Tuesday, July 31, 2001

This Made Me Laugh

Judge: What are you accused of?
Accused: Your Honor, I am accused of making big money.
Judge (to Prosecutor): Mr. Prosecutor is that a crime?
Prosecutor: Your Honor, he made money half an inch bigger than the real thing!

(From Jokes by Legal Fiction by Ferdinand S. Topacio)
What To Expect When You Are Suing or Being Sued
(Work in Progress)

Continuation of Chapter One


Big Law Firms vs. Small Law Firms vs. Solo Practitioners

In the last discussion (see earlier post), we enumerated seven basic tips in choosing a lawyer when you are suing or being sued. These are as follows: 1. Choose a litigation lawyer; 2. Choose a lawyer who knows how to communicate; 3. Choose a lawyer who has handled a similar case in the past. 4. Choose a lawyer who is accessible; 5. Choose a lawyer who has time for your case; 6. Choose a lawyer you can trust; and, 7. Choose a lawyer you can afford. These qualities are not idealistic. Believe me, they exist. You just have to find the right person.

In choosing lawyers, one of the most common decision points is whether to get a big law firm, a small firm or a solo practitioner. The following will help you navigate through the maze and hopefully get you the right lawyer for the job.

Where you can find them.
In the Philippine legal circle, the lawyers are either practicing with big law firms (about 30 to 100 lawyers), small law firms (more than two but less than 30 lawyers), or alone. In the cities, you can find the law firms. The big ones are mostly in Makati and Ortigas. The small ones are in other parts of Metro Manila. Cebu and Davao have satellite offices of the big firms in Makati. The single practitioners are often found in the provinces. The Lawyer's Review has a listing of law firms and solo practitioners. It includes email, telephone and office addresses. Ask for an appointment and ask them how they categorize their law firms in terms of the above.

It's still the Seven Traits
In shopping for legal service, the ultimate standards are still those seven traits mentioned above. You may have hired a big law firm, but if the lawyer assigned to you happens to miss out on the above traits -- like for example, she's got too much work and is not easy to access, then your illusions of having a top gun law firm is nothing. Thus, in the primary consideration is still the above seven traits, big firm or small firm.

The Edge of the Big Law Firms
The distinction between big and small firms is, however, relevant when you consider the expanse of your legal requirements. Big law firms normally have an expert on every legal aspect of litigation. If your case involves an intricate web of estate, corporate, criminal and civil issues that also involves appearing before different courts, the big law firms may have better resources to help you. They have more lawyers who can be pulled into the team even just for advice when litigation begins to thread on unfamiliar grounds. However, if your case involves a simple violation of bouncing checks law, hiring a big law firm may be inappropriate.

The Edge of the Small Law Firms

If you are the type who likes to work with people they can be friends with, the small law firms are likely for you. Small law firms have more time to be personable with their clients. The premise is small law firms have a smaller client base, though not necessarily smaller revenues. Thus, they have more time for customer relations. You call them after office hours for a drink, they'd be there for you. Moreover, they would not mind you calling late since their schedules are not as structured as the lawyers in the big firms. However, the impression that they will charge less as against big law firms is not a generalization that can be made easily. We will discuss this later on this chapter. But for the moment, disengage your minds from the idea that a small law firm will charge you less than big law firm for the same work. It is not the case.

Outside the Metropolis
If you have to litigate outside Metro Manila, you may wish to consider the local lawyers instead of bringing in your lawyers from the firms. To begin with, city lawyers will charge you for the travel expenses that can amount to a lot. You save on that with local lawyers. Second, local lawyers are more familiar with how things work in their courts. They know what makes the judge and his staff tick. This will come in handy in situations when distance is a disadvantage -- e.g. a TRO on its way to your doorstep and you don't even know it. But be sure to ask around for the local superstars. There are a lot of good practitioners in the provinces. You will be surprised. However, if you cannot find the seven traits in any of the local lawyers, go for your trusted big law firm lawyers. Your savings will amount to nothing, if you lose your case anyway.

