Last Tuesday, April 21, 2009, being one of the faculty members of the Southwestern University School of Law in Cebu City Philippines, I was tasked by our Dean, Atty. Godwin Denzel Manginsay, to attend the Cebu City IBP forum on Bar Matter 2012.
I already had a scheduled meeting with some clients, so I just submitted a position paper in behalf of our law school to our local IBP chapter.
The following is what I think is a better alternative to Bar Matter 2012. For those of you who do not know what Bar matter 2012 is, it is discussed in the statement of facts, after which I gave out my argument on what I believe is a better alternative to Bar Matter 2012.
STATEMENT OF FACTS
Bar Matter 2012 mandates that every law practitioner is required to annually render a minimum of 60 hours of free legal aid service to indigent litigants. This rule is said to be effective on July 1, 2009.
Practitioners who cannot comply with the said rule will be required to pay a penalty of P 4,000.00. Failure to comply for three consecutive years will result to a penalty of suspension from law practice for one year.
The IBP National Committee on legal aide together with the various IBP chapters is tasked to draft regulations for the implementing rule.
Considering that the said rule affects the entire legal profession, the IBP Cebu City chapter has adopted a resolution requesting the Supreme Court to defer the implementation of said rule pending consultation from members of the Integrated Bar.
1.) Whether or not Bar Matter 2012 should be amended, recalled or revoked
2.) Whether or not a better alternative should be considered that will still achieve the objective of the Supreme Court in providing free legal aid service to indigent litigants.
ARGUMENTS AND DISCUSSION
Since the issues involved are intertwined they shall be discussed jointly.
The objective of the Supreme Court in issuing Bar Matter 2012 is to provide free legal aid to indigent litigants. Providing free aid for indigent litigants is not only a constitutional mandate and a legal mandate, it is also a moral mandate as well that appeal to each legal practitioner’s conscience.
As early as this time, we would like to emphasize that we are not against this noble objective. Without a doubt, in this country the practice of law has become more “business like” where “profit” and “gain” has become the primordial consideration by practitioners instead of clinging to the noble idea of a “profession” wherein making money is merely incidental to the exercise of such profession. This pathetic situation has indeed deprived indigent litigations from having a somewhat equal fight by their availing of not only free legal services but quality free legal services as well.
While we agree with such noble objective we humbly disagree on how such should be implemented. Mandating 60 hours of free legal services to indigent clients may look like a step to the achievement of such objective. However in our view with due respect to the Supreme Court, it is no different from giving alms to beggars.
The reason why we believe this is so is that 60 hours can barely be considered as helping indigent litigants. Cases run for several years and litigants are subjected to a protracted trial. For certain most practitioners would not like to devote their time, energy auditing and resources to purely pro-bono cases. What would actually happen is that they would render 60 hours by dispensing free legal advice and by joining free legal aide clinics but most would not take on a full blown case. As we said the 60 hours would somehow be equivalent to throwing coins to beggars.
If we really want to alleviate the plight of indigent litigants then why don’t we give them full legal services? This is so much better rather than giving some pathetic 60 hours a year service.
As to how this will be achieved, we have come up with a radical proposal that could solve two problems, the other problem being unrelated to Bar Matter 2012, but has something to do with our current system of legal education.
There are three requisites before a law graduate can be considered a lawyer. These are 1.) Passing the bar exams, 2.) Taking an oath as an attorney and 3.) Singing the roll of Attorneys. We propose that 4th requisite be added and that is “Rendering 1 year of actual law practice to provide free legal service to indigent clients.”
New Attorney’s should only be “conditionally” admitted to the bar until they have rendered 1 year of free legal service to indigent clients. However the acts that these new attorney’s can do should not be limited but rather they should be given full power and responsibilities the same with that those fully admitted to the bar. The only difference being is that their admittance to the bar is conditional pending their undergoing a “5th” year of actual law practice.
Law education runs only for 4 years, we propose adding a 5th year of law education, which does not involve class room education but actual law practice. Such 5th year in law education should not be handled by the law school but by the local legal aide committee of the local Integrated bar chapter.
In order for this to work, we suggest that the legal aide committee of the local IBP chapter should be operated as a “fully operational law firm” that operates 8 hours a day 260 days a year just like a regular law firm wherein the new lawyers will become its associates. This fully operational law firm should have its staff, its own equipment and other necessary things that are needed to run an actual law firm. A full “supervising” attorney should be hired to run this law office.
Veteran law practitioners could become “consultants” for the new practitioners. Each veteran practitioner should be called to render 1 year of free “consultancy” once every 5 years. They could also be called in to conduct lectures on how to win actual cases to the new practitioners. Veteran law practitioners need not be on duty full time in the Legal aide office but they could be consulted on a case per case basis by these new practitioners.
The Public Attorney’s office (P.A.O) can then unload some of their cases and refer it to the IBP Legal Aide office. This will enable the P.A.O to cater to more clients and will enable them to give more quality time to each case the handle. As we all know the Public Attorney’s office is swamped with so many cases.
Since money is needed to run this proposed fully operational IBP legal aide office, we propose the following to raise funds for the fully operational IBP legal aide office:
1.) New practitioners should be made to pay a minimal an “enrollment” fee for undergoing this 5th year of actual law practice;
2.) Veteran law practitioners who are too busy to supervise or too busy to act as consultants for a year once every 5 years should have the alternative to pay a certain amount (Which should be somewhat higher considering that they are making so much money as they are too busy to consult or supervise) in lieu of acting as supervisor or consultant to the IBP Legal aide law office;
3.) The current IBP dues should be more than tripled. Sixty percent (60 %) of this amount should go to the IBP legal aide law office. (More than tripled IBP amount is equivalent to P 3,500.00, 65 % is P2, 450.00. The P 1,050 will be devoted to other IBP initiatives, this way the original IBP P 1,100 dues is somehow not affected) This is also each IBP member’s contribution to the furtherance of giving free legal aide to indigent clients.
4.) Other source of funding includes donation from non-government organizations and even securing funding from the local government for the furtherance of giving free legal aid to indigent clients and to fulfill the noble objective of giving “Justice” to all.
In the field of medicine, doctors have to undergo PGI (Post graduate internship) before taking the medical board exams. The purpose of the PGI is no doubt to give experience to would be medical doctors.
In law practice there is no such thing as a P.G.I. Our only equivalent is that some schools have a “Clinical legal education” subject wherein law students are involved in some free legal clinic. But this is subject is not implemented in all law schools as only a handful of schools have a fully operational legal clinic that is duly accredited by the Supreme Court. As a result most new lawyers who engage in law practice have no idea on what to do in actual practice.
With this propose “5th” year of actual law practice, new practitioners will not only be able to help indigent litigants, they can also gain actual law practice before venturing out on their own.
Considering the above mentioned arguments that there is a better alternative in fulfilling the objective of providing free mandatory legal aid service to indigent litigants we therefore ask for the revocation of Bar matter 2012 and that our suggestions be further studied and considered.