Ambay, Fritzie Jane: The Cyberspace Lawyer – The Legal Implications of Online Legal Consultation

Introduction

As I am gathering data which could support this paper, I came across this cached exchange of messages in a forum about legal matters. It was a forum created by a lawyer with the objective of helping others on their legal problems. Below is an excerpt of the said forum:

legal advice pls • (766 bytes)
Posted: 7/29/2004 • 13:30 GMT+8
Quote-reply
I have a friend na nagpakasal last 2000 sa isang taong nagtratrabaho sa gobyerno. Lately nalaman nya na marami na palang babae ang kinasama ng husband nya at may mga anak pa cya sa mga babaeng ito, lahat ng mga bata ay dala ang surname ng asawa nya, nakausap ng kaibigan ko ang isa sa kanila at kiniclaim ng babae na kasal din daw cla, may nakita din and friend ko ng kopya ng marriage contract pero sa ibang babae din, confused cya kung cya talaga ang legal na asawa, nag check na cya sa nso pero ang friend ko lang ang may record na kasal sa husband nya, nag confront na cla at sabi ay fake daw yung mga nauna, kung ganun bakit nakapagdala ng apelido nya ang mga bata e recently lng naman ang bakong batas. Ano kaya ang pwede ikaso ang kaibigan ko sa husband nya. 
re:legal advice pls • (130 bytes)
Posted: 8/23/2004 • 09:30 GMT+8
Quote-reply
Bigamy

Quote: crista_98 posted on 7/29/2004 | 13:30
…Ano kaya ang pwede ikaso ang kaibigan ko sa husband nya.
re:legal advice pls • (450 bytes)
Posted: 8/23/2004 • 15:29 GMT+8
Quote-reply
sir allan,
 
cnasabi sa case ng kaibigan niya, ang lumilitaw sa nso, ang recorded lang na kasal ay sa kaibigan niya. kung ito’y totoo, ang presumption ay – ang legal lang na kasal ay sa friend niya. kung ang friend niya lang ang legal na kasal at ang friend niya ang pinaka huling pinakasalan ng lalaki, paanong magkakaroon ng bigamy sa case ng lalaki? paki explain naman. mukhang di mo pa napagaaralan ang bigamy. i think first year ka pa lang ano. 
re:legal advice pls • (543 bytes)
Posted: 8/24/2004 • 10:44 GMT+8
Quote-reply
sorry i didn’t qualify my answer.
 
kung mapapatunayan na may existing previous marriage eh pwedeng bigamy. so kung mapapatunayan na fake lahat yung unang mga kasal, hindi bigamy yun.
 
now kung yung previous marriages eh void ab initio or voidable pero hindi nagkaroon ng judicial decree eh pwede pa din namang kasuhan ng bigamy dahil it is not for the spouses but for the court to declare their marriage null and void.
 
well honestly hindi ako gaanong nagandahan sa last statement mo jojo sana wag gaano sa conviction sa ibang tao, oki. 
re:legal advice pls • (562 bytes)
Posted: 8/26/2004 • 10:39 GMT+8
Quote-reply
sir allan,
 
mukhang balat sibuyas ka. di mo ba naiintindihan, nasa public forum ka. iba iba ang tao dito. iba iba ang pagiisip. laht dito ay may kalayaang magsabi ng kung ano gusto niya. the fact na sumali ka rito, you have to expect the worst. kung sa tingin ng iba, mali ang sinasabi mo, pupunahin ka nila. kung mali kami or mali ako, pwede ka naman magsabi ng kung ano gusto mo. walang bini baby dito. kung mahina puso mo, wag ka na lang sumali dito… mukhang mababait ang mga law professors mo. mukhang di ka pa namumura or naiinsulto ng professors mo. 
re:legal advice pls • (815 bytes)
Posted: 8/27/2004 • 10:22 GMT+8
Quote-reply
I guess if freedom of speech would mean this way, we will NEVER have a peaceful country..EVER!!! Forums should be straightforward but to the stictest level of objectivity. Hindi naman pinag uusapan ang ugali ng tao dito.Anong sense na i criticize mo kaalaman ng iba? Dont you even realize that all of us are here to help one another and not destroy our fellow men? Kung galit ka sa mundo, ikaw ang wag sumali sa forum!!! Di ka kailangan ng mga nangangailangan dito!!! You are a pessimist chauvinist!! If you know better, then help! But if you know less, SHUT UP!!! 
http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:Xb4czRcQiU4J:forums.gov.ph/thread.asp%3FrootID%3D26298%26catID%3D23+”Kung+galit+ka+sa+mundo,+ikaw+ang+wag+sumali+sa+forum!”&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=ph (cached from forums.gov.ph, last accessed April 7, 2010)

