Duties of lawyers

Last Monday, I took up the new 56-page Code of Professional Responsibility and Accountability (CPRA) for lawyers with emphasis on their responsibilities in relation to hi-tech and artificial intelligence. Today, within my limited space, let me summarize their duties to observe: (1) independence and propriety; (2) fidelity; and (3) competence, diligence, equality, and accountability.

THE DUTY OF INDEPENDENCE (Canon I) requires practicing lawyers “to act with integrity” and rely solely on the “merits of a cause” without being “influenced by dishonest or immoral considerations, external influences, or pressure.” They shall “not allow the client to dictate or determine the procedure in handling the case;” nonetheless, they shall “respect the client’s decision to settle or compromise … after explaining its consequences.”

Under their duty of propriety (Canon II), lawyers “shall not engage in unlawful, dishonest, immoral, or deceitful conduct.” Moreover, they “shall not commit any form of physical, sexual, psychological, or economic abuse or violence against another person” and shall use only “dignified, gender-fair, child- and culturally-sensitive language in all personal and professional dealings.”The law profession is not a business. Unlike other countries, the Philippines does not allow “ambulance-chasers” or the open selling/hawking of services. Thus, lawyers “shall not, directly or indirectly, solicit … [or] advertise legal services on any platform or media except with the use of dignified, verifiable, and factual information, including biographical data, contact details, fields of practice, services offered, and the like, so as to allow a potential client to make an informed choice. In no case shall the permissible advertisement be self-laudatory.” Neither should they “pay or give any benefit or consideration to any media practitioner, award-giving body … to attract legal representation …”The primary duty of public prosecutors “is not to convict but to see that justice is done.

”UNDER THE DUTY OF FIDELITY (Canon III), the “lawyer-client relationship shall arise when the client consciously, voluntarily and in good faith vests a lawyer with the client’s confidence for the purpose of rendering legal services such as providing legal advice or representation, and the lawyer, whether expressly or impliedly, agrees to render such services.” This duty explains, in part, why I decline to render advice or opinion on specific problems or cases referred to me by my esteemed readers. I always ask them to consult a competent lawyer, or the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO), or the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP).

Fidelity also prohibits attorneys from representing “conflicting interest except by written informed consent of all concerned given after a full disclosure of the facts.” They “shall not have dating, romantic, or sexual relations with a client during the engagement, unless the consensual relationship existed between them before the lawyer-client relationship commenced.”

The PAO “shall ensure ready access to its services by the marginalized sectors of society in a manner that takes into consideration the avoidance of potential conflict of interest situations which will leave these marginalized parties unassisted by counsel.” Such conflict shall be imputed only to the lawyer directly handling the case and the direct supervisor. It “shall not disqualify the rest of the [PAO lawyers] from representing the affected client, upon full disclosure … and written informed consent.”

UNDER CANON IV, a lawyer is mandated “to the best of his or her ability, observe competence, diligence, commitment, and skill consistent with the fiduciary nature of the lawyer-client relationship, regardless of the nature of the legal matter or issues involved, and whether for a fee or pro bono.”

Whether engaged in another profession like accountancy or engaged in business, a competent lawyer must still observe “lifelong learning through the continued development of professional skills.”

Under Canon V on “Equality,” a lawyer cannot decline a client on account of his or her “nationality or ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity, religion, disability, age, marital status, social or economic status, political beliefs, or such lawyer’s or the public’s opinion regarding the guilt of said person, except for justifiable reasons.” Neither can he or she refuse to represent an indigent, except if the lawyer cannot “carry out the work effectively or competently due to a justifiable reason;” or will be “placed in a conflict of interest situation;” or “is related to the potential adverse party, within the sixth degree … or to the adverse counsel, within the fourth degree.”

Canon VI details the causes to hold a lawyer accountable and the confidential and summary process that shall be observed in and by the Supreme Court and/or in and by the IBP. The complainant has the burden to show the attorney’s accountability via “substantial evidence,” defined by the CPRA as “the amount of relevant evidence which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to justify a conclusion,” not proof beyond reasonable doubt as prescribed in criminal cases.

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