Critics argue that nonlawyer owners could exert influence over the decisions made by lawyers that would be in the financial interest of owners but not the firms' clients.
"We should not change the current approach unless there is a sufficient demonstration that change is in the best interests of our clients and society and it does not undermine the integrity of the legal profession," Younger said.
No one disagreed with the position taken by the House of Delegates, which also referred the matter to its Committee on Standards of Attorney Conduct (COSAC), chaired by Joseph Neuhaus of Sullivan & Cromwell, for continued study. Former state bar president Robert Ostertag told his colleagues that was contrary to normal procedures.
The House of Delegates serves as the state bar's "court of last resort" in making final determinations on endorsing policies that have been recommended to the members by various sections, committees and task forces, Ostertag said.
"We don't do things like this in the house as a general rule," Ostertag, of Ostertag, O'Leary & Barrett in Poughkeepsie, told the house. "We don't ask the house to pass a resolution and then submit that resolution to a division of the association and consider a report back."
But members overwhelmingly rejected his proposal to table the resolution for now and await a report from the committee, which he said will inevitably make changes that the house will have to consider again.
Richard Cahill Jr. of Ryan, Roach & Ryan in Kingston, said he considered the ownership question as among the most important ethical issues facing lawyers.
"We have all had to endure countless lawyer jokes and Hollywood portrays us on television and in the movies as slick-talking shysters who are dishonest," Cahill said. "I take great pride in being an attorney and I am sick and tired of seeing that and hearing that."
Cahill proposed to shorten the statement of purpose to an affirmation of the state bar's "opposition to any form of nonlawyer ownership of law firms" without promising to revisit the issue unless circumstances change. Cahill's proposal was defeated.
According to the resolution, the Standards of Attorney Conduct committee will go back to the House of Delegates on the issue of sharing fees between firms in New York and allied firms working on the same cases in jurisdictions that allow nonlawyer ownership of firms.