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Law, Technology, and the New Normal with Atty. Clerigo

Updated: Aug 25, 2021

By: Archiebald Faller Capila

Much has been said and written about the practice of law in the country. Some still view the same as a profession of noble men and women which must remain true to its roots. However, some view the practice of law as an evolving profession that needs to adapt to the ever-changing world we are in today.

Part of the change is the influx of technological advancements and the like. In whatever profession there is, it can be said that forward is the only right direction to move on to. In that venture, practitioners are obliged to be familiar with the growing changes which mainly involve digital platforms and online measures.

Accordingly, the legal profession serves as no exception to the growing industry of modern skills and application. Throughout the years, the practice of law has moved into a platform that may be considered as forward-looking. The use of technological changes can be gleaned in the practice’s procedures and the likes.

At the helm of it all are those firms and private practitioners who have pushed the profession forward by applying certain means which involve modern approaches as well. One of the few firms practicing the same is none other than JMClerigo Law, headed by Atty. Je Froilan M. Clerigo.

Atty Clerigo has always been a step ahead. Even as a young lawyer, his visions for the profession was so far ahead that he already started with a paperless office way back in 1999. According to him, the utilization of what technology provides is so important that everyone needs to learn the same.

In an exclusive interview with Barrista Solutions, Atty. Clerigo shares his thoughts in the modernization of measures applied in the legal profession, the current situation we are in because of the current pandemic, and a message to all aspiring lawyers out there.

Barrista Solutions: The pandemic has carried with it a burden that is now faced by all professions, including the law practice. How does your firm keep afloat despite the situation?

Atty. Clerigo: We are a litigation firm, so I will view this from that lens. We have been a paperless office for some time now (since 1999 in fact) and have already developed systems and used legal-appropriate apps which made coping with the present changes easier. In fact, our firm is functioning now in much the same way it did before the pandemic. For instance, even before the pandemic, our lawyers were not going to the office anymore - collaboration and firm meetings were all done online, through Skype. The only thing missing from our practice today was the time-outs from work that we took to get together over food and drinks.

Barrista Solutions: How do you compare today’s practice of law in the time of pandemic to the usual legal routines before the commencement of the new normal?

Atty. Clerigo: The most obvious difference from before is our limited movement now. That means we have to find ways to work, collaborate, access files from the office without physically being there, and then be able to work on these files from the safety of our homes. Fortunately, the technology to do these is available to us already.

While in-court hearing of cases is still preferred, remote hearings through video conferencing is also being adopted. I understand that the Sandiganbayan already have guidelines on remote hearings. I am expecting that the regular courts will follow suit. Thus, compared from before, everyone involved now – the lawyers, the judges, the justices, even those that are non-legal – are forced to rethink the way they do their work. Technology is now a must to learn.

Barrista Solutions: For you, what aspect of the legal profession is most affected by the current pandemic? Accordingly, what do you think can be done in order to address the same?

Atty. Clerigo: The most affected I think is the litigation practice, more specifically, the criminal litigation practice. At present, most courts are effectively closed. Prosecutors are asking for the suspension of court proceedings. Lawyers do not want to go to court. And, who can blame them in the face of the deadly threat of the pandemic? But, we know that the courts cannot remain closed for long - that will be unconstitutional. Every citizen is guaranteed access to the courts, every accused is guaranteed speedy trial, and every accused is generally guaranteed the right to bail. That means that the courts should function - the pandemic is only a challenge but not an excuse to close.

What can we do? Learn technology. Or make it compulsory for the profession. In the guidelines of the Sandiganbayan on remote hearings for instance, not familiarizing yourself with the videoconferencing platform can be punished as contempt of court.

Barrista Solutions: What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of the practice of law on today’s time?

Atty. Clerigo: The advantage is that the new normal will open opportunities for solo lawyers and small firms that have technological competence. It’s the fittest who will thrive.

On the other hand, the disadvantage will be to bigger firms which will have a harder time than their solo and small firm counterparts in shifting to technology. In my experience, being digital for instance, or adopting a paper-less filing system, should be a firm culture to be successful. The technology should be embraced, not just trained for, and so it should permeate the whole firm. It will not be successful if only a department goes paperless while the rest of the firm does not.

Barrista Solutions: Your law firm currently banks on modern means in pushing the profession forward. For you, how important is technology in today’s practice of law?

