TEN BEST LAWYERS IN THE PHILIPPINES TODAY
In my seven years in the profession, I have seen hundreds of lawyers in action. I saw them negotiating, writing, appearing in court, pleading with authority, and doing everything they can to help their clients get out of bad situations. I have come to the conclusion that good lawyering is a matter of having good lawyer habits. The lawyers with the best instincts, and consequently the one who can best deliver legal service, are the ones with the best habits. They are the lawyers who have made excellence a habit of mind. They are very careful with their clients' interests and very creative. They can compete with the best lawyers of the world. I kept a tab all these years. If you are a lawyer and you are not here, it's either I haven't met you or you still haven't made the grade. Here is my Top Ten.
Francisco Ed. Lim
He pitched in for one week in my Evidence class and ran the classes like it were a military drill. We were expected to think on our feet, remember the fine points of the cases and laws, and speak out clearly. But I was more impressed when we worked with him in the multi-billion peso merger of PLDT and Smart. Precision of thought, clarity in language, a strong conviction for his advocacy -- he exhibited them all. A partner in the fabled ACCRA Law, he also runs a regular column on law in a national newspaper. His expertise appears to be corporate disputes.
This lawyer has a client who owed my client millions. He filed a case against us and prevented us from foreclosing on his clients' property. During the trial, he seamlessly made a clear presentation of his client's case, that I myself was convinced that he had case. He had no notes and he memorized each detail of our piles of documentary evidence. I spent sleepless nights on this man, thinking just how to get my client out of this fix. Now that I've given up the case, I say hats off to this man. He has a very good reputation as a trial lawyer. By the way, he is blind.
He is considered as one of the few experts in aviation law and is constantly battling the world's best lawyers in this field. I had the privilege of working with him in the multi-billion peso construction arbitration case against a French contractor and would forever be in awe of this great lawyer. Sak was our hitman against the French's expert witness, a lawyer-engineer with very impressive academic and professional credentials. Sak cross-examined the expert witness like a cook peeling off the skin of an onion. He was subtle, precise, organized, logical and persuasive. The French tried his best to live up to his client's expectations but he was no match. At one high point of the cross-examination, Sak, with his pleasant and clear voice told the witness, "Mr. Smith, I am very sorry to say this but you do not have the slightest respect for the Philippine courts." We won PHP 700 million in that case.
Long before the nation witnessed the prowess of this lawyer during the direct examination of the prosecution's star witness in the Erap Impeachment trial, Mario Bautista's good reputation as a litigation lawyer has been well known among business circles in the Philippines. His law firm Poblador Bautista & Reyes is the counsel of choice of the Ayalas, the Philippines most successful and enduring business empire, and many other big companies in the Philippines. In the late nineties when a group of foreign banks was contemplating on filing a class suit against SGV, the biggest accounting firm in the Philippines formerly affiliated with Andersen Consulting, Mr. Bautista was the counsel for SGV. Thus, it came as no surprise then that Mr. Bautista was given the rare privilege of presenting the most important witness in the impeachment trial before a nation in denial. In spite of the lack of time to prepare, Mr. Bautista litigation instinct served him well. Mr. Bautista weathered every objection that the prosecution raised and made a clear and convincing story.
TOMAS DEL CASTILLO
Atty. Del Castillo is the perfect marriage of lawyerly form and substance. An expert in libel, he is the defender of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the nation's most widely circulated newspaper, in all its libel cases. Mr. Del Castillo goes to trial in great looking suits, speaks in deep baritone and is always prepared. I saw him in action in defense of Hilarion Henares, the nation's favorite columnist, against a powerful lawyer businessman, whom Mr. Henares called "a monkey of foreign interests" and "small dick Romulo". Atty. del Castillo's defense was that the description is not a personal attack but a political statement against imperialism in the Philippines. Mr. Henares also called Mr. Romulo "small dick" because he is a short guy and his nickname happens to be Dick. Alas, Mr. Henares was acquitted.
