The struggle to become a lawyer is real. Yet, not a few lawyers squander the privilege of being a lawyer by committing acts that cost them their license to practice law. Consider what one has to go through to become a lawyer. First, after hurdling a four-year course, the journey to finish a law degree in at least four years begins. Some take it for as long as seven to eight years; others, even longer. Then a six-month review ensues. Finally comes the most grueling licensure exam in the country, the bar exams. Thousands have to take the bar exam several times before they finally take their oath as lawyers.
It is therefore unsettling, to say the least, how some lawyers brazenly commit acts that merit their suspension or even disbarment. In one recently decided case for example, a notary public notarized a deed of absolute sale fully knowing that his notarial commission had expired. He was permanently barred from becoming a notary public again and suspended from law practice for two years. In another recent case, a lawyer desiring ardently to help her male client obtain a declaration of nullity of marriage advised him that it would be best if the wife were the one to file the petition to ensure that she would not oppose it. What made the situation utterly wrong was that, upon payment by the husband of her fees, she made the petition as lawyer for the wife; forged the signature of her supposed client; and then filed it. She even obtained a residence certificate for the wife from a place she never lived at. The wife filed a disbarment case against her. The Supreme Court reminded her as well as all other lawyers that a lawyer shall not do any falsehood, nor consent to the doing of any in Court; nor shall he mislead or allow the Court to be misled by any means. She was disbarred.
Generally, the three most common grounds why lawyers get either suspended or disbarred are: women (with respect to male lawyers); greed for money; and gross negligence and incompetence. There are other grounds, of course, for which lawyers are sanctioned such as the use of foul and gutter language in pleadings submitted to the courts and disrespect for the courts as shown by a refusal or failure to comply with orders.
Not a few male lawyers have been disbarred for committing bigamy, concubinage or adultery—committed with a married woman. In these cases the Supreme Court said that “A lawyer shall not engage in unlawful, immoral or deceitful conduct and shall at all times uphold the integrity of the bar.” The Supreme Court added that the commission of such offenses by lawyers exhibit a deplorable lack of degree of morality because they make a mockery of the institution of marriage.
In another case, this time involving money, a lawyer who was entrusted by his client with the sale of his real estate property did not remit to his client the proceeds of the sale. When sued by his client and ordered by the court to return to his client the proceeds of the sale, he ignored the court’s order, resulting in his disbarment. The Supreme Court said that the highly fiduciary nature of a lawyer-client relationship imposes upon the lawyer the duty to account for the money or property collected or received for or from his client.
In several cases, lawyers failed in their duty to their clients, that is, they failed to do what was incumbent upon them. Some missed numerous deadlines for the filing of required pleadings; others filed wrong pleadings; still another kept filing motions for extension of time to file the needed submission only to fail in filing any. The Supreme Court stressed that, as embodied in the Code of Professional Responsibility, a lawyer shall serve his client with competence and diligence. He shall not neglect a legal matter entrusted to him and his negligence in connection with it shall render him liable.
The practice of law commands such a high degree of responsibility, integrity and morality that it is considered as one of the most challenging and noble professions of all time. Yet, because many lawyers do not take their oath as lawyers seriously, there has been a proliferation of jokes that insult and denigrate lawyers and their profession. There has also been a spate of scandals and wrongdoings involving lawyers not only in recent events but in the past many years.
This should make law schools rethink the way they teach law students. What should the thrust of their curriculum be? Is emphasis given more to producing lawyers that will succeed in prominence and financial standing? Do law schools make students understand that the profession they have chosen to pursue demands of them uprightness, fairness, a sense of justice and utmost sense of responsibility to society, the courts and their clients? As for those who have been disbarred or suspended from the practice of law, should not their mentors and their parents ask themselves where they went wrong?