The Philippine Supreme Court En Banc issued Administrative Matter No. 17-03-09-SC otherwise known as the Community Legal Aid Service Rule (“Rule”).

Beginning with those who will pass the 2017 Bar Examinations, lawyers who will be admitted to the Philippine Bar and have signed the Roll of Attorneys for that particular year (“Covered Lawyers”) are now obliged to render one hundred twenty (120) hours of pro bono legal aid services to qualified parties. The Rule was promulgated to give meaning to the guarantee of access to adequate legal assistance under Article III, Section 11 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution.

Pro Bono Legal Aid Services shall include the following:

  1. Representation of qualified litigants, as defined, in the trial courts in civil and criminal cases and quasi-judicial bodies in administrative cases, including proceedings for mediation, voluntary or compulsory arbitration, and alternative dispute resolution;
  2. Legal counselling, rendering assistance in contract negotiations and drafting of related legal documents, including memoranda of law and other similar documents that are provided to the client. Drafting may include policy work involving legal research and advocacy;
  3. Developmental Legal Assistance, consisting of rights awareness, capacity-building, and training in basic human rights, documentation, and affidavit-making, rendered in public interest cases, including legal assistance rendered by identified Public Interest Law Groups;
  4. Legal services provided as part of employment in the judiciary, executive, or legislative branches of government shall be considered sufficient compliance with this Rule, provided that the covered lawyer must already be in government service at least six months before admission into the Bar, provided further, that the legal services provided are substantive, as certified by the Heads of Office; and
  5. Legal services provided to marginalized sectors and identities, such as but not limited to: (a) urban poor; (b) workers/laborers; (c) overseas foreign workers; (d) children in conflict with the law; and (e) persons involved in gender issues.

Accredited Legal Aid Service Providers where Covered Lawyers may render pro bono legal aid service include the following:

  1. Law organizations regularly rendering legal aid services, such as the Philippine Bar Association, and other similar organizations;
  2. Developmental Legal Assistance Groups and Alternative Law Groups rendering developmental legal assistance and alternative law groups;
  3. Public Interest Law Groups;
  4. Law School Legal Aid Offices; and
  5. Law firms which handle cases for person of limited means, or marginalized group and entities. This shall include law firms with established legal aid department or which regularly render pro bono legal aid service or act as counsel de oficio.

The following shall be exempted from the requirements of this Rule upon sufficient proof of their respective circumstances submitted with the Office of the Bar Confidant (“OBC”):

  1. Covered Lawyers in the executive and legislative branches of government, provided that the covered lawyer must already be in government service at least six (6) months before admission into the Bar, however, those employed upon admission into the Bar with the judiciary, the Public Attorney’s Office, the National Prosecution Service, the Office of the Solicitor General, the Office of the Ombudsman shall be automatically exempt from compliance with this Rule;
  2. Those who have already undergone and completed the clinical legal education program duly organized and accredited under Rule 138-A (The Law Student Practice Rule);
  3. Covered Lawyers who have worked for at least one (1) year in law firms offering pro bono legal services or regularly accepting counsel de oficio appointments;
  4. Covered Lawyers who have previously worked for more than one (1) year as staff of a Law School Legal Aid Office, a Public Interest Law Group, or an alternative or developmental group; and
  5. Covered lawyers who have worked with lawyers for Public Interest Law Groups or alternative or developmental law groups for more than one (1) year and have filed public interest cases.

A Covered Lawyer who fails to comply with the requirements of this Rule shall be held administratively liable and may be delisted as a “member in good standing” of the Philippine Bar.

Without prejudice to criminal liability, a Covered Lawyer who falsifies the Certificate of Compliance required to be submitted under this Rule shall be administratively charged by the OBC with disciplinary action up to and including disbarment before the Philippine Supreme Court.

Covered Lawyers are given twelve (12) months from signing the roll of attorneys to complete the required 120 hours of pro bono legal aid services.

Accordingly, to address possible economic hardships that may be caused by strict compliance to this Rule, or for any justifiable reason, qualified lawyers may request compliance with this Rule for two (2) years. Covered Lawyers who wish to avail of this privilege must file an application with the OBC, which shall determine the validity of the deferment on a case-to-case basis.

Full text of the Rule may be accessed here.

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