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Independent, accessible, efficient, & effective legal practice, C1S1 CPRA

Section 1, Canon I

SECTION 1. Independent, accessible, efficient, and effective legal service. – A lawyer shall make legal services accessible in an efficient and effective manner. In performing this duty, a lawyer shall maintain independence, act with integrity, and at all times ensure the efficient and effective delivery of justice. (2023 Code of Professional Responsibility and Accountability or CPRA)

1. Accessibility of legal services

Accessibility of legal services – may refer to:

1) The ease of access to lawyer by a prospective client looking for legal services; or

2) The ease of access to a lawyer by a current client in relation to a current engagement.

Prospective clients

Accessibility of legal services is a challenge for many, particularly for those who have no experience with engaging a lawyer.

Most people often start their search for legal services through online search such as via search engines (e.g., Google, Bing, etc.) to find websites of lawyers or law firms (henceforth, collectively referred to as “lawyers”).

In some cases, people go through social media to search for lawyers who may content on the legal service that they need, such as those looking to be represented with their criminal or civil case.

Current clients

For current clients, accessibility of legal services refers to ease of accessing the lawyer that they hired. Often, this means that the engaged lawyer should be easily reachable or easy to contact.

a. Efficient and effective manner

Efficient – means “productive of desired effects” or “[especially] capable of producing desired results with little or no waste (as of time or materials)”. (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)

Effective – means “producing a decided, decisive, or desired effect.” (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)

In this highly connected Internet age, making legal services accessible in an efficient and effective manner will necessarily include the use of tools and/or technology, so long as they are used within the rules.

Prospective clients

For prospective clients, lawyers may make use of the following:

1) Professional cards or calling cards;

2) Business signages;

3) Business directory or yellow pages;

4) Office phone or landline;

5) Mobile numbers;

6) Online business directory – e.g. Google Maps, etc.;

7) Website – i.e., Contact Us, email, mobile/phone numbers, etc.;

8) Social media platforms; and

9) Analogous therewith.

Current clients

For current clients, lawyers may make use of the following:

1) Office phone or landline;

2) Mobile numbers;

3) Emails;

4) Law firm management platforms; and

5) Analogous thereto.

b. Artificial intelligence or AI

Artificial Intelligence or AI – as it is currently understood and/or applied, refers to the technology which uses large language models or LLMs to learn and be able to provide answers when asked.

Considering that AI is currently growing and developing at a fast pace, it is likely that lawyers soon may, in one form or another, use AI to augment or enhance their law practice.

In the context of making legal services available, this may be in the form of an AI that could help in the ease of access to lawyers, whether as a prospective client or a current client.

Note:

1) There can be many other uses of AI in law practice, such as online law research, preparing draft legal documents, and so on. Regardless of application, lawyers remain responsible for whatever is generated by AI. Thus, AI should only be used as a tool to aid/help lawyers with their work, but never be a substitute for legal advice or legal services.

2) In other jurisdictions, there have been cases of lawyers who have been sanctioned for using an AI to prepare a court submission. which cited fictitious case law or legal precedents.

See related:

Associated Press, Lawyers submitted bogus case law created by ChatGPT. A judge fined them $5,000

Prospective clients

For prospective clients, AI may be used in the form of a chatbot installed on websites or social media platforms. Prospective clients may reach out and set an appointment or consultation.

Current clients

For current clients, AI may be used in the form also of a chatbot to give updates to current clients: Provided, That the information therein should be prepared and/or reviewed by the handling lawyers.

c. Virtual reality

Virtual reality – refers to the technology which allows users to create an avatar online or in a digital space.

Avatar – refers to a digital representation of a user, which may look identical to the real-life appearance or a user, a caricature, or a totally different looking character.

Users – refer to individuals who use a certain tool, platform, or technology.

As with AI, there is a push for the use of virtual reality where users will be able to create avatars representing themselves on digital spaces. For example, Meta is creating an online space where users via their avatars can attend digital meetings, attend celebrations, or simply hang out. Considering these potential uses, lawyers may likewise be using virtual reality in their law practice.