Appellate Proceedings
In appellate proceedings, I believe the law firms have the edge as against the sole practitioner. The big law firms usually assign three lawyers to work on the case. The junior associate does most of the legwork. The senior associate is the operator -- the lawyer who can work on your case from the research to the proofreading of the final pleadings. The partner is the strategist, the man with the sage advice and the person who polishes the final product. Thus, the chances of error are minimized as more lawyers get a chance to review the pleading before it is filed. Thus, the bigger the law firm, the bigger the expectation for the firm to come up with good and well-researched pleadings. This will then enhance your chance of making it on appeal.

(To be continued)
Next edition: Haggling on the fees

Monday, July 30, 2001


by Marvin B. Aceron and Ces L. Aceron

Some accomplish it haphazardly, while others fill out the blanks with careful attention to detail. Either way, filling out a birth certificate form for a newborn is an experience most parents don't really recall much about or even bother to mention over coffee breaks. Let's face it, it's routine, and downright uneventful. But here's a question for you, if it isn't something somebody would bother getting a souvenir photograph about, why do some people spend thousands of pesos rectifying some infinitesimal discrepancies in their own birth records today? (And they're not even the thugs we'd think them to be, but quite ordinary folks.) It's because the birth certificate remains to be one of the most important legal documents of a person. In this regard, we here are some tips in accomplishing your child's birth certificate. We sincerely hope this information will prove handy in avoiding future legal problems.

1. Avoid long and complicated names. If you decide to give your child more than two names --say, Jose Amado Francisco -- chances are he will drop one or two of them in the future. Once this happens, the discrepancies in his records will arise. It may then be difficult and expensive to straighten the discrepancies by that time. Thus, long names are not advisable. As for complicated names, your child might be able to spell them correctly, but others will not be as careful. Take Marvin for example. When he applied to take the bar exams, his first name "Eldrige" was mis-spelled as "Eldridge" by the bar confidante. It was just a few weeks before the bar, and he had to take the trouble of explaining the discrepancy to the authority or face the prospects of not being able to take the bar at all. (Take note that while Eldrige is not even that complicated, people have already been having trouble spelling it ever since he was a kid.)

2. Accomplish the birth certificate form as soon as possible. Have it in your mental list of things to do after delivery (somewhere between announcing the news to friends and settling hospital bills). You see, the danger in not securing the birth certificate as early as possible is that it might be forgotten altogether. Take the case of former presidential candidate Mayor Fred Lim. He was already a law graduate when his birth certificate was secured, not to mention he also had to do it himself. Worse, he was accused of falsifying his birth certificate to hide his ancestry. This could have been avoided if the birth certificate forms were accomplished earlier on by his guardians.In some hospitals, accomplishing the birth certificate form is part of the routine services they provide. However, if the mother gives birth out of the hospital or in a hospital that does not provide this service, the responsibility of accomplishing the birth certificate forms rests solely on the parents. It should be done immediately.

3. Make sure all the details in the birth certificate are accurate. Keep in mind that the birth certificate should state true facts. Any false statement in the document is likely to lead to trouble for the kid, not to mention criminal responsibility for the parent who filled out the form --you can be charged with perjury. Asi Taulava, the basketball player, was deported because his Filipina mother's birthplace (which is Samar) was indicated as Tonga in his birth certificate. Thanks to his lawyers (which happens to be the law firm where Marvin works for) he is back playing in the Philippine Basketball Association, but not after so much trouble and expense. The same kind of problem will be faced by all the illegitimate children who were registered as legitimate by their unwed mothers. The birth certificate is only a record of the details about your child. It is not meant to correct deficiencies in life, so be true.

4. Proofread the birth certificate at least five times before it is signed. This is the key to most of the problems in the birth certificate. Unfortunately, when it is realized, it is too late. The birth certificate should be read over and over until the document is perfect. Check if the inputs are correctly spelled. Look for the missing letters, the wayward commas, the excess periods, etc. A missing letter or an extra one can cause you thousands of pesos in legal expenses in the future. If your find errors before the form is signed, demand that the form be re-typed. Never mind if the typist is nasty. There is no compromise to perfection in these kinds of documents.

