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Competent, efficient, and conscientious service, C4S1 CPRA

Section 1, Canon IV

SECTION 1. Competent, efficient and conscientious service. – A lawyer shall provide legal service that is competent, efficient, and conscientious. A lawyer shall be thorough in research, preparation, and application of the legal knowledge and skills necessary for an engagement. (2023 Code of Professional Responsibility and Accountability or CPRA)

Under this section,

1. Competent, efficient and conscientious service

a. Competent, efficient and conscientious

Under this section, lawyers are required to “provide legal service that is competent, efficient, and conscientious.”

Every case a lawyer accepts deserves his full attention, diligence, skill and competence, regardless of its importance, and whether he accepts it for a fee or for free. A lawyer should serve his client in a conscientious, diligent and efficient manner; and he should provide a quality of service at least equal to that which he, himself, would expect of a competent lawyer in a like situation. By agreeing to be his client’s counsel, he represents that he will exercise ordinary diligence or that reasonable degree of care and skill demanded by the character of the business he undertakes to do, to protect the client’s interests and take all steps or do all acts necessary therefor; and his client may reasonably expect him to discharge his obligations diligently. (Uy v. Tansinsin, A.C. No. 8252, July 21, 2009, Per Nachua, J.)

The moment the lawyer-client relationship commences, the relationship of the lawyer and the client becomes imbued with trust and confidence. Thereupon, the lawyer is bound to serve his or her clients with full competence, and to attend to their cause with utmost diligence, care and devotion. In accordance with this highly fiduciary relationship, the client expects the lawyer to be always mindful of the former’s cause and to be diligent in handling his or her legal affairs. (Katipunan, Jr. v. Carrera, A.C. No. 12661, February 19, 2020, Per Lazaro-Javier, J.)

A lawyer should serve his client in a conscientious, diligent and efficient manner; and he should provide a quality of service at least equal to that which lawyers generally would expect of a competent lawyer in a like situation. By agreeing to be his client’s counsel, he represents that he will exercise ordinary diligence or that reasonable degree of care and skill having reference to the character of the business he undertakes to do, to protect the client’s interests and take all steps or do all acts necessary therefor, and his client may reasonably expect him to discharge his obligations diligently. (Villaflores v. Limos, A.C. No. 7504, November 23, 2007, Per Chico-Nazario, J.)

The lawyer should serve his client in a conscientious, diligent and efficient manner and he should provide a quality of services at least equal to that which lawyers generally would expect of a competent lawyer in the like situation. By agreeing to be his client’s counsel, he represents that he will exercise ordinary diligence or that reasonable degree of care and skill having reference to the character of the business he undertakes to do, to protect the client’s interests and take all steps or do all acts necessary therefor, and his client may reasonably expect him to discharge his obligations diligently. (Sps. Adecer v. Akit, A.C. No. 4809, Per Tinga, J.)

Sps. Aranda v. Elayda, A.C. No. 7907, December 15, 2010, Per Leonardo-De Castro, J.:

• From the foregoing, it is clear that Atty. Elayda is duty bound to uphold and safeguard the interests of his clients. He should be conscientious, competent and diligent in handling his clients’ cases. Atty. Elayda should give adequate attention, care, and time to all the cases he is handling. As the spouses Aranda’s counsel, Atty. Elayda is expected to monitor the progress of said spouses’ case and is obligated to exert all efforts to present every remedy or defense authorized by law to protect the cause espoused by the spouses Aranda.

• Regrettably, Atty. Elayda failed in all these. Atty. Elayda even admitted that the spouses Aranda never knew of the scheduled hearings because said spouses never came to him and that he did not know the spouses’ whereabouts. While it is true that communication is a shared responsibility between a counsel and his clients, it is the counsel’s primary duty to inform his clients of the status of their case and the orders which have been issued by the court. He cannot simply wait for his clients to make an inquiry about the developments in their case. Close coordination between counsel and client is necessary for them to adequately prepare for the case, as well as to effectively monitor the progress of the case. Besides, it is elementary procedure for a lawyer and his clients to exchange contact details at the initial stages in order to have constant communication with each other. Again, Atty. Elayda’s excuse that he did not have the spouses Aranda’s contact number and that he did not know their address is simply unacceptable.