The war between them continued in the thread. Unfortunately, the supposed consultation on a legal problem turned out to be a heated argument on one’s reputation. Perhaps the reason why it was deleted is because it did not turn out to be a healthy forum for legal matters. It resulted to a somewhat libelous accusation on one’s personality—way different from the objectives of the lawyer in creating such a forum. I wonder if the said lawyer still maintains that kind of forum.

With the emergence of modern technology such as the internet, legal activities are now becoming within our reach. Legal advices can now be had without going out of the house and by just entering a website or a forum in the internet for that matter. In online legal communication, all that is needed is the computer and the internet connection. Answers to law problems can now be had at one’s fingertips if properly sought or properly given. This is one face of the modern way of seeking legal advice from a lawyer online. In this paper, we shall term this lawyer as the “cyberspace lawyer”.

Legal Consultation

Before going through the nature, features and implications of legal consultations online, it is important to know and understand first the basics of legal consultation.

Consultation is a meeting or discussion between the clients and their counsels or attorneys for the purpose of seeking the latter’s advice on matters relating to the application and interpretation of laws. It is a mature deliberation of and probe on the client’s legal problem during a specific and with a sufficient period of time in order to advance their cause (Black’s Law Dictionary; http://www.lectlaw.com/def/c292.htm. last accessed: April 8, 2010; http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/advice. last accessed April 8, 2010).

Consultation is the primary task in engaging the services of the lawyer. The act of consulting may be patterned to a doctor-patient consultation, wherein, the client consults his medical condition by communicating with the doctor certain symptoms; and the doctor, in turn, provides diagnosis on his medical condition and gives out proper remedy or treatment over the same. In legal consultation, the clients provide the “symptoms” or the factors that led to the problem. In turn, the lawyer, upon probing over the clients’ legal problem, provides a legal advice in a form of an opinion or a recommendation. Both the doctor-patient consultation and the attorney-client consultation have the same purpose: to advance the interests of their client.

Traditionally, before the existence of online legal consultation, the act of legal consultation is quite tedious. One has to know a lawyer, his contact details and where his office is located. Before seeking a legal advice, the client needs to ask for an appointment first usually by calling the lawyer’s office. Calling for an appointment is done during office hours or reasonable hours. Once the appointment was made, the client may visit the lawyer in his office at the available date and time specified by the lawyer. This is where consultation begins. It may take more than a day before one to know the answers to his legal problem.

In the traditional method of legal consultation, both parties—the lawyer and his client—are clearly identified, the time of consultation are pre-scheduled and usually at the reasonable hours. Here, the requirement that the consultation be in person is vital. These requirements seem to make legal consultation tedious because a number of steps are required before a client meets his lawyer.

Online Legal Consultation

The online legal consultation sprouted with the emergence of modern technology especially the internet. In seeking legal advice online, one has to engage the services of a lawyer who renders the same online. Hence, a computer and an internet connection become the primary necessity in this kind of legal activity.

It was said that online legal consultation resulted from economic competition between lawyers and others who seemed to be providing services online. These “competitors” are said to be real estate agents, bankers, insurance adjusters and others who are providing legal forms online for the consumer’s needs. The emergence of these professionals preparing legal forms for a private person seems to be a threat to the supposed work of a lawyer. Because of such “competition”, some lawyers resorted to online services to reach their respective clients. Most of the cyberspace lawyers resort on rendering services online with the primary aim of offering services to millions of low- and middle-income people who feels that they cannot afford lawyers in the easiest and most expedient manner. (www.doctoc.com/docs/2533733/on-line-legal-advice last accessed: 2/22/2010).

There are a number of ways to consult with a cyberspace lawyer: through a forum, a lawyer’s website, email or chat. One can engage the services of a cyberspace lawyer regardless of time and place.

