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Diligence, perseverance, humility, and respect are the foremost values new lawyers should possess. They should also defend the institution of the courts against attacks that exceed the boundaries of propriety and orderliness and thus threaten the Rule of Law.
In the oath-taking of the 2017 successful Bar candidates at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Pasay City held on Friday, June 1, several Supreme Court justices underscored the importance of working hard, staying humble, and being respectful not only to their fellow members of the Bar but to all as the keys to being successful.
Justice Teresita J. Leonardo-de Castro, who gave the address to the new lawyers, underscored the utmost importance of diligence and perseverance to advance in one’s legal career. She said that “it does not matter if you have a brilliant mind if you will not really put in hours of grueling work that your legal duties will demand of you.”
“You will find in your law practice that to advance in your career, you will have to be the one who goes the extra mile; pays attention to the minutest detail, and put it the needed time to finish the work. You may not regret that because excellent work speaks for itself. Superiors will remember you, give you challenging assignments, and entrust you with responsibility. You can take pride in that your advancement in the work place is fully deserved,” said Justice de Castro. She added: “If you painstakingly build a reputation for consistency in turning high-quality output for being dependable in the office, then there is no limit in what you can achieve in this profession be it in private or public practice.”
She said that in her 45 years in public service she “has steadily progressed through the terms of seven presidents precisely because I do not play politics and simply do my job to the best of my ability and to the dictates of my conscience.” She considered it a “pure folly to build a career on patronage whether you work in a private firm or government agency,” stressing that “not only will it hamper you in the discharge of your lawyerly duties, but it also does nothing to ensure job security.”
Justice de Castro recalled that when she was a fresh law graduate in 1972 applying to be an associate in a law firm, she was asked whether she intended getting married soon. She got married and instead entered government service, working as a law clerk in the Supreme Court.
“It is hard work, mastery of your craft, and integrity that will ensure you of longevity in this profession…“Excellent work speaks for itself…You should rely solely on your own work’s merit to get ahead,” said Justice de Castro who admitted feeling nostalgic and sentimental giving in “the twilight of her legal career” the address to the new lawyers. Justice de Castro is set to mandatorily retire on October 8.
Justice de Castro also reminded the new lawyers the value of humility, saying that “lawyers who obtained fame or high positions in their organizations easily are more likely not to value what they have or lose sight of the responsibilities attached to the position. When they attain a position of high authority without real effort, they tend to be blinded by power and intoxicated by the privileges attached to the position. You will see many times in your career that those who rise too fast often fall as quickly.”
She said that in her day “we quietly dedicated ourselves to the assignment at hand, behind the scene and did not anticipate any recognition to follow.” In contrast, “elements of commercialism and even show business have inevitably seeped into the legal profession” in the recent times. She was critical of “some members of the Bar who actively seek celebrity status in the limelight which do not befit the dignity of our vocation.”
Lawyers, she opined, “must have the intellectual discipline to never cease being students of law,” stressing that the Canons of the Code of Professional Responsibility exhorts them to keep abreast of legal developments; participate in the Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE); and assist in disseminating information regarding law and jurisprudence.
Noting that law students were taught “to form our opinions based on primary law source materials,” she found “unsettling that there are members of the legal profession who form passionate opinions by relying on news reports, media interviews, info graphics, and the social media posts of others.”
“For someone with legal training, there is no excuse for lazy reasoning. And I truly expect that all of you would refrain from publicly issuing an opinion without personally studying the facts and the law involved even in an informal or social setting especially about pending cases. There is no shame in saying that you have not studied an issue instead of putting an erroneous opinion based on incomplete information or unreliable sources. It is in this way that you fulfill your obligation to provide only accurate and fruitful information regarding legal matters and contributing to elevating elevate the level of legal discourse in this country,” she said.
The greater challenge, she however said, comes after one has studied the issue and intelligently formed a legal opinion and found that the truth is not shared by most in your circle or peer group. She said: “Would you still voice it and allow it to be held up to scrutiny, and most likely criticism? Will you act to what you honestly believe is the Court legal solution to a case or controversy despite knowing your action will be unpopular? In this world, where we are now interconnected through technology, many would place a high premium on social acceptance. There are those in your generation who think being unfriended in Facebook or losing followers in Twitter is a catastrophe.”
Another value, she said, that is vital in the honorable practice of law is respect. She stressed that it “is imperative that our people respect the justice system for it to be effective. There is no better way to ensure the fate of our people in the courts than in the supremacy of the Constitution and the law. We can do that by giving each other respect and due courtesy.”