• Furthermore, this Court will not countenance Atty. Elayda’s explanation that he cannot be faulted for missing the February 14, 2006 hearing of the spouses Aranda’s case. The Court quotes with approval the disquisition of Investigating Commissioner Pizarras:

Moreover, his defense that he cannot be faulted for what had happened during the hearing on February 14, 2006 because he was just at the other branch of the RTC for another case and left a message with the court stenographer to just call him when [the spouses Aranda] come, is lame, to say the least. In the first place, the counsel should not be at another hearing when he knew very well that he has a scheduled hearing for the [spouses Aranda’s] case at the same time. His attendance at the hearing should not be made to depend on the whether [the spouses Aranda] will come or not. The Order submitting the decision was given at the instance of the other party’s counsel mainly because of his absence there. Again, as alleged by the [the spouses Aranda] and as admitted by [Atty. Elayda] himself, he did not take the necessary remedial measure in order to ask that said Order be set aside.

• It is undisputed that Atty. Elayda did not act upon the RTC order submitting the spouses Aranda’s case for decision. Thus, a judgment was rendered against the spouses Aranda for a sum of money. Notice of said judgment was received by Atty. Elayda who again did not file any notice of appeal or motion for reconsideration and thus, the judgment became final and executory. Atty. Elayda did not also inform the spouses Aranda of the outcome of the case. The spouses Aranda came to know of the adverse RTC judgment, which by then had already become final and executory, only when a writ of execution was issued and subsequently implemented by the sheriff.

• Evidently, Atty. Elayda was remiss in his duties and responsibilities as a member of the legal profession. His conduct shows that he not only failed to exercise due diligence in handling his clients’ case but in fact abandoned his clients’ cause. He proved himself unworthy of the trust reposed on him by his helpless clients. Moreover, Atty. Elayda owes fealty, not only to his clients, but also to the Court of which he is an officer.

• On a final note, it must be stressed that whenever a lawyer accepts a case, it deserves his full attention, diligence, skill and competence, regardless of its importance and whether or not it is for a fee or free.

Katipunan, Jr. v. Carrera, A.C. No. 12661, February 19, 2020, Per Lazaro-Javier, J.:

• As a member of the Bar, respondent pledged to assist his clients with full competence and utmost diligence enshrined under the Lawyer’s Oath to delay no man for money or malice, and conduct himself as a lawyer according to the best of his knowledge and discretion with all good fidelity as well to the courts as to his clients.

• Here, complainant requested for an update on the case twice, first in March, and second in May 2010. But instead of being truthful to complainant, respondent lied through his teeth, claiming that the case was still pending resolution even though he was already aware that it already got dismissed as early as February 25, 2010. When complainant eventually uncovered the truth, he confronted respondent who simply shrugged it off saying there was nothing more he could do.

• When a client requests for a follow-up on his case, the update from the lawyer must not only be prompt, but also full and effective. The lawyer must not merely brush aside the client’s request without even perusing the case records. For the client is entitled to a full-disclosure on the material developments on his case.12 To be clear, a lawyer need not wait for their clients to ask for information but must advise them without delay about matters essential for them to avail of legal remedies.

• When respondent repeatedly failed to apprise complainant of the decree of denial of the latter’s petition, respondent is deemed to have failed to fulfill his duties under Rules 18.03 and 18.04 of [the od CPR].

• Respondent was not justified in deciding on his own whether to pursue a motion for reconsideration before the Court.

• Complainant is entitled to the benefit of any and every remedy and defense authorized by law, and is expected to rely on the lawyer to assert every such remedy or defense. We, therefore, emphasize that a lawyer is not in the position to rule on the merits of his or her complainant’s case. Neither can a lawyer unilaterally decide whether to forego the very last remedy available to his or her client.

• As the facts here stand, respondent, on his own, opted to no longer file a motion for reconsideration in complainant’s case since respondent opined there was no new issue, matter or evidence to offer anyway for the purpose of convincing the Court to favorably rule for his client. Worse, respondent did not even relay to his client that he chose not to move for reconsideration of the decree of denial. Neither did he terminate his services as complainant’s counsel pursuant…

Talento v. Paneda, A.C. No. 7433, December 23, 2009, Per Leonardo-De Castro, J.:

• There is no doubt that respondent was woefully remiss in his duty to display utmost diligence and competence in protecting the interests of his clients. The records of this case clearly detailed dire instances of professional neglect which undoubtedly showed respondent’s failure to live up to his duties and responsibilities as a member of the legal profession. Petitioners lost Civil Case No. A-2043 in the RTC mainly because they were barred from presenting their evidence in court. This was a result of their being declared in default in the said case as a consequence of respondent’s failure to appear at the pre-trial conference. Respondent defended his non-appearance by stating that he had informed petitioners beforehand of a conflict of schedule and that he had instructed them on what to do in his absence, but petitioners vehemently denied this claim.

