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Introduction: Unauthorized Practice of Law in the Philippines

The safety of the people shall be the highest law.

–Marcus Tulius Cicero

We shall go about unauthorized practice of law and its related topics for this article. It must be remembered that knowledge of the law is different from practice of law. All citizens are enjoined to know the law, hence, the maxim “ignorantia legis neminem excusat” or popularly known as “ignorance of the law excuses no one from compliance therewith.

On the other hand, the practice of law is reserved to those individuals who has obtained the acumen, knowledge, and skills through years of study in the schools of law and have practiced the same after being admitted as a duly recognized and licensed counselor-at-law.

Consequently, while people are enjoined to know the law, only those who are licensed to practice law are allowed to exercise the same. Unauthorized practice of law is not, therefore, allowed, especially in the Philippine jurisdiction.

Law | System of Rules and Codes of Conduct

Law is a system consisting of Rules and Codes of Conduct established by an authority or a governing body which serves as guidelines that binds, and recognized by, the people of a particular country or community.

It is easy to understand how important the laws are in our society. You can just imagine a society functioning without them. Anarchy will set in, undoubtedly. Considering the limitations of the legal system, it is also unfortunate that there is no way to cover every situation because there are some circumstances an individual may encounter along the way.

Law is very important and significant, as it introduces justice to the society. It provides ground rules and principles set for the regulation of society and its proper conduct. Without the existence of a law, there would be the situation of chaos and conflicts among communities and social groups. The law helps societies to maintain order.

With the structure and organization of laws are in order. Individuals can feel safe, which leads to wider social structures and greater productivity. The Law helps the society and its citizens in every aspect of life whether enforced through social institutions to govern behavior, wherever possible. It shapes politics, economics and society in numerous ways and serves as a social mediator of relations between people.

Practice of law

Interpreted in the light of the various definitions of the term [“]Practice of law”. particularly the modern concept of law practice, and taking into consideration the liberal construction intended by the framers of the Constitution, Atty. Monsod’s past work experiences as a lawyer-economist, a lawyer-manager, a lawyer-entrepreneur of industry, a lawyer-negotiator of contracts, and a lawyer-legislator of both the rich and the poor — verily more than satisfy the constitutional requirement — that he has been engaged in the practice of law for at least ten years.1

As a corollary definition of Practice of Law made reference in Cayetano vs. Monsod, the High Court states:

Practice of law means any activity, in or out of court, which requires the application of law, legal procedure, knowledge, training and experience. “To engage in the practice of law is to perform those acts which are characteristics of the profession. Generally, to practice law is to give notice or render any kind of service, which device or service requires the use in any degree of legal knowledge or skill.” (111 ALR 23)2

Illegal or Unauthorized Practice of Law

According to Black’s Law Dictionary, the unauthorized practice of law is the practice thereof by a person which is basically a non-lawyer who has not been licensed or admitted to practice law in a given jurisdiction.3

That being said, this principle mainly pertains to someone who is unlicensed. Necessarily, he may not not allowed to do the same job a lawyer would for money. This includes writing contracts, giving legal advice, or representing clients in court.

Albeit, a non-lawyer, if he is equipped, may draft a contract under the final review and corrections of a lawyer superior. 

In the case of In re: Medado,4, the High Court ruled that:

Under the Rules of Court, the unauthorized practice of law by one’s assuming to be an attorney or officer of the court, and acting as such without authority, may constitute indirect contempt of court, which is punishable by fine or imprisonment or both. Such a finding, however, is in the nature of criminal contempt and must be reached after the filing of charges and the conduct of hearings. In this case, while it appears quite clearly that petitioner committed indirect contempt of court by knowingly engaging in unauthorized practice of law, we refrain from making any finding of liability for indirect contempt, as no formal charge pertaining thereto has been filed against him.5

There are sayings that the legal profession is the most commonly faked profession in our country. Thus, our lawmakers batted for a Bill that seeks to prohibit and penalize the unauthorized practice of law which is the House Bill No.  7750 [this is not yet a law, as of this writing].

