The Practice of Philippine Law Today | The Manila Times

THE practice of ancient Philippine law focused on confrontation, litigation and cross-examination. It used to be that the image of a lawyer was one who could argue eloquently before a judge or jury; or, one who has the wit and cunning to cross-examine a witness in confession.

The late Alexander Sycip, speaking to a journalist, said “it is a misconception to think that a lawyer is simply one who judges cases in court, rather than a lawyer is a planner, diagnostician and a surgeon; and internal medicine is always the first option if surgery can be avoided.”

Henry Campbell Black, who started Black’s Law Dictionary, defines the practice of law as comprehensive coverage of “the preparation of pleadings and other documents relating to actions and special proceedings, conveyance of property, preparation of legal instruments , negotiations, advice and assistance in the conduct of litigation and, of course, court appearances. »

The practice of law is not just what happens inside the courtroom. To practice law is to have a good understanding of the macrocosm of society and this deep understanding leads to “fair, equitable and balanced justice”.

A person who needs legal assistance must understand that legal assistance is in the nature of a “diagnosis” and not just a superficial appraisal of the facts. The client should seek a representation that can provide a probe into the interrelationship of laws, customs, practices, as well as links between legal knowledge, setbacks and predictions.

Take a customer-centric approach

The old approach was attorney-centric, in which the success of winning a particular case relied heavily on the attorney’s connections, background, and even pedigree. When the Supreme Court of the Philippines issued guidelines on mediation and dispute resolution, at least for simple civil cases, the practice of law in the country became somewhat client-oriented. At least for some civil cases covered by these guidelines, winning a simple civil case will no longer be determined by a high caliber lawyer but on the basis of how much the opposing parties are willing to compromise. If this is the scenario, one way or another, customers will have more control over the dispute and resolution.

This may refer to Sycip’s use of symbolisms such as diagnosis and internal medicine when surgery can be avoided. Or quite simply, arbitration and mediation before litigation. Moreover, this strategy is both institutional, an approach recognized by the Supreme Court, and incidentally inscribed in the Filipino psyche of “mag-usap na muna” (talk first).


The flavors of the local community are always part of any legal negotiation, and it’s also wise to expect a single company to have exposures and cross-exposures to multiple industries. This is no longer simply an A versus B legal case. There are connections and exposures to consider. A dissection of all the issues involved in a single court case is not only strategic but also essential. Another indispensable strategy is for law firms to have local subsidiaries that can provide the necessary connections and local flavors. The collaboration, between lawyers or law firms, so practiced in the past has become more necessary today.


Ask a lawyer who practiced before the 1980s how he prepared for a case and the mention of reading volumes and volumes of Philippine Reports and SCRA, or at least their photocopied pages, will always be a hard anecdote to miss. . You ask a young practicing lawyer today and most likely that lawyer may not yet have seen a physical copy of a Philippine report or an SCRA because technology has conveniently turned those bulky books into CDs or has them stored in online repositories.

The advent of technology has ushered in a new buzzword: innovation. Senior Attorney Bill Novomisle writes in his article that legal clients remain disappointed with the entire legal practice system because legal services are still expensive, complex, and confusing. The cost of a legal case, both in terms of the time a lawyer or law firm takes to process a case and of course in terms of legal fees, as well as the complexity of such legal advice for lay people ordinary, there remain the general complaints against the practice of law today. The optimal answer to all of these questions would be to innovate and use technology-enabled legal solutions and services.

Unfortunately, in a country like the Philippines where the technology is still mostly imported, these solutions can represent an additional cost for the lawyer or law firm and the cost can eventually be passed on to the client.

Practice of law versus knowledge of law

Self-medication, or even self-diagnosis, has been an eternal nightmare for doctors dealing with their stubborn patients. In the Philippines, the unauthorized practice of law has become so widespread that Congress has a bill pending to institute penalties for such practice, while Rule 71 of the Rules of Civil Procedure and the Court Rules of 1997 on indirect contempt have been the subject of current proceedings.

With technology giving us access to almost all the information available and perhaps because of too much screen time for TV shows like LA Law, Law & Order or Suits, more and more lay people are starting to confuse the knowledge of law with the practice of law. . Worse still, unscrupulous individuals would deliberately trade mere knowledge of the law for the practice of law and, with criminal intent, pretend to be licensed attorneys to pounce on unsuspecting clients. It has been proven in actual experiments that the danger of self-medication and that of the unauthorized exercise of the law are equally harmful and destructive.

Brand issue

Janet Reno, the first female and second longest-serving Attorney General of the United States Government, once said, “Being a lawyer is not just a calling, but also a public trust.” Today, a lawyer is still seen by some clients as someone who can help you bend the rules or circumvent regulations and damned morals, ethics, and even laws. A lawyer, on the other hand, may have a kind of “intellectual arrogance” that equates the practice of law with the right to twist truths and twist lies. This is a branding issue on both sides of the fence. Better always come back to those wise words, “it’s not just a vocation but also a public trust”.

Trade risk

A recent statement by Amnesty International cited Supreme Court data on some 61 lawyers, judges and prosecutors killed since 2016 for possible work-related reasons. While murders of lawyers for the cases they handle have not been uncommon in the past, the upsurge in murders in recent years has amplified the labor risks associated with practicing law in the country.

Practice of law and its social value

How important is the practice of law today? What is the value of a lawyer to you as an individual?

Article 3, section 12 of the Philippine Constitution of 1987 states it perfectly: “You have the right to have a competent and independent lawyer, preferably of your choice”.

Society is therefore entitled to a decent and competent practice of law for its people.

Jon J. Epps