5. Stick to what is written on the birth certificate. The only way to change the details in the birth certificate is through a legal proceeding: administrative or judicail -- either way it is cumbersome) . If there are mistakes to be corrected, if should be done as early as possible before more complications arise. Otherwise, the details in the birth certificate should be used consistently in all of your child's legal papers. The same details should appear in his school records, passport, visa applications, medical records, applications to take board exams, insurance and the like. Any discrepancy can be the source of legal trouble.

6. Keep extra certified true copies of the birth certificate. The original copy of the birth certificate will be kept by the Register of Deeds. You should however keep your own copy. But not just any photocopy. You should ask for copies which the Civil Register will certify as true copies. As long as they are certified, they will be treated like the original by all institutions which will require them from your child. Keep at least ten copies in your files to avoid going back to the Civil Registry more often than you like. An immediate need for you would be in claiming the SSS/GSIS maternity benefit. As for your kid, for starters, he will be needing them when you begin applying him in schools, or in signing him up for sports competitions where there are age requirements.

So the moment that seemingly inconsequential piece of paper is shoved into your hand, don't fill it out in haste. Sit down. Think carefully. Remember, it shouldn't have to take the pressure of some board exam or election requirement to shake you into realizing that the birth certificate is indeed a serious document.

Originally published in Ginsgersnaps Magazine

Sunday, July 29, 2001

Noted Decision of the Philippine Supreme Court

The Philippine Supreme Court recently released a ruling (OFW v. Comelec et al. and Bayan Muna v. Comelec et. al. June 26, 2001) that the Philippine style party list system is open only for the marginalized sectors of society such as labor, peasant, fisherfolk, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, elderly, handicapped, women, youth, veterans, overseas workers, and professionals. The decision clarified the concept created under the 1987 Constitution where people could vote for parties and not personalities. The system was supposed to make 20% of the Philippine Congress to be composed by these underrepresented sectors of Philippine society. The Philippine elite messed it all up when it succeeded in lobbying the Congress and Comelec to allow any organization or party to run for elections regardless of the status of the lives of their members. Thus, in the last Congress even a bloc of rich coconut landowners managed to get a seat. My goodness! At least, the decision has settled the matter and has put back in place one of the notable legacies of the 1986 Philippine EDSA Revolution. An excerpt of the decision goes like this,

"The import of the open party-list system may be more vividly understood when compared to a student dormitory “open house,” which by its nature allows outsiders to enter the facilities. Obviously, the “open house” is for the benefit of outsiders only, not the dormers themselves who can enter the dormitory even without such special privilege. In the same vein, the open party-list system is only for the “outsiders” who cannot get elected through regular elections otherwise; it is not for the non-marginalized or overrepresented who already fill the ranks of Congress."

The complete text is found at the Supreme Court website.

Prof. Doug Linder's Famous Trials
This site packs solid famous trials material fit for an encyclodedia. It discusses at least 24 famous trials including the Amistad trials, the OJ Simpson Trial, the three trials of Oscar Wilde and the Scopes "Monkey" Trial among others. The Amistad trial discussion alone is a great companion to the 1997 Steven Spielberg film. Prof. Doug Linder, a law professor from the University of Misouri Kansis City Law School, packs the site with pictures, stenographic notes, decisions, short biographies of the personalities involved, and the really engaging opening and closing arguments. I found myself going back to this site over and over again and until now I haven't finished it because Prof. Doug LInder continues to update with new famous trials write ups. A must read for any legal eagle.