Under the bill they explained that a person practicing law without authority is liable only for indirect contempt under Section 3 (e) Rule 71 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, which the law makers who drafted this bill deems insufficient to curb unauthorized law practice.

Under the 19976 Rules of Court on Indirect Contempt, it states that a person assuming to be an attorney or an officer of the court, and acting as such without authority, is liable for indirect contempt of court.

In Section 77of same rule, a respondent adjudged guilty of indirect contempt committed against a Regional Trial Court or a court of equivalent or higher rank may be punished by a fine not exceeding P30,000 or imprisonment not exceeding six months, or both.

If a respondent is adjudged guilty of contempt committed against a lower court, he may be punished by a fine not exceeding P5,000 or imprisonment not exceeding one month, or both, they said, citing the Rules of Civil Procedure.8

With the eventual passage of the said bill [hopefully], this can eliminate instances of fraud, misinterpretation, and deceit in the field of legal profession.

On the other hand, House Bill 77509 provides that any person found guilty of the unauthorized practice of law shall be punished by imprisonment of prision correccional medium to prision correccional maximum or a fine of P100,000, or both, upon the discretion of the court. This is a stricter penalty, designed to effectively prevent and curtail any unauthorized practice of law.

Under the same house bill, a person shall be considered to be engaged in the unauthorized practice of law if such person, not being a member of the Philippine Bar, does any of the following acts:10

  • Represent himself, or holds himself out to be, a member of the Philippine Bar, whether for profit or not, to any other person.10
  • Except only in the instances where the law or the Rules of Court allow a non-lawyer to appear in court, appears in, or filed any pleading, motion, entry of appearance, or any other paper, with any court, tribunal, or quasi-judicial body, or any agency or instrumentality of the government, thereby representing himself to be a member of the Philippine Bar.10
  • By means of signs, cards, advertisements, written or printed matter, through the radio, television, or any other means of publication, advertise or represent himself to be a member of the Philippine Bar, including, but not limited to, using the prefix “Attorney” or “Atty.” before his name, including his name as a partner, associate, or list of lawyers of a law firm, or otherwise publicizing or advertising himself in any other manner to be a member of the Philippine Bar.10

Hopefully, the bill which penalizes Unauthorized Practice of Law will be soon passed, become a law, and be implemented accordingly.

Remedies against Unauthorized Practice of Law in the Philippines

It bears stressing that practicing law without any authority to do so is inimical to public interest, let alone to the legal profession. Competency is required. Such can only be attained through years of painstaking study in the law school, with concomitant verification, in passing the acid test of bar examination.

Thus, non-lawyers are sternly prohibited from assuming the function of an attorney, if indeed he is not one. Faith in legal profession will be compromised. While an individual cannot claim monopoly of knowledge, more so a lawyer, still, the latter is given the responsibility to promote the rule of law and administration of justice, lest we will be forgetting that ours is a government of laws and not of men.

Only lawyers have the authority to practice law, even while all of us, whether lawyers or not, have the obligation not to be ignorant of our own laws.

Thus, practice of law is distinct from being obligated to ought to know the law.”

If someone, therefore, practices law without any authority at all, as for instance, one who is not a lawyer, not yet a lawyer, or suspended attorney, there are certain remedies that a prejudiced party may undertake to remedy the situation or penalize the usurper.

These may be:

  • Indirect Contempt
  • Usurpation of Authority or Official Functions [Criminal Case]
  • Estafa, when private interest is involved and as a consequence resulted to damages through such misrepresentation or false pretenses
  • Disbarment, in case of a suspended lawyer who still practices law despite serving suspension
  • Administrative Complaint, if he is a public officer or official who misrepresented to be a lawyer

It is very easy nowadays to determine whether an individual is a lawyer or not. Just visit the Supreme Court Lawyers’ List.

Is the practice of law a privilege and not a right?

When we talk about law, most people commonly emphasize the rights and privileges appurtenant to the practice thereof. There are common misconceptions hovering our thoughts if the Practice of Law is a privilege, or right? To further understand let start to define necessary terms for ease of readership.