The most common among them is through a forum (like the example in the introduction) in which, a private person posts a legal problem on a wall which can be viewed publicly; and the answers of the lawyer are also posted in the same wall and also viewed publicly. Most of the forum requires prior registration before posting messages. It is sometimes not regulated, in the manner that, anyone can post message or comment of any subject under the sun. In some forums, the moderator who is the usually the cyberspace lawyer is given the controls. He has the power to delete irrelevant posts or even to close the forum. The forum on legal matters is generally for free and accessible to all.

On the other hand, engaging the services of the lawyer by visiting his website gives a certain touch of confidentiality and intimacy between the cyberspace lawyer and the “client”. It shows confidentiality because most of the lawyer’s websites do not show in public the client’s legal problem. Normally, the legal advice is sought and received in a system which is generated in that website. Payments of attorney’s fees are also done wirelessly, usually with a credit card.

The services of the cyberspace lawyer can also be made via email. The email of the lawyer is sometimes taken online on a website that provide for his contact details. The exchange of messages between the lawyer and his client are also made private. Among the abovementioned methods of online legal consultation, email is the most regulated. The authenticity of messages can be validated under the E-Commerce Law (Republic Act No. 8792).

While in the three mentioned methods of online legal consultation seem to incur delays in the exchange of messages, legal consultation via chat is somewhat different. It is an interactive manner of seeking advice in which both the lawyer and the client are online at the same time and the exchange of messages are real-time. The lawyer and the client may use different ways to communicate with each other aside from encoding messages and sending the same. They may use a webcam and a microphone for a speedy and more effective communication.

The growth of a number of ways to connect to a cyberspace lawyer shows that legal advices that could solve human problems can now be possessed by the client at his fingertips in no time. The client does not need to go out of his home to look for a lawyer to help him in his problem. All the information and contact details are now available online.

Online Legal Consultations in the Philippines

In the Philippines, seeking the services of the lawyer is somewhat limited. Most of the cyberspace lawyers render their legal services by moderating a forum on legal matters. Some, on the other hand, posts their contact details on a website like a classified ad.

The forum usually consists of broad disclaimers that no attorney-client relationship shall be created between the lawyer and the one seeking his advice. The disclaimers further provide that these forums only promote academic dynamism by educating the sender on his rights under existing laws. Some forums claim that their objective is to provide legal services about basic legal concerns to those who cannot afford to consult a lawyer—but boldly emphasizes that there shall be no attorney-client relationship that is to be created.

The regulations governing the forum are usually created and imposed by the moderator or the cyberspace lawyer himself. Some rules have to be followed by its members, like the following:

  1. No text/SMS messages shall be sent to the lawyer.
  2. Avoid long winding story.
  3. Provide name to addressed properly.

Aside from the regulations, the moderator or the cyberspace lawyer also indicates services which he cannot render to online members. The lawyer excludes certain matters that cannot be made a subject of the forum. Examples of these are the following:

  • review of contracts
  • writing and sending of a demand letter
  • series of follow up questions
  • extensive review of a particular legal problem
  • recommending a lawyer to handle the case
  • representation in court or government offices related to the subject inquiry
  • actual meeting for extensive legal view and opinion on a particular problem
  • school assignment questions
  • samples of demand letters or templates of legal forms
  • comments to the opinion of other lawyer to whom the sender had already sought an advice
  • and other acts of representation as counsel are not covered by the free legal advice in this posting.

Another form of rendering legal services online is through posting the lawyer’s contact details, background and services in an online classified ad. In this form, the cyberspace lawyer publicly posts his full name, roll of attorneys number, picture, contact details and brief background about himself to establish authority in rendering legal services. It also posts subject matters about law of which he is an expert. This kind also encourages the use of an email in communicating with the lawyer. An example of this type can be seen by visiting this page:
http://www.sulit.com.ph/index.php/view+classifieds/id/1226126/Philippine+Lawyer/Attorney+Free+Legal+Advice+On+Line#ixzz0kUWI2w8j (Last accessed: February 22, 2010)

It is observed that the second form of online legal consultation in the Philippines does not promote real-time interaction. It seems to be used for informational purposes only. It only provides how the lawyer can be contacted.

