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On Point: The Practice of Law According to Atty. Diokno

Updated: Aug 25, 2021

By: Archiebald Faller Capila

Withstanding the tests of time is a profession viewed by most as a pillar of society—the practice of law. Time has been a witness as to how legal barons have shaped different communities on where and how they stand today. History has portrayed lawyers as men and women of a noble profession—like gladiators in suits ready to defend the law from wrongdoers. The practice of law has always been regarded as a profession only a few could be a part of.

But like any other profession, the practice of law has also been the subject of scrutiny by some. To them, the practice is too elitist—only serving those who have the power to engage the services of top-notch lawyers. To them, the practice is too isolated—that which does not consider the plight of those who need it the most. To them, the practice is too passive—that it only serves good to those who have the best resources available.

But one thing remains to be true—the practice of law is here to say. For as long as there is an established order of things, lawyers will always be needed and the practice of law will always be available. However, while the practice keeps on pushing forward, some believe that its methods must move with it as well. In these progressive times, those engaged in the practice of law must very well adapt to the times and eventually be better.

One of the few legal barons who believe that there is room for improvement for the legal profession is none other than Atty. Jose Manuel “Chel” Icasiano Diokno. Born and raised under a roof of progressive minds, Atty. Diokno remains positive that the practice of law has a purpose which is to help those who are in need of it the most. In his words, the legal profession needs to adapt to the changing times in order to help more people—in order to remain as a tool for the greater good.

In an exclusive interview with Barrista Solutions, Atty. Diokno shares his insights on the role of lawyers today, the legal education in general, and a challenge to all the aspiring members of the profession he belongs to.

Barrista Solutions: Adapting to the new normal has been a problem for almost all professions, including the legal practice. What do you think should be the major adjustments made to the practice of law so as to keep up with modern and changing times?

Atty. Diokno: First, we should all be tech-savvy. Kailangan marunong tayo sa online platforms. At the same time, I think we should be conscious about security online. The lawyer-client privilege is lost if we allow third parties to be involved in the communication. Dapat alam natin ang mga security protocols para ma-preserve din natin ang confidentiality. There is a lot of information that we need to keep confidential because of our ethical duty to do so.

Barrista Solutions: What do you think can those in authority do in order to help in transforming the community to become technologically adept especially during these times?

Atty. Diokno: The biggest problem we have nowadays is internet speed and internet access. Palagay ko, with a strong and concerted effort, kayang i-address ‘yan ng pamahalaan and also the private sector as far as the telcos are concerned. For our younger brothers and sisters, especially those who cannot afford electronic devices, maganda siguro na sa bawat barangay ay magkaroon ng isang WiFi area with the support of the public and private sector. Doon, makaka-access ng internet ang mga nasa barangay lalo na yung mga bata para naman matuloy ang kanilang pag-aaral. We have to find ways din, both the public and the private sector, to provide the poor with access to computer devices.

Barrista Solutions: Recently, the passers of the 2019 Bar exams signed the Roll of Attorneys which made them full-fledged lawyers. What do you think should their role be in the practice of law moving forward?

Atty. Diokno: First of all, congratulations to all of you! I am looking forward to seeing you in the profession. At the same time, I want to tell you that when you enter the practice of law in our country, you will be faced with the biggest moral question of your life. Dalawang klase ang practice of law sa ating bayan eh. Meron yung honest, diretso, maayos at malinis. On the other hand, meron din yung nag-aayos ng kaso. I truly hope that this batch of lawyers will avoid that latter path. Ang mga abogadong malinis, maayos, diretso, may integrity, yun talaga ang kailangan ng bayan. And that is my challenge as well to the new lawyers—to go down the straight and narrow path and work to fix our legal system. We have a very big problem with our justice system. Napakabagal ng paglilitis ng kaso dito sa atin. May mga issues ng quality of justice. May mga issues din ng corruption. We need to address this. This is the biggest obstacle to our development—the lack of a working justice system. As lawyers, it’s a part of our duty to do everything we can to strengthen our justice system.

Barrista Solutions: Today’s socio-political landscape has solicited different views and opinions from lawyers all over the country. With respect to concurrence or dissent, what do you think should lawyers do in order to maintain professional discourse among each other?