Privilege is a certain entitlement to immunity granted and enjoyed only by an individual or a person beyond the advantage of most. While on the other hand, Right is the justice, ethical correctness or harmony in accordance on the rule of law and moral. It’s a legal right that every citizen in a society possesses which relates to the corresponding legal duty imposed to another.

At first glance, it’s easy to view and interpret these terms from their definitions. We can see that “privilege “cannot be a right since rights are enjoyed by everyone while privilege is set only for a certain group of individuals. Likewise, despite all of this many people weigh if the “Practice of Law” is indeed a privilege and not a right.

Given the definition, it seems that many people are practicing law without them knowing it. This can be dangerous because a little amount of knowledge can mislead people thinking they know everything and that they are an expert than they really are which may lead to mistakes being made.

Practice of law is a Privilege and not a right. As mentioned a while back, knowledge of law is distinct from the practice thereof, in its technical sense.

The practice of law is not just a mere child’s play or a game that everyone can play and tagged along. Any activities pertaining to law inside and outside the court that requires application of law and its legal procedure requires knowledge, training and experience.

To fully thrive in this profession, it will take a lot of courage, determination, passion, dedication, readings, years of study and a clean moral character to fully understand all that it takes to practice law.

This is why, that is why our Supreme Court has come out with clear rules, high standards, and parameters on who are allowed to practice law and under what conditions may applied so.

The practice of law as Ruled by the Supreme Court is not a natural nor a constitutional right that can be granted to everyone who demands it. It is rather a privilege granted to limited citizens who first hurdled and passed the Bar examination and with good moral character. Thus:

“The practice of law is a privilege granted only to those who possess the strict intellectual and moral qualifications required of lawyers who are instruments in the effective and efficient administration of justice. It is the sworn duty of this Court not only to “weed out” lawyers who have become a disgrace to the noble profession of the law but, also of equal importance, to prevent “misfits” from taking the lawyer’s oath, thereby further tarnishing the public image of lawyers which in recent years has undoubtedly become less than irreproachable.”11

Is unauthorized practice of law a crime?

Unauthorized practice of law is illegal and unlawful mainly because the same is only given to certain individuals who have complied with the requirements laid down by the Supreme Court under the authority of Article VIII, Section 5 (5) of the Philippine Constitution regulating admission to the practice of law.

Rule 138 of the Rules of Court, on the other hand, states that only Filipino Citizens can be admitted to the Philippine Bar, and therefore, allowed to practice law. Section 3 (e) Rule 71 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, also, states that a person assuming to be an attorney or an officer of the court, and acting as such, without authority is liable for indirect contempt of court.

In this case, although unauthorized practice of law constituting Indirect Contempt may not be a crime per se, yet, doing so will subject the author liable for punitive sanctions, such as fines and imprisonment.

A lawyer is an officer of the court.

Lawyers are licensed officers of the court who are empowered to appear, prosecute, and defend; and upon whom peculiar duties, responsibilities, and liabilities are devolved by law as a consequence. Membership in the Bar imposes upon them certain obligations. Mandated to maintain the dignity of the legal profession, they must conduct themselves honorably and fairly.12

When engaged in the actual exercise of his profession, he is considered as person in authority.13

In the same vein, under Article 17714 of the Revised Penal Code, it provides for a penalty when certain official function or authority is usurped by another individual who is not legally entitled to do so.

Hence, unauthorized practice of law may be a crime, when the conditions (elements of the felony) of Article 177 of the Revised Penal Code are met.

That being said, any activity inside and outside of the court, with regard to the practice of law, should only be performed by the members of legal profession. Such acts, therefore, will require the application of legal knowledge, experience, and skills before they can render any kind of services that requires application of law and legal procedures.

As regards this, the general principle holds that someone who is unlicensed or non-lawyer, unless the law or rules empowers him or her, shall not be permitted or authorized do the same job a lawyer can do, more so, for the sake of money. This includes giving legal advice or representing clients in court.

Nonetheless, there some pro-forma tasks that can be performed by a non-Lawyer. They can fill in the blanks on a standard form or contract.