Foreign Setting

Online Legal consultation abroad is more liberal and advanced than that in the Philippines. The online network provides a number of ways in availing people of the services of the lawyer. Among them are joining the forum, visiting the website of the lawyer, sending an email or chatting with the cyberspace lawyer. In here, payments of attorney’s fees are made online, usually by a credit card. They are billed according to the package of services that they have availed of.

Below are snapshots of certain websites that renders legal services. Through this, it will be shown how the online communication works between the cyberspace lawyer and the client.

[Snapshot of OnlineConsultation.com website in the original]

The above snapshot shows that this website is designed for different professionals such as the lawyers, doctors and financial advisors. As seen above, it is observed that it provides step by step ways to reach them: by email consultation which allows the client to ask questions in writing and continue the consultation with an online doctor, lawyer or financial advisor; or by e-messaging consultation which allows the client to receive a live advice from the said professionals using immediate, real-time instant messaging. Like most of the websites of professionals, it requires registration among members to properly identify themselves and/or authenticate their identity.

[Snapshot of LegalAdviceLine.com website in the original]

On the other hand, one side that is specifically designed for lawyers is that of legaladviceline.com. It uses unbundled legal services for the public. These are services that group legal services into categories. In the above example, the unbundled legal services they offer are small claims, creating a legal document, document review and arbitration services. Aside from that, there is also a directory of lawyers who offer their services at a reduced fee. These unbundled legal services are like menus that contain legal tasks from which the client selects only the services that he needs for a specified fee. (www.docstoc.com/docs/2533733/on-line-legal-advice. Last accessed: February 22, 2010)

[Snapshot of Helplinelaw.com website in the original]

Helplinelaw.com, is an example of an advanced online legal consultation. This site specifically determines how the cyberspace lawyer is paid. In here, lawyer’s fees are paid according to experience or to the duration of conference between the lawyer and the client. The higher the experience of the lawyer is, the higher the rate of his fees. Likewise, the longer the duration of the conference with the lawyer, the higher the rate is. This website also offers unbundled services like business law, civil litigation, family law, government agencies and taxation, immigration and appeal and real estate wills probate and trust.

The website also requires prior registration both among lawyers and clients. This is to secure identity of the members who are seeking or rendering legal advice. Moreover, a directory of cyberspace lawyers is also provided to ensure easy access on them.

Legal Issues

Together with the hype of online legal consultations in the Philippines and abroad, legal issues over the same also arise. This method of consultation is faced with a lot of questions such as the following:

  1. Can online legal consultation be considered a practice of law?
  2. Does it create an attorney client relationship? If there is, can the court uphold that there is attorney-client relationship despite the broad disclaimer that there is none?
  3. Can the lawyer be subject to malpractice if he is found negligent in giving out an advice?
  4. Will it be covered by legal advertisement provisions of the Code of Professional Responsibility?
  5. Are the persons seeking advice protected in online legal consultations?

Can it be considered a practice of law?

To determine whether online legal consultation may be considered a practice of law, it is necessary to discuss what the practice of law is.

The nature of practice of law are governed by the Code of Professional Responsibility, Rule 139-B of the Revised Rules of Court on Disbarment and Discipline of Attorneys, judicial decisions, statutes, Constitution, treaties and publications. It refers to any activity, in or out of court which requires the application of law, legal procedure, knowledge, training and experience (Cayetano vs. Monsod). It implies holding one’s office for the public for compensation as a source of livelihood or in consideration of his services (People vs. Villanueva 14 SCRA 108).

The practice of law is not limited to the conduct of cases or litigation in court. A person engages in a practice of law by the following acts, inter alia:

  1. Giving legal advice
  2. Drafting legal documents for clients
  3. Representing clients in legal negotiations and court proceedings
  4. Preparation of pleadings
  5. Management of actions and proceedings on behalf of judges and courts
  6. Negotiating with opposing counsel about pending litigation
  7. Fixing and collecting fees for services rendered by his associate (Philippine Lawyer’s Association v. Agrava 105 Phil 175; Black’s Law Dictionary; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Practice of Law. Last accessed: April 8, 2010)

From the about information, hence, the test on determining whether an act of the lawyer is considered a practice of law is whether or not such activity, in or out of court, requires the application of law.

The basic issue now arise: Can online legal consultation be considered a practice of law? The researcher submits that it is in the affirmative. The practice of law is too broad that it covers all kinds of activity that requires the application of laws or legal knowledge by a member of the bar. Anything that involves the knowledge, application and interpretation of law is a practice of law.