In the context of making legal services available, lawyers may also utilize virtual reality to help in the ease of access to lawyers, whether as a prospective client or a current client. However, given the potential for fraud, lawyers should take extra precautions in identifying and validating the individual whom they are having a conversation. When in doubt, lawyers should err on the side of caution and request that the meeting be held via videoconferencing or in-person, whichever is practicable.

Considering the downside, one might ask: why would lawyers use virtual reality? Since virtual reality will use avatar, lawyers who may be unable to meet via videoconference or in-person may be able to do so and look dignified and professional in keeping with the rules on upholding the dignity of the profession. For example, this may apply to: (a) those who have recently been on an accident or victim of a crime resulting in injuries or worse, disfigurement with their face; (b) those who have to undergo quarantine as a precautionary measure yet are healthy to do a meeting (e.g., Covid-19 precautions).

Prospective clients

For prospective clients, use of virtual reality may not be ideal for a majority of prospective client. The only possible likelihood of using virtual reality is if the client has a technology background and is the one who insist on meeting via virtual space. For a vast majority, this is not feasible considering the costs for the equipment and the tech-knowhow to set up such an environment. The same goes for the lawyers.

Current clients

For current clients, like with prospective clients, current clients who have the means and the skills to use virtual reality is currently limited. It is likewise the same for lawyers. However, as technology progresses, there may come a time when its use becomes a part of daily life as how other technology back then was perceived to be limited but is now ubiquitous, e.g., mobile phones, tablets, laptops, etc.

2. Performance of duty

a. Maintain independence

Independent – means “: not subject to control by others,” “not requiring or relying on something else.” (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)

In ordinary parlance, to be independent is to stand on one’s own. (See: Collins Online Dictionary)

Thus, this entails having an independent mind and free from influence of other individuals.

These include:

1) Clients;

2) Family and relatives;

3) Friends;

4) Fraternities, sororities, and other similar organizations;

5) Professors, teachers, etc.;

6) Colleagues or co-workers, whether current or former;

7) Employers, managers, supervisors, whether current, former, or expected; and

8) Analogous therewith.

See related:

Freedom from improper consideration & external influences, C1S3 CPRA

b. Act with integrity

Integrity – means “firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values” (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary); “adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty” (Collins Online Dictionary)

A member of the bar should have moral integrity in addition to professional probity. (Arciga v. Maniwang, A.C. No. 1608, 14 August 1981)

Plumptre v. Rivera, A.C. No. 11350, 09 August 2016:

• By implying that he can negotiate a favorable ruling for the sum of ₱8,000.00, [respondent-lawyer] trampled upon the integrity of the judicial system and eroded confidence on the judiciary. This gross disrespect of the judicial system shows that he is wanting in moral fiber and betrays the lack of integrity in his character. The practice of law is a privilege, and respondent has repeatedly shown that he is unfit to exercise it.

Olayta-Camba v. Bongon, A.C. No. 8826, 25 March 2015:

• [W]hen a lawyer receives money from the client for a particular purpose, the lawyer is bound to render an accounting to the client showing that the money was spent for the intended purpose. Consequently, if not used accordingly, the money must be returned immediately to the client. As such, a lawyer’s failure to return the money to his client despite numerous demands is a violation of the trust reposed on him and is indicative of his lack of integrity.

1) Uphold the integrity and dignity of the legal profession

A lawyer shall at all times uphold the integrity and dignity of the legal profession. The trust and confidence necessarily reposed by clients requires in the attorney a high standard and appreciation of his duty to his clients, his profession, the courts and the public. The bar must maintain a high standard of legal proficiency as well as of honesty and fair dealing. Generally speaking, a lawyer can do honor to the legal profession by faithfully performing his duties to society, to the bar, to the courts and to his clients. To this end, members of the legal fraternity can do nothing that might tend to lessen in any degree the confidence of the public in the fidelity, honesty and integrity of the profession. (Tejada v. Palaña, A.C. No. 7434, 23 August 2007)