Atty. Diokno: I think we should remember our lessons in freedom of speech, especially the jurisprudence which says that “Even if I don’t agree with you, I respect your right to express your opinion.” As lawyers, we should be the role models of others in our society. Just because we disagree with somebody, with another person’s opinion, doesn’t mean that we should be personal about it, that we should insult them. We should listen as well. That is the essence of free speech—the right of everyone to speak even if the majority do not agree with him.

Barrista Solutions: You have always been active in upholding the rule of law and protecting human rights at all costs. For you, what could other lawyers do in order to do the same even in their own little ways?

Atty. Diokno: Every lawyer has a duty to provide free legal aid and that is one way we can help others especially the marginalized. When you see other people’s rights being violated, then you could provide a helping hand. We could also perform a very big educative function in our community, in our barangay, and the people we associate with. We can educate them on what human rights are all about and why they are so important.

Barrista Solutions: Having studied law abroad, how do you compare the current educational scheme we have here in the Philippines and that of the United States when it comes to the process of teaching and the methods of learning?

Atty. Diokno: The biggest difference is that the emphasis of the study of law in the US is developing analytical skills. We were trained to analyze cases, argue, reason, and persuade. Here in the Philippines, there is a big emphasis on book knowledge. Students are required to memorize a lot.

Barrista Solutions: What are your suggestions in order to improve the current setting of legal education here in the Philippines?

Atty. Diokno: I think our legal education is tied too much to our Bar examinations. Many, if not most, law schools are very bar-oriented. I think the very first reform must be with the bar exams. I personally believe na sobra yung eight subjects. Sobra yung apat na Sunday. When I took the Bar exams in Illinois way back, dalawang araw lang ang Bar exams namin. Hindi rin hiwalay ang iba’t ibang subject. When I took the first day of my Bar, yung essay component nya, halo-halo. Maaaring yung unang tanong ay tungkol sa criminal law, yung kasunod ay tungkol sa constitutional law. It’s similar to the actual practice of law. When a client consults a lawyer, his or her inquiry may involve different subjects of law.

We should also convert our Bar Exams to a pass or fail system. The purpose of the bar exam is to determine if the law student or the barrister meets the minimum qualification of being a lawyer. Minimum lang. We could even offer two exams a year if pass or fail lang tayo. Pass or fail lang kasi kaya madaling i-grade. So if you didn’t make it the first time, you don’t have to wait for one whole year to take the Bar exams again. You could take it again in a few months. If that happens, law schools will be able to provide less bar-oriented legal education and more clinical legal education to develop legal skills.

Having regional bar exams is also a very welcome innovation. It’s time for that to happen. Our barristers from the provinces are at a big disadvantage. It’s about time we go regional. There are enough security measures that can be employed that can assure that there will be no cheating or no leakage. I think it’s very timely.

Barrista Solutions: What do you think should law professors do in order to fully impart with their students the essence and beauty of the law here in our country?

Atty. Diokno: Law professors should also be innovative on how they teach law. Palagay ko nagsasawa na ang mga estudyante sa pangkaraniwang teaching methods. I still believe that the socratic method has value but at the same time, the younger generation learns differently. For example you are more visual, mas sanay kayo sa mga video, practical exercises. Part of the challenge for law professors is to help law students in the learning process.

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

Atty. Diokno: I have a challenge actually—and a dare to all law students and barristers who will eventually take the bar and become lawyers. We need to strengthen our justice system. Hindi lang para sa atin kundi para sa ating bansa. Unless we improve the justice system, ganito na lang ang mangyayari sa atin. Walang accountability, tuloy-tuloy ang corruption at ang paglaganap ng mga sindikato at krimen. All the things we don’t like about our society will continue unless we do something about it. Panawagan ko yan. At the same time, I want to give you a message of hope. Kung kinaya ko makatapos ng law and makapasa ng Bar, kayang-kaya nyo rin yan.

· Atty. Chel Diokno obtained his Juris Doctor of Laws degree from Northern Illinois University where he graduated Magna Cum Laude. He is the Chairman of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG). He is also the founding Dean of the De La Salle University College of Law.


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