A non-lawyer can prepare tax returns, provided they do not give specific legal advice. It is also acceptable to provide general estate planning guidance. However, the specifics and the legal parameters of estate planning still need to be done by an attorney.

Who are not allowed to practice Law in the Philippines?

There are individuals or authorities who are not allowed/engage in private practice law are the following:

  • Judges and other officials as employees of the Supreme Court 15.
  • Officials and employees of the OSG 16
  • Government prosecutors.17
  • President, Vice-President, members of the cabinet, their deputies and assistants.18
  • Members of the Constitutional Commission.19 Ombudsman and his deputies 20
  • All governors, city and municipal mayors.21
  • Those prohibited by special law

Aside from authorities that are not allowed to engage in private practice of law, there are also public officials that have restrictions in the practice of law.

No Senator as member of the House of Representative may personally appear as counsel before any court of justice as before the Electoral Tribunals, as quasi-judicial and other administration bodies 22.

Under the Local Government Code (RA 7160, Sec. 90) Sanggunian members may practice their professions, provided they shall not also:

  • Collect any fee for their appearance in administrative proceedings involving the local government unit of which he is an official;23
  • Use property and personnel of the government except when the Sanggunian member concerned is defending the interest of the government.24

Under Republic Act [RA] No. 910, Sec. 1, as amended, a retired justice or judge, receiving pension from the government, cannot act as counsel in any civil case in which the Government, or any of its subdivision or agencies is the adverse party or in a criminal case wherein an officer or employee of the Government is accused of an offense in relation to his office.25

Can a non-lawyer represent himself in the court?

This situation has already been addressed by the Supreme Court in the case of Santos vs. Judge Lacurom (A.M. NO. RTJ-04-1823 : August 28, 2006), which effectively allows self-representation.

“The Rules [of Court in the Philippines] recognize the right of an individual to represent himself in any case in which he is a party. The Rules state that a party may conduct his litigation personally or by aid of an attorney, and that his appearance must be either personal or by a duly authorized member of the Bar.26

“The individual litigant may personally do everything in the progress of the action from commencement to the termination of the litigation. A party’s representation on his own behalf is not considered to be a practice of law as “one does not practice law by acting for himself, any more than he practices medicine by rendering first aid to himself.” 27.

“The Court, however, notes the use of the disjunctive word “or” under the Rules, signifying disassociation and independence of one thing from each of the other things enumerated, to mean that a party must choose between self-representation or being represented by a member of the bar. During the course of the proceedings, a party should not be allowed to shift from one form of representation to another. Otherwise, this would lead to confusion, not only for the other party, but for the court as well. If a party, originally represented by counsel, would later decide to represent himself, the prudent course of action is to dispense with the services of counsel and prosecute or defend the case personally.”28

However, non-lawyers can be authorized or may take part in the court due to the following reasons.

  • Cases before the MTC: Party to the litigation, in person OR through an agent or friend or appointed by him for that purpose (Sec. 34, Rule 138, RRC)
  • Before any other court: Party to the litigation, in person (Ibid.)
  • Criminal case before the MTC in a locality where a duly licensed member of the Bar is not available: the judge may appoint a non-lawyer who is:
  • Resident of the province of good repute for probity and ability to aid the accused in his defense (Rule 116, Sec. 7, RRC).
  • Legal Aid Program – A senior law student, who is enrolled in a recognized law school’s clinical education program approved by the supreme Court may appear before any court without compensation, to represent indigent clients, accepted by the Legal Clinic of the law school. The student shall be under the direct supervision and control of an IBP member duly accredited by the law school.
  • Under the Labor code, non-lawyers may appear before the NLRC or any Labor Arbiter, if they represent themselves, or if they represent their organization or members thereof (Art 222, Presidential Decree No. 442, as amended).
  • Under the Cadastral Act, a non-lawyer can represent a claimant before the Cadastral Court (Act no. 2259, Sec. 9).

Moreover, Section 34, Rule 138 provides that in the court of a justice of the peace, a party may conduct his litigation in person, with the aid of an agent or friend appointed by him for that purpose, or with the aid of an attorney. In any other court, a party may conduct his litigation personally or by aid of an attorney, and his appearance must be either personal or by a duly authorized member of the bar.

