STARTING Nov. 25, the new lawyers must render free legal assistance before they can offer legal services and charge for those.
But based on a Supreme Court ruling promulgated on Oct. 10 but was only released recently, lawyers who are already practicing in the executive and legislative branches for six months before taking the Bar exams are exempted from the requirement.
Also exempted are those who have finished the “clinical legal education program” and have already rendered pro bono legal work prior to their admission to the Bar.
“The legal profession is imbued with public interest. As such, lawyers are charged with the duty to give meaning to the guarantee of access to adequate legal assistance under Article III, Section 11 of the 1987 Constitution,” the high court says in a 14-page order.
“As a way to discharge this constitutional duty, lawyers are obliged to render pro bono services to those who otherwise would be denied access to adequate legal services.”
The high court says incoming lawyers must provide 120 hours of pro bono legal work for poor litigants as part of its efforts to champion the constitutional guarantee to “free access to the courts and quasi-judicial bodies.”
The rule will be implemented starting with the successful barristers who are set to take this year’s Bar exams, which will be held during four Sundays of November.
The magistrates say lawyers must ensure people’s access to legal services “in an efficient and convenient manner compatible with the independence, integrity and effectiveness of the profession.”
The 15-member high court tasked the Office of the Bar Confidant and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, the country’s biggest lawyers’ group, to oversee the compliance of the new lawyers with its order titled “Community Legal Aid Service Rule.”
Under this rule, the new lawyers are given one year after signing the roll of lawyers to complete the required 120―hour free legal services in criminal, civil and administrative cases.
Besides indigent litigants, rookie lawyers must provide free services among groups, individuals and organizations who cannot get assistance from the Public Attorney’s Office due to conflict of interest.
The new lawyers may also offer their legal services on cases about public interest and legal issues that may affect the society.
The tribunal says the rule is not intended to prevent the successful Bar passers from using their profession for their own pecuniary interests.
“This rule is not intended to impair the private practice or employment of covered lawyers,” the high court says.
“Barring any conflict of interest or any other violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility, covered lawyers can engage in private practice and accept paid clients or be employed in the government or in the private sector within the twelve-month period for compliance.”