Atty. Clerigo: Extremely important. In fact, even before this pandemic, it is technology that drove our firm – from document management to case management and on to practice management. With this pandemic, technology is obviously more important than ever before. We can see this in the recent successive Supreme Court issuances related to the pandemic. The guidelines of the Sandiganbayan on remote hearings, as well as the revisions in the 1997 Rules of Court, both recognize the immense importance of technology. Quite simply, the legal profession today needs technology to survive.

Barrista Solutions: If any, what do you think are the problems involved in the profession barring it from fully adapting technological means? Accordingly, what do you think should be done in order to improve our use of modern measures in the said practice?

Atty. Clerigo: There are many problems, but I think one of THE problems is the thinking “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. For instance, adopting paperless technology is challenging for most lawyers. Their paper-based practice is doing well, so why change it? Learning the technology is just another task, is expensive, and worse, is not even billable! But hopefully, the pandemic will cause a paradigm shift in that.

I think that we should follow the US example and make technological competence for lawyers mandatory. The American Bar Association or ABA in its Model Rules for Professional Responsibility requires lawyers to keep themselves abreast of the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology. Adopting a similar rule in our Canon of Judicial Ethics will do us good.

Also, some in-house counsels here are adopting the “legal technology audit” or LTA being done in the US, which is a test of basic technological proficiency for lawyers. Encouraging big-name companies to do the same for their retained outside counsels will help to “nudge” the lawyers to learn and use technology.

Finally, increasing MCLE units for technology-related subjects will also be a big help, especially if the subjects show the practical benefits of technology to the practice, not the least of which is increased efficiency resulting to increase in the profitability of the office.

Barrista Solutions: Culture and tradition have always been attached to the practice of law. How do you think could the same change in order to move the practice forward so as to keep up with technological advancements and the likes?

Atty. Clerigo: I see no conflict in the sense that culture and tradition should give way to technology just so the practice can move forward. In fact, I see technology even enhancing that culture and tradition. For example, in our Oath, we swore that we will conduct ourselves as lawyers according to the best of our knowledge. To my mind, if we do not adapt to the times, we are not in our “best”. We cannot practice in an outmoded way and at the same time be true to our oath.

For another, the culture that lawyers are generally smart will actually decline if we refuse to make use of technology that would have made us more effective advocates. In a courtroom scene for instance, between two lawyers, one frantically rummaging through his pile of papers while another calmly scrolling documents in her iPad, we know who we will be more impressed with.

Barrista Solutions: In the near future, how do you see your law firm keep up with the changes occurring both to the society and the profession of law?

Atty. Clerigo: I had adopted paper-less technology in my office since 1999, and I swear to its beneficial effect on my practice, on those of my associate lawyers, and on our non-legal staff. I was led to that technology by the drive that things can always be done better, that there is always room to improve. And this is how we will keep up with the changes – keep looking to innovate, to create, because however we are doing what we are doing now, there is a better way to do it. We will find that way, do that way, and then we will ask the same question again – is there a better way than this?

Barrista Solutions: If you could give an advice to your younger self who is about to embark his journey as a practicing member of the legal profession, what would it be?

Atty. Clerigo: My advice to my younger self – have a plan, relax more. When I was a young associate, trial work consumed me. It was not unusual for me to stay until 3 or 4 AM in the office. Looking back, I should have had a plan, a roadmap for my career. And I should have included in that plan relaxation, vacation, more time for myself, without sacrificing my love for trial work. In retrospect, I could readily have done that with just the proper technology. I know this because that is what our office does now – working smart through technology.

Barrista Solutions: What is your message to all the students of the law out there trying to become members of the legal profession someday?

Atty. Clerigo: After you take your oath as a lawyer, you will pretty much be on your own, at least so far as your career goes. Therefore, have a goal, and then have a plan to reach that goal. Be intelligent. Brian Tracy, a motivational speaker, said that intelligence is not IQ; it is a way of doing things, of acting. An intelligent person is one who does not act stupidly. And how does one act stupidly? If he does things that don’t get him near his goals, or worse, does things that take him away from those goals. When you do these things, I don’t care if you are a bar topnotcher, you are acting stupidly.

* Atty. Je Froilan M. Clerigo is the Principal at JMClerigo Law Office. He loves technology and is always finding ways to integrate it into his practice.

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