Friday, July 27, 2001

(Work in Progress)


Chapter One


Somebody once said that choosing a lawyer is like choosing a gun. You get the big long AK-47s for big battles where the stakes are high and the caliber .38 for those of lesser scale where small is efficient. The comparison is quite accurate. I say "quite" because there are notable exceptions. Sometimes you may need a bazooka for the small case that has the potential of escalating to a big case. Besides, not everyone can have the luxury of having a collection of lawyers in her arsenal. Yet, the comparison emphasizes the most important consideration in choosing a lawyer: you must have the right lawyer for the job. But how do you know if you have the lawyer for the job? Here are seven basic traits that I think are important in choosing a lawyer when you're suing or being sued.

1. To begin with, you need a litigation lawyer. A litigation lawyer is one whose work is at least 80% devoted to courtroom cases. I say 80% because that means the lawyer is almost, if not totally, immersed in the litigation environment. These are the lawyers with contacts with stenographers, sheriffs, legal researchers, clerks of court, and even policemen -- the small guys who do the real work and make the case progress. It can make a lot of difference if your lawyer knows these small people.

In addition, you have to realize that litigation work is not taught in law schools. Law schools teach only laws and procedures but not technique. Technique is the key to making a case progress to victory. It involves getting the right manner of drafting pleadings, asking questions, arguing in court, in order that the judge will rule in your favor. A lawyer, even the bar topnotcher or law school valedictorian, will never learn technique unless he is immersed in litigation.

More importantly, litigation lawyers can deal with judges. A lot of judges have idiosyncrasies that need to be tolerated. Litigation lawyers who are used to that can handle situations with these judges better than non-litigation lawyers. They are less jittery, if at all, even in the face of the most obnoxious judge. So don't take chances on a corporate lawyer, get a litigation lawyer.

2. Your lawyer should know how to communicate. Litigation is all about persuasion. Persuasion rests on the skill of communication. If your lawyer can't speak or write well, he is no good. Watch her English. If her P's and F's are misplaced, get another. Ask her opinion, if you do not understand what she said. Get another. If she is able to convince you, chances are she can convince the judge. Get her.

3. Get a litigation lawyer who has handled a similar case in the past. It only takes one case to make a field of law an area of competence. Five cases of the same nature can make a master. If your lawyer has handled a similar case in the past your lawyer is familiar with the horizon surrounding your legal conflict and will be less likely to commit technical errors. She is a prized possession.

4. Your lawyer should be accessible. You should be able to see her when you need to. She should be able to respond to your phone calls and emails. The best is someone who works next door. The nearer her office is to your office, the better. Sometimes, cases can be as terrifying as a policeman knocking at your door with a warrant of arrest. Your lawyer should be reachable during such critical times.

5. Your lawyer should have time for you and your case. Your lawyer should not be too busy with other work. Otherwise, she is bound to neglect your case. Ensure that your lawyer is not taking more work than she can handle. Beware of the overworked lawyer. Their type get burned out and lose their passion for their work. They are more prone to commit mistakes because they do things in a rush. Your lawyer should only have enough in her hands a given time. If you think that se has more work than she can handle, go find another.

6. Your lawyer should be someone you can trust. Beware of lawyers who volunteer connections to broker deals with judges before they can even discuss the merits of the case. They will hit you big time and you will end up with a losing the case. Remember, even if you succeed in bribing judges, the justice system is bound to get you somewhere along the judicial hierarchy. If you have an awfully bad case, you are bound to lose no matter what. So don't trust lawyers whose primary practice is influence peddling.

7. Your lawyer should be someone you can afford. Do not get indebted to a lawyer. Your lawyer will not hesitate to drop you if you get into a situation that you are not able to pay her and she knows when to do it There are expensive lawyers and there are free lawyers. The quality of service is not necessarily linked with the price. Get someone you can afford so you will not get indebted.

(To be continued) Copyright 2001. MBAceron. All rights reserved.
Next edition: Big law firms vs. Small law firms v. Solo Practitioners

Monday, July 23, 2001


We found the idea whose time has come. We want a website that will help non-lawyers understand the law and the lawyers. .We will post articles on the law and the lawyers. We will include jokes, links, comments and pictures from our unique perspective as a member of the much maligned profession of law. Visit us once in a while. It will be informative and fun.