Never be a lawyer to yourself

A LAWYER WHO HAS HIMSELF FOR A CLIENT IS A FOOL.

So goes a saying.

I personally witnessed the application of this quote in a hearing at a commercial court. It has been several years since the incident. I thus hope to be able to tell the story as faithfully as possible.

I do not intend to malign those involved, nor open old wounds between them. I simply write this as a learning lesson for junior lawyers who are drawn to the intriguing world of courtroom litigation.

Listen, and take notes.

What I recall of this incident was that, while it was excruciating to watch, it ended well.

It was excruciating because it involved a veteran lawyer, a distinguished law professor (who is known to our batch to have flunked half of a section and made a law student pass out during a recitation with just a glare, in our first year), and an LLM graduate from an Ivy-league.

On the other side, there stood a 70-year old or so lawyer whose impeccable credentials included being an officer in notable organizations, being a law professor as well, an accomplished author, and long-time practitioner (who probably had the occasion to meet or see legends the likes of Jose “Pepe” W. Dokno given his age).

It did not help that the two lawyers came from top law schools pitted against each other.

The incident was simply due to the veteran lawyer having secured a global compromise agreement from the other party-litigant resulting in a settlement of all cases pending in that court and elsewhere, without the knowledge or awareness of the older lawyer until it was already too late.

This is strictly prohibited in the legal profession.

You could just thus imagine the indignation of the older lawyer who berated the veteran lawyer for over half an hour in open court, before the judge (who himself was around 60-year old and who appeared to empathize), and about 30 spectators composed of lawyers and non-lawyers waiting for their cases to be heard.

The litany started with the older lawyer saying that, in his forty years of private practice, never has he encountered a brazen disregard of the rules and unethical behavior. He continued berating the veteran lawyer who was perhaps 20 years younger threatening disbarment having violated our Code of Professional Responsobility (CPR), which clearly prohibit a lawyer from directly communicating with another party who is already represented. The rule is meant to protect the public against lawyers who may use their authority and influence to intimidate non-lawyers into submission.

You may be wondering where the quote finds application in this story.

As the older lawyer was tearing apart the veteran lawyer, the latter brought in two (2) of his Senior Associate Lawyers from his law firm to represent him. While they did relatively well to defend their “client” who happened to be their boss (they even physically stood like chess rookies shielding their employer), they were of no match against the older lawyer who brought to the fore the weight of who he was, and he was someone and somebody. The older lawyer whipped the junior lawyers who received quite a beating that the veteran lawyer stepped into the ring so to speak and started representing himself.

The lesson in the saying readily manifested when the veteran lawyer now became his own client.

As he spoke, he was emotional.

It was uncharacteristic of him who is known to be cold, calculating, and rational. Emotional, he was not.

There he was haplessly defending his actions. He could not deny what he had done as, after all, the incident for the hearing is for the submission and approval of the very Compromise Agreement he secured from the other party without the knowledge or awareness of the older lawyer. He could not muster any argument that could justify his having disregarded the prohibition. All that could be deduced from his rambling was that it appeared that his client was an aunt (or a close relative) facing multiple cases, involving criminal actions. He had to do what he had to do.

Between heated exchange, the judge to his credit patiently listened to each side to understand where each one was coming from.

With just a few words by the judge, the matter would be resolved. He started saying that many disputes in life can easily be resolved with just three simple words.

I, along with other spectators, immediately deduced what those three words were resulting in smirks and silent laughter in the room.

I smiled and eagerly waited what would happpen next like a telenovela unfolding. Would the veteran lawyer do it? Would someone with his background say those words? Would a highly educated and accomplished lawyer admit and apologize?

What happened next shocked everyone silent.

On half-bended knee (yes, you read it right as if proposing marriage), the veteran lawyer said: “I am sorry.”

Mild and warm laughter filled the courtroom. The judge also gave a warm smile which was visible despite his thick glasses.

Perhaps caught off guard at the turn of events, the older lawyer who earlier was a roaring lion fell silent and appreciated hearing the apology and the gesture of the veteran lawyer who was on half-bended knee.

The apology was accepted.

The judge then called on the older lawyer’s client to confirm the voluntariness of her having signed the global compromise agreement. The client confirmed that she willfully signed without any intimidation or undue influence from the veteran lawyer. Hence, the judge approved the Compromise Agreement.

See, while it ended well, there is a lesson to be learned. Never be your own lawyer. You cannot be objective. Your emotions will cloud your judgment. Have another lawyer do the lawyering for you.