Thus, a law student may appear before an inferior court as an agent or friend of a party without the supervision of a member of the bar.

The phrase “in the court of a justice of the peace” in Bar Matter No. 730 is subsequently changed to “In the court of a municipality” as it now appears in Section 34 of Rule 138.

In Section 34 of Rule 138, the appearance of a non-lawyer, as an agent or friend of a party litigant, is expressly allowed, while Rule 138-A provides for conditions when a law student, not as an agent or a friend of a party litigant, may appear before the courts.

Section 34, Rule 138 is clear that appearance before the inferior courts by a non-lawyer is permitted, irrespective of whether or not he is a law student.

Role of Lawyers in Society

Lawyers play a vital role in the preservation of the society. They, and should, maintain the highest standards of ethical conduct and good moral character. They always, and should, remain as a neutral third party, serve as law implementing guides, and public citizens that imposes the quality of justice, and protect anyone from the abuse of law.

As we go live in this life full of actions and decisions, whether it’s right or wrong, there are rules that deem or consider some acts as right or wrong. Nonetheless, This may lead to confusion and debatable scenarios because of different lawyers’ roles and opinions.

The role of the lawyers in society can be divided into three factors mainly “Security, Advisor for Society, and Keepers of the confidentiality”.

For the security, lawyers offer people a sense of comfort when following their life goals. This happens if the people, other than lawyers, believe that, if they need help, someone will have their back.

Hence, lawyers play a critical role in promoting social peace by applying the law in a way that reacts to the basic requirements of justice. That is, equal and fair results obtained by reasonable procedures.

As an advisor to the society, they may work in civil trials to defend individuals and corporations, and in criminal trials to achieve fairness. Lawyers work as consultants to their customers, educating them of their rights and freedoms, explaining them the legal processes, and encouraging those individuals to manage the complicated legal system.

Without counsel and professional legal network, offering such guidance and legal explanation, people would need to study the law and previous judicial decisions to learn how those are made and comprehend how those judgments and laws apply to given situations.

Lastly on confidentiality, some discussions with your counsel will be private and privilege. This must be; otherwise, faith in attorney-client relationship will be eroded. Any legal counsel under this professional legal framework is barred from discussing confidential and privilege matters of a certain case with anyone without the client’s consent.

Final Thoughts 

Law is created to guide us to the right path of life, be it legal or otherwise, as a civilized society is a government of laws and not of men. It protects the people and prevents them to be in a situation that may ruin or cost misfortune in their lives. As existing individuals in this society, it is our responsibility to respect and follow the law.

Even though we are provided and guided by laws, there are still individuals who bypass and violate legal standard and positive statutes. Despite penalties are extant corresponding to such violations, unscrupulous personalities have the knack of disrespecting the law.

Maybe to some, laws are good, and others may seem to feel that laws are crap that makes our life harder. Yet, it must be stressed that, although the law may be harsh, it is still the law, “dura lex sed lex“.

Choosing the field of legal profession is really a noble job. It is a tough field. Practicing law can be one of the most rewarding and meaningful careers out there. Nevertheless, it, likewise, takes a lot of work and patience, let alone diligence. Success in this field is not something ready-made.

It takes hard work, dedication, determination, passion commitment, knowledge, and experience to be a master and thrive in this craft. In-line with this, the practice of law is a privilege granted only to individuals who not just study law and passed the bar exam, but more importantly, possess the highest standard of ethical conduct and good moral character.

