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Diligence and punctuality, C4S3 CPRA

Section 3, Canon IV

SECTION 3. Diligence and punctuality. – A lawyer shall diligently and seasonably act on any legal matter entrusted by a client.
A lawyer shall be punctual in all appearances, submissions of pleadings and documents before any court, tribunal or other government agency, and all matters professionally referred by the client, including meetings and other commitments. (2023 Code of Professional Responsibility and Accountability or CPRA)

1. Diligence and punctuality

a. Diligence

Under this section, lawyers are required to “diligently and seasonably act on any legal matter entrusted by a client.”

It is a hornbook principle that a lawyer’s duty of competence and diligence includes, not merely reviewing the cases entrusted to his care or giving sound legal advice, but also consists of properly representing the client before any court or tribunal, attending scheduled hearings or conferences, preparing and filing the required pleadings, prosecuting the handled cases with reasonable dispatch, and urging their termination even without prodding from the client or the court. (Padilla v. Samson, En Banc, A.C. No. 10253, August 22, 2017, Per Peralta, J.)

Clients are led to expect that lawyers would always be mindful of their cause and, accordingly, exercise the required degree of diligence in handling their affairs. On the other hand, the lawyer is expected to maintain, at all times, a high standard of legal proficiency, and to devote his full attention, skill, and competence to the case, regardless of its importance and whether or not he accepts it for a fee. To this end, he is enjoined to employ only fair and honest means to attain lawful objectives. (Padilla v. Samson [2017], supra.)

1) Scope of diligence

Case law further illumines that a lawyer’s duty of competence and diligence includes not merely reviewing the cases entrusted to the counsel’s care or giving sound legal advice, but also consists of properly representing the client before any court or tribunal, attending scheduled hearings or conferences, preparing and filing the required pleadings, prosecuting the handled cases with reasonable dispatch, and urging their termination without waiting for the client or the court to prod him or her to do so. (De Saldivar v. Cabanes, Jr., A.C. No. 7749, July 08, 2013, Per Perlas-Bernabe, J.)

Lawyers are expected to exercise the necessary diligence and competence in managing cases entrusted to them. They commit not only to review cases or give legal advice, but also to represent their clients to the best of their ability without need to be reminded by either the client or the court. The expectation to maintain a high degree of legal proficiency and attention remains the same whether the represented party is a high-paying client or an indigent litigant. (Ramirez v. Buhayang-Margallo, En Banc, A.C. No. 10537, February 3, 2015, Per Leonen, J.)

2) Accepting a case

Every member of the Bar should always bear in mind that every case that 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’s fidelity to the cause of his client requires him to be ever mindful of the responsibilities that should be expected of him. The legal profession dictates that it is not a mere duty, but an obligation, of a lawyer to accord the highest degree of fidelity, zeal and fervor in the protection of the client’s interest. 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.)

A lawyer shall serve his client with competence and diligence. While a lawyer may decline to render services for a person for valid reasons, once he agrees to take up the cause of a client, he begins to owe fidelity to that cause and must always be mindful of the trust and confidence reposed in him. He must serve his client with competence and diligence, and champion the latter’s cause with wholehearted fidelity, care and devotion. (Barbuco v. Beltran, A.C. No. 5092, August 11, 2004, Per Ynares-Santiago, J.)

3) Receiving payment

The act of receiving money as acceptance fee for legal services in handling complainant’s case and subsequently failing to render such services is a clear violation of Canon 18 of [the old Code of Professional Responsibility] which provides that a lawyer shall serve his client with competence and diligence. (Sousa v. Tinampay, A.C. No. 7428, November 25, 2019, Per Inting, J.)

Alcantara v. Salas, A.C. No. 3989, December 10, 2019, Per Reyes, J., Jr., J.:

• Having lost in the trial court, Atty. Salas appealed to the CA on April 26, 1990. Allegedly, that was the last time Alcantara heard from Atty. Salas.

• In July 1992, Alcantara received news that his appeal was dismissed. He went to the CA and discovered that the CA issued a Resolution dated March 11, 1991, dismissing his appeal due to non-filing of appellant’s brief despite notice. The CA sent a notice to file brief twice and, in both instances, the notices were returned unclaimed because the addressee has moved.

• Alcantara informed Atty. Salas of the dismissal. However, Atty. Salas blamed Alcantara for not checking the status of the case and having lost communication with him. Alcantara denied Atty. Salas’ allegation because on November 5, 1991, the latter sent a messenger to claim a check worth P5,000.00. Alcantara hired a new lawyer to continue his case to the Supreme Court, which rendered a final decision unfavourable to him. Alcantara attributed the loss to Atty. Salas. Disappointed with his previous counsel’s actuations, Alcantara filed this complaint before the Court.

• For his defense, Atty. Salas averred that it should have been the duty of the CA to send the notices at his then current residential address as recorded in the two other cases that were consolidated with a third case. Admittedly, he did not notify the CA of the change of address in the third case.

