MANILA, Philippines — Beginning with those who pass this year’s bar exams in November, new lawyers will be required to provide 120 hours of pro bono legal services to poor litigants, in keeping with the constitutional guarantee of “free access to the courts and quasi-judicial bodies.”
The “Community Legal Aid Service Rule” issued by the Supreme Court en banc, dated October 10, notes 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,” it said. “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.”
The high court said lawyers are obliged to ensure 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 and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines are tasked to oversee compliance with the rule, which gives new lawyers a year from signing the roll of attorneys to complete the 120 hours of free legal services, in criminal, civil and administrative cases. Public interest cases and legal issues that affect the society are also accepted.
However, new lawyers who can present valid reasons can ask the OBC for an extension of up to two years to comply with the rule.
Aside from poor litigants, individuals and groups who cannot be served by the Public Attorney’s Office due to conflict of interest are also entitled to pro bono legal aid.
New lawyers already working in the executive and legislative branches six months before passing the bar and those who have already rendered pro bono work before admission to the bar ae exempted from the rule.
“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 12-month period for compliance,” the high court said.