60 hours of free legal aid for the poor | Inquirer Opinion
With Due Respect

60 hours of free legal aid for the poor

The Supreme Court is planning to require all lawyers to render at least 60 hours of pro bono (or free) legal aid services to the poor every three years during their professional career under its new Unified Legal Aid Services (ULAS) program.

THE COURT CREATED A TECHNICAL WORKING GROUP (TWG) with Justice Alfredo Benjamin S. Caguioa as chair and Justice Rodil V. Zalameda as vice chair. The TWG drafted the ULAS Rules. And to secure nationwide participation in finalizing the drafted Rules, the Court launched its four-leg ULAS Regional Consultations.

Keynoted by Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo, the first leg was kicked off in Baguio last April 12, the second in Cagayan de Oro last April 18, the third will be held in Makati on May 17, and the fourth in Iloilo City on a date to be announced. From these four consultations, the Court expects “feedback and insights that will be taken into consideration in [finalizing] the Rules.”

These new Rules will replace two earlier initiatives that restricted creditable legal aid service only to litigation work and failed to recognize the other aspects of law practice. To address this objection, the draft Rules will credit “any service involving the application of law … [and will] allow non-litigation lawyers to render services in their respective fields of expertise and provide legal assistance to ‘qualified beneficiaries,’ particularly (a) indigents; (b) members of a marginalized sector with respect to their public interest cases; and (c) non-governmental and non-profit organizations with respect to cases or matters that are beneficial to indigents and members of a marginalized sector …”


WHO ARE THE SPECIFIC BENEFICIARIES OF THIS BENEVOLENT PROGRAM? First, per the draft ULAS Rules, “indigent” refers to: (i) an indigent party or litigant defined in the Revised Rules of Court; or (ii) a person not covered by the said Rules but has no sufficient means to afford adequate legal services, based on an “Affidavit of Indigency” of the claimant.

And second, “marginalized sector” refers to “farmer-peasant, artisanal fisherfolk, workers in the formal sector and migrant workers, workers in the informal sector, indigenous peoples and cultural communities, women, differently able persons, senior citizens, victims of calamities and disasters, youth and students, children, and urban poor.”

On the other hand, “pro bono legal aid service” refers to acts that involve the application of law, legal procedure, or legal knowledge, training, and experience rendered to “qualified beneficiaries.” These legal services include but are not limited to: “(i) Representation in the courts in civil and criminal cases and quasi-judicial bodies in administrative cases, including proceedings for mediation, voluntary or compulsory arbitration, and alternative dispute resolution … (ii) Legal counseling, rendering assistance in contract negotiations and drafting of legal documents, like memoranda of law, affidavits, and contracts … (iii) Developmental legal assistance consisting of rights awareness, capacity building, and training in basic human rights, documentation, and affidavit-making; (iv) Participation in ‘Accredited Legal Outreach Programs and Missions,’ including the mentorship of students under the ‘Law Student Practice Rule;’ and (v) Such other legal services as may be defined by the Supreme Court.”

“Public interest cases” refers to those that would affect the general public or a significant portion thereof, including those involving civil rights and liberties, women’s rights, children and youth services, workers’ rights, employment law, public benefits, gender and sexuality issues, environmental law, prisoners’ rights, criminal law, and the death penalty.


And, “qualified beneficiaries” refers to: (i) indigents, (ii) members of a marginalized sector with respect to their public interest cases, and (iii) nongovernmental and nonprofit organizations with respect to cases or matters that are beneficial to (i) and (ii).

THE ENFORCEMENT OF THE ULAS RULES STARTING ON JAN. 1, 2025, will be earth-shaking as it will affect all lawyers, including the “abogados de campanilla” who charge as much as $1,000 per hour of service, including their time for research, their travel time from their offices to the court or meeting rooms, etc. Their 60 hours of pro bono service will be worth $60,000.


The Court justified this imposition, arguing that the “practice of law is imbued with public interest, and membership in the Bar is a special privilege burdened with conditions. Fundamentally, lawyers have the bounden duty to assist in fostering access to adequate legal assistance as guaranteed by the Constitution by making their legal services readily accessible to the public in an efficient and convenient manner, compatible with the independence, integrity, and effectiveness of the profession. To carry out such constitutional guarantee, Covered Lawyers are obliged to render Pro Bono Legal Aid Services to those who would otherwise be denied access to adequate legal assistance.”

God bless the Supreme Court and the lawyers. May they never tire of aiding the poor.

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