THE Supreme Court has required rookie lawyers to provide 120 hours of pro bono legal services to poor litigants in accordance with the constitutional guarantee to “free access to courts and quasi-judicial bodies.”
This as the high court passed a new rule on Community Legal Aid Service, which provides that “the legal profession is imbued with public interest. As such, lawyers are charged with the duty to give meaning to the guarantee of access to adequate legal assistance under Article III, Section 11 of the 1987 Constitution.”
“As a way to discharge this constitutional duty, lawyers are obliged to render pro bono services to those who otherwise would be denied access to adequate legal services,” it added.
The SC said that as officers of courts, lawyers must ensure the people’s access to legal services “in an efficient and convenient manner compatible with the independence, integrity and effectiveness of the profession.”
The Office of the Bar Confidant (OBC) and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines were tasked with overseeing compliance with the new rule called “Community Legal Aid Service Rule.”
Under the rule, rookie lawyers are given one year after signing the roll of attorneys to complete the required 120-hour free legal services in criminal, civil and administrative cases.
Besides indigent litigants, also entitled to pro bono legal aid are groups, individuals and organizations which cannot get the services of the Public Attorney’s Office due to conflict of interest.
The new lawyers may also render their professional services for public interest cases and legal issues which affect the society.
“This rule is not intended to impair the private practice or employment of covered lawyers. Barring any conflict of interest or any other violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility, covered lawyers can engage in private practice and accept paid clients or be employed in the government or in the private sector within the twelve-month period for compliance,” it stressed.
The rule will be implemented starting with the successful barristers who are set to take this year’s bar exams.
New lawyers who are already working in the executive and legislative branches six months before they hurdled the bar exams will be exempted from the requirement.