Since online legal consultations require knowledge and interpretation of laws, it can be considered a practice of law. The activities performed in legal consultations online are almost the same with face-to-face legal consultation. They only differ in the manner on how they are conducted. Since face to face legal consultation are considered a practice of law. Online legal consultation, which is not far different from face-to-face legal consultation, can also be considered a practice of law.

Does online Communication create an attorney-client relationship?

Closely related to the practice of law is the creation of a professional relationship between the attorney and his client, which is commonly termed as attorney-client relationship. The cyberspace lawyer is not exempted from entering into such relationship.

To date, there have been no clear-cut criteria on what constitutes attorney-client relationship. It is still relative to the peculiar circumstances of each case which the courts shall thoroughly review.

Attorney-client relationship is created when a person, for instance, consults a lawyer on matters requiring his legal expertise. The lawyer, in turn, voluntarily permits with the consultation (Brube vs. Magulta). The advice given by the lawyer must be specific or tailored fit to the needs of the client. It must pertain to the facts of the client’s case. Offering general information about the law may not create such a relationship (www.docstoc.com/docs/2533733/on-line-legal-advice. Last accessed: February 22, 2010).

In the case of the cyberspace lawyer, attorney-client relationship may be created through an email exchange between the lawyer and the client. Another example is availing themselves of the services of the cyberspace lawyer.

There is an attorney-client relationship simply when client consults the lawyer of his legal problem and the lawyer, in turn, provides a specific advice or recommendation over the same.

Can the court uphold that there is attorney-client relationship despite the broad disclaimer that there is none?

It is observed in most of websites of cyberspace lawyers contains disclaimers such as the following:

“We will not have any liability to you at all if you use any document without obtaining appropriate legal advice as to its suitability for your particular requirements. Whatever advice you receive is the responsibility of the solicitor in any way or other person advising you and we cannot in any way be responsible for it” (www.desktoplawyer.co.uk. Last accessed: April 8, 2010).

Another example of a disclaimer is in LegalZoom.com. This website offers completed legal forms to consumers on divorces, wills and prenuptial agreements. However, the said website boldly claims that they do not practice law and that they are not acting as an attorney of anyone who wants to avail of their services. They boldly emphasize that no attorney-client relationship shall be created and thus, they do not incur any liability with them.

“LegalZoom is not a law firm, and the employees of LegalZoom are not acting as your attorney. LegalZoom does not practice law and does not give legal advice. This site is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship, and by using LegalZoom, no attorney-client relationship will be created with LegalZoom. Instead, you are representing yourself in any legal matter you undertake through LegalWiz. Furthermore, the legal information on this site is not legal advice and is not guaranteed to be correct, complete or up-to-date. Because the law changes rapidly, LegalZoom cannot guarantee that all the information on the site is completely current. The law is different from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and is also subject to interpretation by different courts. The law is a personal matter, and no general information or legal tool like the kind LegalZoom provides can fit every circumstance.

Therefore, if you need legal advice for your specific problem, or ifyour specific problem is too complex to be addressed by our tools, you should consult a licensed attorney in your area.” (Lanctot, Catherine J. Scriveners in Cyberspace: Online document preparation and the unauthorized practice of law. October 6, 2002. (www.hofstra.edu/PDF/law_lanctot.pdf. Last accessed 2/22/2010)

With the proliferation of disclaimers like these, can the court uphold that there is attorney-client relationship despite the broad disclaimer that there is none? Although there is no existing jurisprudence yet over the issue, the intents of the law can be clearly determined. In interpreting the law, courts have been especially protective to people who are seeking legal advice and entering into transactions with the assistance of lawyers (www.docstoc.com/docs/2533733/on-line-legal-advice. Last accessed: February 22, 2010).

Disclaimers which prejudice the rights of the clients and those that are contrary to law, morals, good customs, public order and public policy cannot be regarded as valid and effective. It is void and should not be enforced. The courts cannot sustain effectivity of these disclaimers if it sees that the acts of the cyberspace lawyers tend to be contrary to the actions of the makers and the participants of the website offering legal services. The disclaimer may be treated as a mere “legalese” if the conduct of the lawyer is inconsistent with the disclaimer. Likewise, the courts, in the interest of justice, may declare the existence of attorney-client relationship if it reasonably sees that there exists one (www.docstoc.com/docs/2533733/on-line-legal-advice. Last accessed: February 22, 2010) despite such disclaimer. One cannot escape the liabilities by simply posting a declaration such as those.