“Surely you will realize you will not win cases if you shamed your opposing counsels or judge…How will you obtain your colleague’s respect if you resort to personal attacks in questioning in their rules or honorable intentions? There is always a way to win your case with honor and there is always a way to issue a strong and powerful opinion without disregarding the rules of civility. If you cannot find a way to present your arguments [and] resort to incendiary rhetoric…then you are guilty of intellectual laziness that I warned you earlier,” she said.
She emphasized “our duty to protect the dignity of our judicial institution and to help maintain the respect for the judicial process itself. This is the underlying principle for the sub judice rule. Litigants, lawyers, and parties should refrain from discussing the merits of their cases still pending in the courts.” She stressed that “our courts of law are not courts of public opinion. Members of the legal profession have the obligation to help non-lawyers understand that the popularity and unpopularity of a legal will be given no weight.” She said that “lawyers should be gracious in victory and dignified in defeat.”
Justice Francis H. Jardeleza, in his inspirational message, gave a similar message. He shared two tips which he found helpful when he was starting his legal career, i.e.,“Stay humble” and “Have empathy.”
Justice Jardeleza said he that the tips have served him well: “It is inevitable that we will make mistakes. A life lived with humility and empathy, however, creates for you a bank, a deep reservoir of goodwill, from which you can draw in the event you stumble and commit mistakes. People will be more forgiving if they know you to be humble and empathetic. They will be more inclined to throw you a lifeline and help you regain your footing.”
He reiterated what was told him at the start of his law career to “never let success get into your head,” adding Steve Jobs’s words that “…[A]ll of us need to be on guard against arrogance, which knocks at the door whenever you’re successful.”
Justice Jardeleza wished the new lawyers success, but cautioned them to “not spoil your success with arrogance. The arrogant always fall, they always get their comeuppance. Always remember this day as your inspiration, the day when you were starting, when you needed people, and had lots of room in your heart for empathy.”
“The Bar examinations, for all its imperfections, is one of the great equalizers of life. As they say, wherever you come from, wherever or however you started, what counts is where you finish,” said Justice Jardeleza.
For his part, Justice Lucas P. Bersamin, the 2017 Bar Examinations Committee Chair, exhorted the new lawyers “to be vigilant.” He said: “Do not permit any fellow lawyer to defect from his or her fealty to the Rule of Law. Letting that happen may forfeit our right to expect non-lawyers to observe the Rule of Law.”
Justice Bersamin told them to “always detest and reprove a fellow lawyer who joins a public demand for disrespecting the courts and their rulings.”
“As lawyers, always deal with the courts, your clients, adversaries and fellow lawyers with the highest degree of professionalism and civility. Bring a fair dose of sincerity and personal integrity everyday to your work and leisure. There is no distinction between your professional self and your personal self,” reminded Justice Bersamin.
Justice Bersamin said that while it is a citizen’s right to criticize the Supreme Court or lower courts, “the right to speak in criticism cannot be unbounded. Judicial guidelines of when and how to criticize the courts, particularly the Supreme Court are clear. Consult those guidelines before you lose your privilege of membership in the Bar.”
He noted that “Justices and Judges may not defend themselves in public. Nor may they engage in public argument and debate on issues passed upon or still to be passed upon by their courts.” Thus he stressed that “we really need the leadership of the lawyers. Then is the time for lawyers like you to come out openly to defend the institution of the courts and of the duly-constituted authorities, regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the rulings and outcomes of controversies. If you don’t, the day of anarchy and lawlessness may be upon us before we know it, and it will be too late.”
A total of 1,719 successful Bar candidates took the oath, which includes those who passed the 2017 Bar Exams, as well as those who passed the 2016 Bar but were not able to take their oath last year.
While 1,724 out of 6,748 law graduates passed the 2017 Bar Exams, not all took their oath as some have pending cases.
The 2017 Bar examiners were Commission on Elections Commissioner (ret.) Mehol K. Sadain (Political Law and Public International Law); Court of Appeals (CA) Associate Justice (ret.) Francisco P. Acosta (Labor Laws and Social Legislation); Atty. Arturo M. De Castro (Civil Law); Atty. Leonor D. Boado (Taxation); Atty. Raul T. Vasquez (Mercantile Law); Atty. Alexander A. Padilla (Criminal Law); Atty. Willard B. Riano (Remedial Law); and CA Associate Justice Mario V. Lopez (Ethics and Practical Exercises). ###