  1. Cayetano vs. Monsod, G. R. No. 100113 September 3, 1991[]
  2. Ibid.[]
  3. Black’s Law Dictionary, 1191-92 [7th ed. 1999]: Black’s defines the unauthorized practice of law as “[t]he practice of law by a person, typically a nonlawyer, who has not been licensed or admitted to practice law in a given jurisdiction.” Id. at 1192.[]
  4. B.M. No. 2540, September 24, 2013[]
  5. Ibid.[]
  6. Contempt, Rule 71, Rules of Court[]
  7. Section 7. Punishment for indirect contempt. — If the respondent is adjudged guilty of indirect contempt committed against a Regional Trial Court or a court of equivalent or higher rank, he may be punished by a fine not exceeding thirty thousand pesos or imprisonment not exceeding six (6) months, or both. If he is adjudged guilty of contempt committed against a lower court, he may be punished by a fine not exceeding five thousand pesos or imprisonment not exceeding one (1) month, or both. If the contempt consists in the violation of a writ of injunction, temporary restraining order or status quo order, he may also be ordered to make complete restitution to the party injured by such violation of the property involved or such amount as may be alleged and proved.[]
  8. Id.[]
  9. House Bill No. 7750[]
  10. Ibid.[][][][]
  11. B. M. No. 712 March 19, 1997[]
  12. Roque vs. Balbin, A.C. No. 7088, December 04, 2018[]
  13. Article 152, 3rd par. of the Revised Penal Code: “In applying the provisions of Articles 148 and 151 of this Code, teachers, professors and persons charged with the supervision of public or duly recognized private schools, colleges and universities, and lawyers in the actual performance of their professional duties or on the occasion of such performance, shall be deemed persons in authority.”[]
  14. Article 177, RPC, Id.,Usurpation of authority or official functions. – Any person who shall knowingly and falsely represent himself to be an officer, agent or representative of any department or agency of the Philippine Government or of any foreign government, or who, under pretense of official position, shall perform any act pertaining to any person in authority or public officer of the Philippine Government or any foreign government, or any agency thereof, without being lawfully entitled to do so, shall suffer the penalty of prision correccional in its minimum and medium periods.”[]
  15. Rule 138, Sec. 35, Revised Rules of Court [RRC-Legal Ethics]: Certain attorneys not to practice. — No judge or other official or employee of the superior courts or of the Office of the Solicitor General, shall engage in private practice as a member of the bar or give professional advice to clients.[]
  16. Ibid.[]
  17. People vs. Villanueva, 14 SCRA 109[]
  18. Art. VIII Sec. 13, 1987 Constitution: The President, Vice-President, the Members of the Cabinet, and their deputies or assistants shall not, unless otherwise provided in this Constitution, hold any other office or employment during their tenure. They shall not, during said tenure, directly or indirectly, practice any other profession, participate in any business, or be financially interested in any contract with, or in any franchise, or special privilege granted by the Government or any subdivision, agency, or instrumentality thereof, including government-owned or controlled corporations or their subsidiaries. They shall strictly avoid conflict of interest in the conduct of their office.[]
  19. Art IX-A, Sec. 2, 1987 Constitution[]
  20. Art. IX, Sec. 8 (2nd par), 1987 Constitution[]
  21. R.A. No. 7160, Sec. 90: Practice of Profession. x x x . . . Provided, That sanggunian members who are also members of the Bar shall not: (1) Appear as counsel before any court in any civil case wherein a local government unit or any office, agency, or instrumentality of the government is the adverse party; (2) Appear as counsel in any criminal case wherein an officer or employee of the national or local government is accused of an offense committed in relation to his office. x x x . . .[]
  22. Art. VI, Sec. 14, 1987 Constitution: No Senator or Member of the House of Representatives may personally appear as counsel before any court of justice or before the Electoral Tribunals, or quasi-judicial and other administrative bodies. Neither shall he, directly or indirectly, be interested financially in any contract with, or in any franchise or special privilege granted by the Government, or any subdivision, agency, or instrumentality thereof, including any government-owned or controlled corporation, or its subsidiary, during his term of office. He shall not intervene in any matter before any office of the Government for his pecuniary benefit or where he may be called upon to act on account of his office.[]
  23. Id., Section 90, item no. b [3][]
  24. Id., Section 90, item no. b [4][]
  25. RA 910, Section 1[]
  26. Arceli Y. Santos vs. Judge Ubaldino A. Lacurom, A.M. No. RTJ-041823 August 28, 2006[]
  27. Ibid.[]
  28. Ibid.[]

RALB Law | RABR & Associates Law Firm

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