Can the lawyer be subject to malpractice if he is found negligent in giving out an advice?

In some methods of online legal consultations, the facts are wholly dependent on the client. Like in forums where the persons seeking advice are given limitations on posting their concerns, the client is constrained to limit the words to be posted in order to comply with the rules of the moderator. Consequently, the rules and limitation on posting legal concerns tend to deprive the cyberspace lawyer on not knowing the whole facts of the issue. The effect of giving advice based on incomplete facts is dangerous to the interests of the client. This situation may be likened to a doctor-patient scenario. If the doctor has not fully diagnosed and examined the condition of the patient, any treatment given to him may be a risk to his health. It is like giving the wrong cure to the wound.

Now, can be lawyer be subject to malpractice because of this? The answer would be in the affirmative. Canon 18 of the Code of Professional Responsibility expressly provides that a lawyer shall serve his client with competence and diligence. He shall not handle any legal matter without adequate preparation and shall not neglect a legal matter entrusted to him. He is presumed to employ his best efforts, learning and ability in protecting the interests of his client (Pineda, Ernesto L. Legal and Judicial Ethics. 1999 Ed. Phoenix Press, Inc., Quezon City, 1999).

Not knowing the whole facts of the case amounts to negligence of the lawyer. Careless rendering of advice betrays the lawyer’s lack of devotion to duty and lack of honesty and capacity. It destroys both the lawyer’s reputation and the client’s interests. He shall be liable for damages by reason of the lawyer’s negligence.

Will it be covered by legal advertisement provisions of the Code of Professional Responsibility?

Canon 2 of the Code of Professional Responsibility provides that the “lawyer shall make his legal services available in an efficient and convenient manner compatible with independence, integrity and effectiveness of the profession. A lawyer shall not do or permit to be done any act designed primarily to solicit legal business.”

“In the fixing of attorney’s fees, it must not be forgotten that the profession is a branch of the administration of justice and not a mere money-making trade (Pineda, Ernesto L. Legal and Judicial Ethics. 1999 Ed. Phoenix Press, Inc., Quezon City, 1999 citing Jayme vs. Bualan, 58 Phil 422). The lawyers should be watchful on offering services to people. Such offer must not be equivalent to an improper solicitation of legal business.

In the following excerpts of cases taken from the book of Ernesto Pineda (Legal and Judicial Ethics, 1999), the court condemns the unethical conduct of a lawyer in advertising his talents or skill like a merchant. This may be a guide in determining whether or not the cyberspace lawyer is performing unethical acts online.

Director of Religious Affairs vs. Bayot
74 Phil 579

Facts: Respondent is charged with malpractice for having published an advertisement in Sunday Tribunal of June 13 1943 which reads are follows—

“Marriage license promptly secured thru our assistance and the annoyance of delay or publicity avoided if desired and marriage arranged to wishes of parties. Consultation on any matter free for the poor. Everything confidential.

Legal assistance service
12 Escolta, Manila
Room 105, Tel. 2-41-60

Held: It is undeniable that the advertisement in question was a flagrant violation by the respondent of the ethics of his profession, it being a brazen solicitation of business from the public. Section 25 of Rule 127 expressly provides among other things that “the practice of soliciting cases at law for the purpose of gain, either personally or thru paid agents or brokers, constitutes malpractice.” It is highly unethical for an attorney to advertise his talents or skill as a merchant advertises his wares. Law is a profession and not a trade. The lawyer degrades himself and his profession who stoops to and adopts the practice of merchantilism by the advertising his services or offering them to the public. As a member of the bar, he defiles the temple of justice with mercenary activities as the money-changers of old defiled the temple of Jehovah. “The most worthy and effective advertisement possible, even for a young lawyer is the establishment of a well-merited reputation for professional capacity and fidelity to trust. This cannot be forced but must be the outcome of character and conduct.” (Canon 27, Code of Ethics)

Ulep vs. The Legal Clinic, Inc.
Bar Matter No. 553
June 17, 1993

Held: The Supreme Court enjoined the said corporation from issuing or causing the publication or dissemination of any advertisement in any form which is of the same or similar tenor and purpose of Annexes “A” and “B” of the petition, to wit:

SECRET MARRIAGE?
P560.00 for a valid marriage.
Info on DIVORCE, ABSENCE,
ANNULMENT, VISA.

