this story originally appeared in the philippine daily inquirer on May 7, 2015.
In Philippine movies, lawyers are often portrayed as liars, deceivers and falsifiers who follow the unlawful commands of their affluent and influential clients. It is understood, however, that the negative portrayal of lawyers in movies is intended only for cinematic purposes and not a deliberate attempt to demean or degrade lawyers. But the sad truth is that in real life, members of the legal profession are actually linked to the perpetration of illegal activities, fraudulent transactions and corrupt practices. That is why the integrity of the legal profession is doubted by many people. It’s unfortunate, but the hasty generalization fails to recognize that there are also outstanding members of the Philippine bar who encourage and promote reforms in the country. They are the ones to whom we look up.
Every year, only a small fraction of bar examinees make it through. But despite the low national passing percentage and the small chance of passing, law graduates try their luck and are eager to undergo the rigors of the bar review. What could be the compelling reason behind the willingness and persistence to become a member of the Philippine bar?
The legal profession has always been regarded as one of the most prestigious in the Philippines. It is the only profession that is subject to the Supreme Court’s power to promulgate rules under the Constitution. The results of the bar examinations are always highly anticipated and covered by the media. Bar exam passers and placers get rock-star treatment and are accorded warm congratulatory messages on tarpaulins and billboards in their hometowns and provinces. Lawyers obviously enjoy a high social status in this country.
But all these are only superficial and shallow reasons why taking up law and passing the bar exams are worth all the sacrifices. What truly makes the legal profession significant is the role of lawyers in society and their contributions thereto.
After taking the bar exams in October 2014, I volunteered to work as a legal assistant in the law office of my father, a solo and general law practitioner. Every day, people from all walks of life go to this law office to seek legal assistance and advice from my father. Some of them have simple legal problems; others have the most unimaginable and unbelievable dilemmas.
I encountered different people. I got to meet women who suffer from their husband’s violence, women who do not receive support from their husbands, women who are no longer living with their husbands. I met children who are maltreated by adults, creditors who were defrauded by their debtors, mothers and fathers who are fighting over custody of their children, spouses who want to adopt a child.
I listened to family members having a dispute over a parcel of land, people who have suffered from the misconduct of government employees and public officers, people who have been victimized by unsound business practices. Also: parents who want to disinherit abusive children, businessmen, immigrants, laborers and workers having monetary claims, dismissed employees, employers, ejected lessees, people who committed crimes, people accused of crimes they did not commit, and many others.
These encounters alone will make one realize the heavy and big responsibility given to lawyers. My experience as a legal assistant during the waiting period for the release of the bar exam results opened my eyes and softened my heart. I thought to myself that pursuing law studies is the best decision I have ever made.
I realized that lawyers are immersed in and exposed to the realities of life. Lawyers have that extraordinary opportunity to directly deal with people, talk to them, and provide the most practical legal remedy to a situation. Lawyers have the privilege to prevent legal issues from becoming worse and irreparable by encouraging reconciliation or compromise when it will serve the best interests of the parties concerned.
Lawyers have the power to expose the truth in accordance with established rules of procedure. Lawyers may disagree and refuse to follow their client’s order if the order is contrary to the dictates of justice because, after all, the primary duty of a lawyer is to administer justice. Lawyers can defend both the innocent and the guilty against unconstitutional searches, seizures, investigations and arrests. Lawyers play a vital role in solving family issues, preventing deceptive practices, paving the way for the punishment of offenders and an array of other issues.
However, lawyers can also twist the truth, protect law violators, and shield illegalities using their legal knowledge. The challenge to us new lawyers, therefore, is to prove that the members of the legal profession are committed to excellence, dedicated to the administration of justice and faithful to their oath of office.
And may the widespread corruption in the country inspire us to make a difference and ignite our ideals and aspirations as new lawyers.