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SC: New lawyers must provide free legal service

Supreme Court of the Philippines in Manila (File photo by RICHARD A. REYES / Philippine Daily Inquirer)

Rookie lawyers will now have to render free legal aid before they can aspire to be legal eagles.

In a historic move, the Supreme Court has unanimously mandated incoming lawyers to provide 120 hours of pro bono legal work for poor litigants as part of its efforts to champion the constitutional guarantee to “free access to the courts and quasi-judicial bodies.”

“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,” the tribunal said in an order.

“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 said.

The rule, which the court promulgated on Oct. 10, will be implemented starting with the successful barristers who are scheduled to take this year’s bar exams during the four Sundays of November.

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.

Also spared are those who have finished the “clinical legal education program” and have already rendered pro bono legal work prior to their admission to the bar.

The magistrates said lawyers must ensure people’s access to legal services “in an efficient and convenient manner compatible with the independence, integrity and effectiveness of the profession.”

The 15-member high court tasked the Office of the Bar Confidant and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, the country’s biggest lawyers’ group, to oversee the compliance of the new lawyers with its order, titled “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 that 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.

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