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BAR MATTER NO. 730 June 13, 1997

BAR MATTER NO. 730 June 13, 1997

Gentlemen:

Quoted hereunder, for your information, is a resolution of the Court En Banc dated June 10, 1997.

IN RE: NEED THAT LAW STUDENT PRACTICING UNDER RULE 138-A BE ACTUALLY SUPERVISED DURING TRIAL (BAR MATTER NO. 730).

The issue in this Consulta is whether a law student who appears before the court under the Law Student Practice Rule (Rule 138-A) should be accompanied by a member of the bar during the trial. This issue was raised by retired Supreme Court Justice Antonio P. Barredo, counsel for the defendant in Civil Case No. BCV-92-11 entitled Irene A. Caliwara v. Roger T. Catbagan filed before the Regional Trial Court of Bacoor, Cavite.

The records show that the plaintiff in civil Case No. BCV-92-11 was represented by Mr. Cornelio Carmona, Jr., an intern at the Office of Legal Aid, UP-College of Law (UP-OLA). Mr. Carmona conducted hearings and completed the presentation of the plaintiff's evidence-in-chief without the presence of a supervising lawyer. Justice Barredo questioned the appearance of Mr. Carmona during the hearing because the latter was not accompanied by a duly accredited lawyer. On December 15, 1994, Presiding Judge Edelwina Pastoral issued an Order requiring Mr. Carmona to be accompanied by a supervising lawyer on the next hearing. In compliance with said Order, UP-OLA and the Secretary of Justice executed a Memorandum of Agreement directing Atty. Catubao and Atty. Legayada of the Public Attorney's Office to supervise Mr. Carmona during the subsequent hearings.

Justice Barredo asserts that a law student appearing before the trial court under Rule 138-A should be accompanied by a supervising lawyer. 1 On the other hand, UP-OLA, through its Director, Atty. Alfredo F. Tadiar, submits that "the matter of allowing a law intern to appear unaccompanied by a duly accredited supervising lawyer should be . . . left to the sound discretion of the court after having made at least one supervised appearance." 2

For the guidance of the bench and bar, we hold that a law student appearing before the Regional Trial Court under Rule 138-A should at all times be accompanied by a supervising lawyer. Section 2 of Rule 138-A provides.

Section 2. Appearance. The appearance of the law student authorized by this rule, shall be under the direct supervision and control of a member of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines duly accredited by the law school. Any and all pleadings, motions, briefs, memoranda or other papers to be filed, must be signed the by supervising attorney for and in behalf of the legal clinic.

The phrase "direct supervision and control" requires no less than the physical presence of the supervising lawyer during the hearing. This is in accordance with the threefold rationale behind the Law Student Practice Rule, to wit: 3

1. to ensure that there will be no miscarriage of justice as a result of incompetence or inexperience of law students, who, not having as yet passed the test of professional competence, are presumably not fully equipped to act a counsels on their own;

2. to provide a mechanism by which the accredited law school clinic may be able to protect itself from any potential vicarious liability arising from some culpable action by their law students; and

3. to ensure consistency with the fundamental principle that no person is allowed to practice a particular profession without possessing the qualifications, particularly a license, as required by law.

The matter of allowing a law student to appear before the court unaccompanied by a supervising lawyer cannot be left to the discretion of the presiding judge. The rule clearly states that the appearance of the law student shall be under the direct control and supervision of a member of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines duly accredited by law schools. The rule must be strictly construed because public policy demands that legal work should be entrusted only to those who possess tested qualifications, are sworn to observe the rules and ethics of the legal profession and subject to judicial disciplinary control. 4 We said in Bulacan v. Torcino: 5

Court procedures are often technical and may prove like snares to the ignorant or the unwary. In the past, our law has allowed non-lawyers to appear for party litigants in places where duly authorized members of the bar are not available (U.S. vs. Bacansas, 6 Phil. 539). For relatively simple litigation before municipal courts, the Rules still allow a more educated or capable person in behalf of a litigant who cannot get a lawyer. But for the protection of the parties and in the interest of justice, the requirement for appearances in regional trial courts and higher courts is more stringent.

The Law Student Practice Rule is only an exception to the rule. Hence, the presiding judge should see to it that the law student appearing before the court is properly guided and supervised by a member of the bar.

The rule, however, is different if the law student appears before an inferior court, where the issues and procedure are relatively simple. In inferior courts, a law student may appear in his personal capacity without the supervision of a lawyer. Section 34 Rule 138 provides;

Section 34. By whom litigation is conducted. In the court of a justice of the peace, a party may conduct his litigation in person, with the aid of an agent or friend appointed by him for that purpose, or with the aid of an attorney. In any other court, a party may conduct his litigation personally or by aid of an attorney, and his appearance must be either personal or by a duly authorized member of the bar.

Thus, a law student may appear before an inferior court as an agent or friend of a party without the supervision of a member of the bar.

IN VIEW WHEREOF, we hold that a law student appearing before the Regional Trial Court under the authority of Rule 138-A must be under the direct control and supervision of a member of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines duly accredited by the law school and that said law student must be accompanied by a supervising lawyer in all his appearance.

Padilla and Francisco, J.J., on leave.

Very truly yours,

(Sgd.) LUZVIMINDA D. PUNO

Clerk of court

Footnotes

1 Consulta, p. 2.

2 Comment, p. 9.

3 Comment, p. 5.

4 Agpalo, Legal Ethics (Fourth Edition, 1989), pp. 39-40.

5 134 SCRA 252 (1985).


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