Lawyers and Legal Ethics (Part III)

Manila Bulletin, April 11, 2017 | Go to article overview

Lawyers and Legal Ethics (Part III)


By J. Art D. Brion

In Part II, I discussed the ethical development of students before they enter law school: I expressed the view that legal education will have to contend with entering law students whose values may have already been formed by nature and nurture (or the lack of it). Legal educators must therefore prepare a law school program that will allow these law students to unlearn regressive values, and to learn (or re-learn) and internalize ethical lessons that would prepare them for the rough-and-tumble world of law practice.

But what exactly is the law practice world that legal educators should train law students for?

After being a lawyer for 42 years, I can say that the legal profession's intellectual pressures are far easier to handle than the exacting and unforgiving demands that the real world of law practice poses to lawyers intent on walking the straight and narrow ethical path. Not a few surrender the option to walk through this difficult path.

Offenses involving drugs, graft and corruption, and plunder are some of the occasions where lawyers have made their choices. In all these, the application of the law is called for and lawyers as advocates or as legal experts have traditional and proper roles to play. Many times, however, they choose to act in excess of what the laws and the rules of the profession allow them to do.

Typically in these latter situations, lawyers do not "pull the trigger" or personally undertake the illegal sale, plunder, fixing, and cheating, but they provide the graver role of lending their lawyerly brains and skills in the conceptualization, the preparation, or the cover-up of the ugly deeds. For example, the lawyers' roles in the DAP and PDAF scandals, when these fully come to light, should be interesting to examine, as frauds of this scale could not have taken place without the brains and legal expertise of lawyers behind them.

In the Philippines, lawyers face the world of law practice burdened by the high ideals imposed by society, by the Supreme Court, by the law profession, and even by one's own alma mater. Yet, these same standard setters, at the practical level, oftentimes do not practice the high ideals they profess and that they themselves have set.

In law practice, for example, it is not remote to meet clients who will demand positive results at whatever cost, fair or foul. In the Judiciary are "fixers" who, with seeming innocence, very subtly feel out if the judges can be "talked to," to use a common euphemism in the profession. In their mildest approach, they invite judges to occasions, seemingly neutral, but where a litigant just "happens" to be present; or they may engage judges in academic arguments which they steer to outstanding issues in pending cases. (Of course, this scenario could be reversed, with the magistrate in the role of the "seller," thus presenting a difficult ethical and practical problem for the lawyer.)

One wonders why these people so act when they themselves condemn graft and corruption to high heavens in their public speeches and writings, in their press pronouncements, in their decisions, and in their private statements. (Some make the legally meaningless distinction that they can corrupt but cannot be corrupted.) The cold reality is that we are in the real world where people look the other way when their own interests are involved. We live in a hypocritical world, to use the words of President Duterte.

Another face of the real world is a society where inequity still reigns. …

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