THE
LEGAL
CLINIC, INC.
Please call: 521-0767
5217232, 5222041
8:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
7-Flr Victoria Bldg.
UN Ave., Mla.
 
GUAM DIVORCE
DON PARKINSON

An attorney in Guam, is giving FREE BOOKS on Guam Divorce through The Legal Clinic beginning Monday to Friday during office hours.

Guam divorce, Annulment of Marriage, Immigration Problems, Visa Ext. Quota/Non-quota Res. & Special Retiree’s Visa, Declaration of Absence, Remarriage to Filipina Fiancees, Adoption, Investment in the Phil. US/Foreign Visa for Filipina Spouse/Children. Call Marivic.

THE
LEGAL
CLINIC, INC.
7F Victoria Bldg. 429 UN Ave.
Ermita, Manila nr. US Embassy
Tel. 521-7232
521-7251
522-2041
521-0767

These advertisements are contrary to Rule 2.03 and Rule 3.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility.

The prime incorporator, major stockholder and proprietor of the Legal Clinic, Inc. being a member of the Philippine Bar is reprimanded with a stern warning not to repeat the same or similar act.

It must be noted that not all solicitation of legal business are forbidden. Solicitation must not destroy the dignity of the legal profession; it must be made in a modest and decorous manner. There are a number of ways on how proper solicitation of legal business can be permitted:

  1. Use of simple signs stating the names of the lawyers, office and residence address and contact details like a calling card
  2. Publication in reputable law lists with brief biographical and informative data
  3. Modest announcements about the opening of a law firm and stating its address
  4. Publication of contact details without advertising the lawyer’s talents and skills (Pineda, Ernesto L. Legal and Judicial Ethics. 1999 Ed. Phoenix Press, Inc., Quezon City, 1999)

Online websites offering legal services are also covered by the prohibition on soliciting legal business. However, if made in the manner provided above, the same may not be considered as unethical and thus may be permitted.

Are the persons seeking advice protected in online legal consultations?

While it is true that there is no jurisprudence yet on this matter, the courts cannot simply let the damage done to the innocent client pass. Our laws provide remedies in protecting the interests of one who is seeking the services of the cyberspace lawyer. The latter may be held liable for civil liability for any act that are contrary to law, morals, good customs, public order and public policy, or any display of negligence by the lawyer. The latter may also be liable for damages for the loss that the client has incurred.

The prejudiced client may file a complaint for disbarment if he finds that the acts of the lawyer is are performed with deceit, malpractice, or other gross misconduct in such office, or grossly immoral conduct. The lawyer may also be disbarred by reason of his conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude, or for any violation of the oath which he is required to take before the admission to practice. The practice of soliciting cases at law for the purpose of gain, either personally or through paid agents or brokers, constitutes malpractice, thus a ground for disbarment (Rule 138, Section 27, Rules of Court).

The persons seeking advice are not only protected by the harshness and negligence of cyberspace lawyers. They may also be protected against fraudulent practices of non-lawyers who maliciously misrepresent themselves as a lawyer thereby rendering legal advice to clients. The pretender may be subjected to criminal and civil actions.

It shall be noted that our laws always uphold the best interests of those whose rights are prejudiced by the unlawful acts of others. The activities involved in online legal consultation are not exempted from enforcing the same.

Conclusion

As online legal consultation in the Philippines is relatively new, there are still a number of areas probe on and to be regulated in order to protect the welfare of both the client and the cyberspace lawyer. With this, it is suggested that the following regulations or law shall be passed:

  1. Laws or regulations on securing the identity of the lawyer and the client
  2. Stiffer rules to protect the clients against misrepresentation by a non-lawyer
  3. Available remedies of a prejudiced client in online legal consultation
  4. Laws regulating the manner on how online legal consultation shall be conducted
  5. Jurisdiction of courts over cases arising from online legal consultations

It is also suggested that further studies may also be conducted on the matters abovementioned in order to provide an in depth knowledge on rendering legal services through an interconnected network.

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