarly, a lawyer is not allowed to share legal fees with non-lawyer or sign his name or allow his name to be signed to a document prepared by a non-lawyer as if prepared by him.

Lawyers are also prohibited from carrying out the practice of law as a corporation. In fact, Rules 6(7) RPC put a nail in the coffin of multi-disciplinary practice by forbidding a lawyer from practice of law at the same time with practice of any other profession.

It should be borne in mind that while the legal profession sleeps in Nigeria by closing the door against multidisciplinary firms and multidisciplinary practice, other professionals are rendering legal service and hiring young lawyers to support them in providing legal services and unauthorised practice of law in contracts documentation, incorporation of companies, legal drafting and conveyancing, mergers and acquisitions and even litigation. This is evident from the presence of some of the big five global accounting firms in Nigeria. The Nigerian Bar must rise to the challenge pose by the incursion of multidisciplinary practice and multidisciplinary firms and create the enabling environment for lawyers to compete favourably with them. It has been overserved that multidisciplinary partnerships (MDPs) between law and other types of firms may become major players in the market for worldwide capital growth and development. The effects of law and legal practice on society is better appreciated through the prism of interdisciplinary legal scholarship beyond law and legal doctrine, social science is required to understand the effects of law on society. According to sociological school of jurisprudence the main function of law is social engineering, creating equilibrium in the society and balancing the conflicting rights of citizens. Law regulates human conduct and competing rights of the parties inter se Law of Contract, Banking Law, Sale of Goods, Law of Negotiable Instruments, Company Law et cetera regulates economic activities and conduct of the people.

Indeed, global demand from consumers, large multi-national accounting firms and Competition Regulators has fueled the growing need for Multi-disciplinary practice. In fact the growing demand of the MDP has recently led to the emergence of Multi-disciplinary Professional Networks Services as a major component of multidisciplinary firms. There is therefore the urgent need for regulation.

Conclusions/Recommendations

The Nigeria Bar Association need to educate and sensitise its membership beyond the precinct of Annual General Conference (AGC) on the emerging trend so as to understand the transformation the legal profession is undergoing globally.

There is the need to create a Multidisciplinary Committee to advise the Nigerian Bar Association, the General Bar Council and Body of Senior Advocate (BOSAN) on the need to consider whether it is in public interest and in the interest of clients to allow multidisciplinary firms, practice and partnership in Nigeria and whether so doing will not impede and prejudiced lawyers ethical obligations. Changes need to be proposed, if need be to the Rules of Professional Conduct for legal practitioner as well as the legal Practitioners Act following the example of American Bar Association.

Experience from US, UK France, Canada, Spain and Australia point to the need for careful examination of the nature and extent of the activities of multidisciplinary firms in deciding the proper regulatory architecture to be put in place.

The Legal Profession must be the straw that stirs the drink in regulating Multidisciplinary firms, and should be the one who will bundle professional services in Nigeria. It is noteworthy that while law practice is regulated in Nigeria, there is a complete absence of regulation for establishing law firms except the regulations under the guidelines for award of the rank of Senior Advocates of Nigeria.

This is one valid lacuna that needs to be filled as obtainable in other jurisdictions and the proper body to address this is the Nigerian Bar Association, so I recommend that the President should set up a committee to advise the NBA on the need for law firm regulation in Nigeria as well as enhance public confidence and respect for the rule of law. Moreover, law firms are the main contact point between lawyers and clients.

In terms of client intake, retainer agreements, conflict of interest and billings, law firms are intermediaries through which legal services are delivered. Multidisciplinary firms and practice are part of the future, the legal profession will face in Nigeria, it beckoning unto us and we have to prepared face the future that it brings to legal practice. According to Professor Peter Grabosky, “Those who fail to anticipate the future are in for a rude shock when it arrives.”

If by this presentation, I tickle you for a proper appreciation of the challenge posed by the incursion of multidisciplinary firms and the need for regulation, I am grateful to Allah (SWT) that I have been of some use to you. If however I did not, I consign this paper to dustbin.

All I have tried to say is that the incursion of the multidisciplinary practice is real, at hand and affects the future of legal practices in this country and we need all hands to be on deck with Body of Benchers , Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, General Council of the Bar and NBA in the saddle to fashion out a proper regulatory architecture and amend the legal Practitioners Act and Rules of Professional conduct for Legal Practitioners and make them modern and up to date in line with new realities brought about by the incursion of multidisciplinary firms and the impact of Technology.

Mr. Usman, SAN is the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Sokoto State

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