2) No to dishonesty

To be “dishonest” means the disposition to lie, cheat, deceive, defraud or betray; be unworthy; lacking in integrity, honesty, probity, integrity in principle, fairness and straight forwardness while conduct that is “deceitful” means the proclivity for fraudulent and deceptive misrepresentation, artifice or device that is used upon another who is ignorant of the true facts, to the prejudice and damage of the party imposed upon.  (Jimenez v. Francisco, A.C. No. 10548, 10 December 2014)

Membership in the legal profession is bestowed upon individuals who are not only learned in law, but also known to possess good moral character. Lawyers should act and comport themselves with honesty and integrity in a manner beyond reproach, in order to promote the public’s faith in the legal profession. (Jimenez v. Francisco, supra.)

c. Ensure the efficient and effective delivery of justice

The CPRA emphasizes that ensuring efficient and effective delivery of justice should be observed – at all times. Otherwise stated, the delivery of justice should not be when a lawyer feels like doing it or for certain occasions only; rather, it should be for any and every occasion involving the delivery of justice.

1) After accepting engagement

A lawyer is bound to protect his client’s interests to the best of his ability and with utmost diligence. He should serve his client in a conscientious, diligent, and efficient manner; and provide the quality of service at least equal to that which he, himself, would expect from a competent lawyer in a similar situation. By consenting to be his client’s counsel, a lawyer impliedly represents that he will exercise ordinary diligence or that reasonable degree of care and skill demanded by his profession, and his client may reasonably expect him to perform his obligations diligently. (Violago v. Aranjuez, Jr., A.C. No. 10254, 09 March 2020)

A lawyer should give adequate attention, care and time to his case. Once he agrees to handle a case, he should undertake the task with dedication and care. If he fails in this duty, he is not true to his oath as a lawyer. Hence, a lawyer must accept only as much cases as he can efficiently handle, otherwise his clients’ interests will suffer. It is not enough that a lawyer possesses the qualification to handle the legal matter. He must also give adequate attention to his legal work. (Pariñas v. Paguinto, A.C. No. 6297, 13 July 2004)

2) Speedy and efficient administration of justice

As an officer of the court, a lawyer is part of the machinery in the administration of justice. A lawyer should not only help attain the speedy, efficient, impartial, correct, and inexpensive adjudication of cases and prompt satisfaction of final judgments, but should likewise avoid any unethical or improper practices that may impede, obstruct, or prevent the realization of a speedy and efficient administration of justice. (Delos Santos v. Barbosa, A.C. No. 6681, 17 June 2015)

Figueras v. Jimenez, A.C. No. 9116, 12 March 2014:

• A lawyer engaged to represent a client in a case bears the responsibility of protecting the latter’s interest with utmost diligence. In failing to file the appellant’s brief on behalf of his client, respondent had fallen far short of his duties as counsel as set forth in Rule 12.04 [old Code of Professional Responsibility], Canon 12 of the [old Code of Professional Responsibility] which exhorts every member of the Bar not to unduly delay a case and to exert every effort and consider it his duty to assist in the speedy and efficient administration of justice.

a) Filing multiple cases

Foronda v. Guerrero, A.C. No. 5469, 10 August 2004:

• In filing multiple petitions before various courts concerning the same subject matter, the respondent violated Canon 12 of the [old Code of Professional Responsibility], which provides that a lawyer shall exert every effort and consider it his duty to assist in the speedy and efficient administration of justice. He also violated Rule 12.02 and Rule 12.04 of the Code, as well as a lawyer’s mandate “to delay no man for money or malice.”

b) Disregarding res judicata

In Re: Eligio P. Mallari, A.C. No. 11111, 10 January 2018:

• The filing of another action concerning the same subject matter, in violation of the doctrine of res judicata, runs contrary to Canon 12 of the [old CPR], which requires a lawyer to exert every effort and consider it his duty to assist in the speedy and efficient administration of justice. Respondent’s act of filing Civil Case No. 12053 (which was dismissed by the RTC on the ground of res judicata) further indicates his proclivity to muddle the issues of the case in order to delay the execution of judgment in Civil Case No. 7802. By his conduct, respondent violated not only the lawyer’s mandate “to delay no man for money or malice,” but also Rules 12.02 and 12.04 of the [old CPR].

References

Canon I, 2023 Code of Professional Responsibility

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