• It is crystal clear that the root cause of non-filing of appellant’s brief was Atty. Salas’ failure to inform the CA of the change in his mailing address. Had he done so, he would have received the CA’s notices requiring him to file the appellant’s brief. Had he been diligent in his duty, Alcantara’s appeal would not have been dismissed. There is no one to blame but Atty. Salas, because as a handling lawyer and officer of the court, he must be mindful of the trust and confidence reposed in him by his client.

• Canon 18 of [the old Code of Professional Responsibility] for Lawyers states that “A lawyer shall serve his client with competence and diligence.”

• In another case, Abiero v. Juanino, the Court imposed the penalty of six month suspension after finding the respondent lawyer guilty of negligence and for violating Canons 17 and 18 of the CPR.

• Failure to appeal to the Court of Appeals despite instructions by the client to do so constitutes inexcusable negligence on the part of counsel. Once a lawyer consents to defend the cause of his client, he owes fidelity to such cause and must at all times be mindful of the trust and confidence reposed in him. He is bound to protect his client’s interest to the best of his ability and perform his duties to his client with utmost diligence. Nothing less can be expected from a member of the Philippine Bar. For having neglected a legal matter entrusted to him by his client, respondent did not serve his client with diligence and competence. His inexcusable negligence on such matter renders him liable for violation of Canons 17 and 18 of the Code of Professional Responsibility.

Sousa v. Tinampay, A.C. No. 7428, November 25, 2019, Per Inting, J.:

• In the present case. evidence shows that complainant availed herself of the legal services of respondent as evidenced by the SPA she executed in his favor on January 13, 2000. The pertinent portion of the document reads:

I, VICTORIA C. SOUSA, a citizen of the United States of America by marriage but a Filipino by birth, of legal age, married, temporarily residing at 182 Pres. Carlos P. Garcia North Ave., Tagbilaran City, Philippines, do hereby name, constitute, and appoint my legal counsel, Atty. J. Albert R. Tinampay, a Filipino, of legal age, married to Tita Lim-Tinampay, with office address at Bohol Quality Complex, Tagbilaran City, 6300, Philippines, to be my true and lawful attorney-in-fact, for me and in my name, place and stead, to do and perform the following acts and things to wit:

To represent me before any court, person or office relative to whatever properties I have acquired wherever located in the Philippines; to appear for and in my in all stages all cases filed for or against me, including Civil Case No. 6358, RTC-Bohol, Sousa v. Dominguez, et al., Civil Case No. 103, 14th Municipal Circuit Trial Court of Dauis-Panglao, Bohol, Dominguez. et al. V. Victoria Cabilan Sousa, et al., and in all other cases that may be filed by or against me, whether it be civil, criminal. administrative or whatever: to appear in all stages, including pre-trial and amicable settlement; to sign for and in my behalf any other document relative thereto…

• As expressly stated, respondent shall represent complainant in all the cases filed for or against her. These include Civil Case No. 6657, previously docketed as Civil Case No. 103, pending before the RTC of Tagbilaran City. The SPA, considerably, categorically directed respondent to appear in all stages of the case such as the pre-trial conference. Here, respondent was present during the pre-trial stage of Civil Case No. 6657, but failed to represent complainant well enough and protect her interest either as an attorney-in-fact or by way of special appearance. Consequently, complainant was declared in default. The situation became worse when respondent failed to at least inform the complainant about the progress of the case so that proper action could be taken to reverse the default order.

• Respondent’s neglect of the legal matter entrusted to him constitutes flagrant violations of the tenets of the CPR. It constitutes inexcusable negligence for which he must be held administratively liable.

b. Punctuality

Lawyers are required to “be punctual in all appearances, submissions of pleadings and documents before any court, tribunal or other government agency, and all matters professionally referred by the client, including meetings and other commitments.”

As punctuality is a virtue, absenteeism and tardiness are impermissible. (Re: Supreme Court Employees incurring Habitual Tardiness in the 2nd Semester of 2005, En Banc, A.M. No. 2006-11-SC)

Paredes-Garcia v. CA, G.R. No. 120654, September 11, 1996, Per Davide, Jr., J.:

• As a lawyer, [respondent-prosecutor] is bound by her oath to conduct herself as a lawyer according to the best of her knowledge and discretion with all good fidelity as well to the courts as to her client. She should never forget that punctuality is not only a practice mandated by the [old Code of Professional Responsibility and Canons of Professional Ethics], it is a virtue which must be faithfully maintained as part of her contribution in the task of ensuring a speedy, efficient, and effective administration of justice. If the petitioner then had committed a breach of her duty to the court she could accordingly be dealt with but in accordance with established procedure. The right to do so is hereby reserved to the respondent Judge.

References

Canon IV, 2023 Code of Professional Responsibility

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