Jenner & Block Jumps Ahead of the Line in the Legal Revolution

Think the Australian, British and (soon to be) Canadian legal revolution hasn’t hit the U.S. yet? Think again.

Quick recap of what’s happening, straight from the Canadian Bar Futures Report, which generally mirrors the Australian and British models.

The key elements of the revolution all flow from the first recommendation of “multidisciplinary practices” (MDP’s) – firms with business structures “that permit fee-sharing, multidisciplinary practice, and ownership, management, and investment by persons other than lawyers or other regulated legal professionals.” That means, for instance, a firm with lawyers, CPA’s, auto body repair shops and doctors, all under one roof.

From that flows the second element, “alternative business structures” (ABS’s) meaning non-lawyer ownership, or participation in ownership, of law firms. Those CPA’s and doctors and auto mechanics can be part or full owners of a firm.

And the third, “fee-sharing with and referral fees to non-lawyers.” That means the doctor or real estate agent or CPA or whatever can either get a referral fee or even a piece of the overall fee – legally.

So – the British Solicitors Regulation Authority just licensed an ABS consisting of Jenner & Block, a major national ABS based in Scotland, and a mediation service. How did they evade the (rapidly aging) U.S. legal structure strictures?  J&B asserted thar “the office will be operated by “a local independent affiliate, Jenner & Block London LLP” – even though its head of legal practice is dual-qualified Chicago-based partner Timothy J Chorvat.

And a lovely dodge of the issues. According to the article in the British blog Legal Futures, “…the firm would not explain the rationale for becoming an ABS. They would prefer at this time not to reply to your questions. The structure they have chosen for their London operations and their relationship with the SRA are not issues about [which] they wish to engage [with] the media currently.”

Smooth, J&B. And by the way, congratulations. You’re breaking ground for the rest of the profession. My spoof article “Berkshire Hathaway Purchases Omaha’s Largest Law Firm” may not be a spoof for long.