Supreme Court issues Guidelines on the Externship Program in Courts of Law Student Practitioners [A.M. No. 19-03-24-SC]
The Supreme Court has approved the Guidelines on the Externship Program of Law Student Practitioners under Rule 138-A (“Externship Guidelines”), amending Bar Matter Nos. 1552 and 1552-A and OCA Circular No. 75-2016 or the Guidelines for On-the-Job Training and Legal Apprenticeship Program for College and Law Students in the Supreme Court, Other Collegiate Appellate Courts, and First and Second Level Courts (“Old Guidelines”).
The Externship Guidelines were issued to ensure consistency with Rule 138-A or the Law Student Practice, which was amended on 25 June 2019 through A.M. No. 19-03-24-SC.
Under the Externship Guidelines, court-based externship programs shall be open to all law students who have applied for and secured either: (a) Level 1 Certification, for law students who have successfully completed their first-year law courses; or (b) Level 2 Certification, for law students currently enrolled for the second semester of their third-year law courses, in accordance with Rule 138-A, and in addition, are currently enrolled in a Clinical Legal Education Program of any law school in the Philippines.
For lower courts, certified students may apply in the specific branch of the court where they intend to undertake their externship. For the Supreme Court and other appellate courts, applications may be filed with the Office of the Chief Justice or with the Presiding Justice, respectively. Applications may also be filed directly with the intended supervising justice.
Acceptance into an externship program shall remain within the discretion of the judge or justice to whom the application requirements have been submitted. Accepted law student practitioners shall be under the direct supervision and control of said presiding judge or justice. A maximum of only two (2) interns for each presiding judge or justice is allowed, at any given time, but a higher number may be allowed for compelling reasons.
Similar to the Old Guidelines, law student practitioners are still required to work at the court premises during regular office hours. However, due to the current COVID 19 pandemic, they are now allowed to perform all or some of their work online through court authorized video-conferencing platforms and other electronic means of communications in lieu of physical presence at the office or the court during office hours.
Access to rollos and other court records may be granted to the law student practitioners, upon the written authority of their supervising judge or justice. Bringing such documents outside the court premises, showing them to outside parties, and copying or reproducing them are not allowed. However, in light of the COVID 19 pandemic, law student practitioners may be allowed to use soft copies (scanned copies or photos), subject to confidentiality rules and administrative sanctions under Rule 138-A.
Law student practitioners shall observe and be bound by the rule on confidentiality applicable to court employees and the Code of Conduct for Court Personnel. Sanctions and penalties may be imposed for non-compliance with said rules. During the program, the supervising judge or justice shall monitor and assess the progress of law student practitioners and shall give a final rating on and assessment of their performance.
Finally, law student practitioners in the Supreme Court and appellate courts are now provided a modest allowance during the period of the program, subject to the availability of funds. For the lower courts, similar to the Old Guidelines, externship programs shall still be at no cost due to budgetary constraints.
These Externship Guidelines took effect on 02 January 2021 following their publication in two (2) newspapers of general circulation.