• Even if we are to give credence to respondent’s justification, this does not excuse him from the fact that he was unable to file a Pre-trial Brief at least three (3) days prior to the scheduled pre-trial conference, as required by the Rules. Respondent alleges that he already prepared the Pre-trial Brief but did not push through with filing it because he was allegedly furnished by petitioner Modesta Herrera Talento with an Amicable Settlement that was forged between the parties before the Barangay Lupon of San Pedro, Agoo, La Union. He claims that he instructed his clients to present said document during the pre-trial conference as he had another hearing to attend.14 However, respondent’s excuse is untenable as any lawyer worth his salt would readily know that once a case has been filed in court, any amicable settlement between the parties must be approved by the court in order for it to be legally binding in accordance with Section 41615 of the Local Government Code of 1991 in relation to the last paragraph of Section 40816 of the same Code. Thus, he cannot assume that the case will be deemed closed by virtue of the supposed amicable settlement so as to excuse him from filing the Pre-trial Brief and from appearing at the pre-trial set by the court.

• With regard to his subsequent error of failing to file the required Appeal Brief which led to the dismissal of his clients’ appeal before the CA, respondent did not give any plausible explanation other than merely placing the blame on the incompetence of his secretary in not promptly informing him about her receipt of the Notice of Submission of Appellants’ Brief. This mistake by respondent is exacerbated by the fact that he did not care to inform his clients of the dismissal of their appeal in 2002 and it was only in 2005 that his clients learned about this unfortunate turn of events.

b. Thoroughness

Lawyers are also required to “be thorough in research, preparation, and application of the legal knowledge and skills necessary for an engagement.”

Upon engagement of his services, it is incumbent upon a lawyer to thoroughly study the circumstances of the case in order to determine the most suitable course of action or defense for his client. He must survey the facts and the parties involved so that he may be able to trace the source of his client’s predicament and devise a legal strategy in order to resolve the same. He must take appropriate action out of his investigation and prepare the necessary pleading in court and file it on time. In performing his responsibilities, he must be mindful of the prescriptive period in taking an action because failing to do so could lose the client his case. (Hermano v. Prado, Jr., A.C. No. 7447, April 18, 2016, Per Reyes, J.)

The most thorough groundwork and study must be undertaken in order to safeguard the interest of the client. The honor bestowed on his person to carry the title of a lawyer does not end upon taking the Lawyer’s Oath and signing the Roll of Attorneys. Rather, such honor attaches to him for the entire duration of his practice of law and carries with it the consequent responsibility of not only satisfying the basic requirements but also going the extra mile in the protection of the interests of the client and the pursuit of justice. (De Borja v. Mendez, Jr., A.C. No. 11185, July 04, 2018, Per Peralta, J.)

Hermano v. Prado, Jr., A.C. No. 7447, April 18, 2016, Per Reyes, J.:

• In the instant case, the respondent failed to discharge his duties as counsel. He failed to prepare and file a memorandum on the complainant’s behalf despite the RTC’s order to do so. The memorandum could have been a helpful medium for the complainant to establish his claim of self-defense in the criminal cases charged against him. However, due to the respondent’s negligence, the complainant lost the opportunity and was convicted of the charges. This was notwithstanding the fact that the complainant paid him the amount of P10,000.00 to prepare the said memorandum.

• The respondent’s negligence did not end here. He had the temerity to insinuate to the complainant that there is a good chance that the decision of the RTC will be overturned by the CA should they appeal the case. Out of desperation of his plight, the complainant readily acquiesced and willingly paid out the amount of P15,000.00, which the respondent required as his professional fees. Barely two days before the lapse of the period of filing the appellant’s brief, however, the respondent was nowhere to be found and did not even bother to communicate with the complainant to inform him of the status of his case.

• Due to the respondent’s negligence, the complainant was constrained to immediately scout for a new lawyer who can prepare and file the appellant’s brief for his case. With the short period of time before the lapse of the period to file the appellant’s brief, the complainant had a tough time looking for a lawyer who will salvage him from his quandary. The complainant’s concern was not baseless as the respondent had previously reneged on his responsibility as counsel when he failed to file the memorandum required by the RTC. Luckily for the complainant, he was able to engage the services of Atty. Panes despite the latter’s initial hesitation because of the work entailed in the drafting of the appellant’s brief and the little time remaining to prepare and file the same.

References

Canon IV, 2023 Code of Professional Responsibility

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