Lawyers and Legal Ethics (Part II)

Manila Bulletin, April 4, 2017 | Go to article overview

Lawyers and Legal Ethics (Part II)


By J. Art D. Brion

I return to the topic I started last week - legal ethics - whose need and timeliness are confirmed by the allegations of ethical violations currently hogging the front pages of our newspapers. Readers, too, have responded with very insightful comments. By email, I noted the points they raised, with the assurance that I shall find time and space to discuss them in this series of articles.

In the present article, I clarify with very broad strokes what legal ethics is, the law's expectations from our lawyers, the need for training at the earliest opportunities, and the reality that effectively fostering ethical conduct is a shared burden.

Legal Ethics. To start with the basics, legal ethics deals with conduct based on the duties that a lawyer owes to the court, to the client, to his colleagues in the profession, and to the public. That duties are owed to almost everyone demonstrates society's regard for the legal profession and the public interest the profession serves.

For laymen dealing with lawyers, the most convenient direct reference about lawyers' ethics are the Code of Professional Responsibility that defines the expectations from lawyers, and the Code of Judicial Conduct that specially applies to those in the Judiciary. I mention these codes so that non-lawyers can be aware of, and demand compliance with, the ethical obligations that lawyers owe them.

Expectations from Lawyers. If I were to sum up what these codes embody in as few words as possible, I will use the words that generally underlie all laws - conduct that is "fair," "reasonable," and consistent with "norms of the profession and the rule of law." Lawyers, judges and justices must be fair and reasonable in their dealings with their clients, and with counsel and litigants on the part of the courts. Lawyers as well as the courts owe the parties affected by their actions and the general public, compliance with the laws and community standards.

In more concrete terms, lawyers must be reasonably competent in their knowledge and application of the law. They must devote sufficient time to the task they committed to undertake and to the protection of the interests of their clients. They are obliged, too, to assist the courts in the delivery of justice, giving the courts their due attention, respect and obedience. Magistrates carry the same obligations of competence, fair dealing, and adherence to the rule of law, adjusted to their own adjudicative duties. All must act in a manner not injurious to the profession, to the courts, to rights of the public and to public interest in general.

Ethical Training and the Home. Lawyers are not born gifted with knowledge of the law and its ethical expectations. They all begin as boys and girls within families from where they get their earliest awareness of right and wrong and their sense of reasonableness and fairness. There, they likewise imbibe their other early values.

Obedience to parents and respect for others, particularly the elders, are early lessons that are usually learned as part of traditional Filipino family values. In later years, these traits metamorphose into respect for and obedience to the law and the legal authorities. Early on, too, we imbibe as children the sense of "hiya" - i.e, of feeling shame for conduct that violates family or community standards. We are taught that it is shameful to be dishonest in and outside the home; to be caught as a petty thief in the neighborhood is a shame that the whole family must bear before the community. …

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