ANTONIO A PICAZO
Here I should make a disclaimer. I worked for this great laywer practically my entire professional life. However, I believe this also makes my assessment credible. Atty. Picazo is the investment banking and corporate lawyer of choice of all major investment and commercial banks in the Philippines. In the days of Bancom, reportedly the first investmnet bank in the Philippines, Atty. Picazo served as senior legal counsel. After the break-up of Bancom, he subsequently headed the legal department of Unionbank and thereafter, co-founded the legendary PECABAR LAW OFFICE, together with Johnny Ponce Enrile, Renato Cayetano and Antonio Bautista. In 1987, Atty. Picazo bolted from PECABAR and founded Bautista Picazo Buyco Tan & Fider (later Atty. Bautista will build his own firm). As the managing partner of Picazolaw, he led the legal team that helped Metro Pacific purchase Fort Bonifacio, a prime real estate land in the heart of Metro Manila. The deal was worth billions of pesos and was considered the deal of the century. During the height of the Initial Public Offering (IPO) days of the Philippine Stock Market, 10 out of 15 IPO's in a year were handled by Atty. Picazo's Law Office. Atty. Picazo's good work habits, vast experience in corporate and banking law, and legal brilliance is unquestionable that rightfully earns him a place in my Top Ten.
The last big case that this great lawyer handled was the phenomenal indictment of Hubert Webb, a senator's son, in the trials involving the killing of a mother and her daughters, a teen-ager and a four-year old. Mr. Ongkiko had presented a perfect alibi -- Hubert Webb was in the United States when the killing took place. He was able to support the alibi with tons of evidence, pictures, video clips, receipts, passport stamps, and the like. The judge, however, looked at this evidence with suspicion that the senator could have had a hand in their spurious prodution. The case is now on appeal and observers believe that Mr. Ongkiko will score an upset when the case is reviewed by the higher courts. Mr. Ongkiko always taught his lawyers the maxim "assume that you will lose." Thus, his trial technique is always cautious and very careful with what goes into the record. His presentatiom is very thorough and his trial and argumentation skills beyond compare. He is hands down the best trial lawyer there is in the Philippines today.
TONY CARPIO, FRANCISCO VILLARAZA AND AVELINO CRUZ
The above lawyers belong to the most powerful law firm in the Philippines today. Individually, they can land on any one's top ten, but together, the three lawyers are best known for building a formidable private legal institution which easily puts them on a three way tie for number 3. The group's star first shone after Mr. Carpio got appointed as presidential legal counsel by Pres. Fidel V. Ramos. Villaraza and Cruz were left to mind the Firm as Tony Carpio led business to the Firm's door. In the six years that Mr. Ramos was president, Villaraza and Cruz handled many intricate and complicated legal projects. Being brilliant minds in their own right, coupled with a bevy of young and agressive associates, most of which graduated with honors from the nation's top law schools, at their disposal, Carpio Villaraza and Cruz met the challenge of being at the prime spot of the Philippine legal world. Upon the election of Joseph Estrada, the three re-gouped and re-emerged in the impeachment proceedings with their most seasoned litigator, Simeon Marcelo, leading the attack as he conducted the direct examination of the whistle blower and star witness Ilocos Governor Luis Singson. Now, in the era of Pres. Gloria Macapagal, Tony Carpio sits as the youngest member of the Supreme Court and is certain to outlive everyone in the 15-man court and to become Chief Justice one day. Avelino Cruz is the Chief Legal Counsel of the President. Simeon Marcelo is serving seven years as Ombudsman. Only Francisco Villaraza is left to hold the fort. But having a key person in the most powerful offices of the Philippines, the Firm can dare say that it can solve any legal problem endorsed to it for appropriate action.
I have always maintained that lawyers are like guns. Some guns you use for keeping your house protected. Some guns you use for big battles.In this regard, Atty. Cresicini is a bazooka.He is a veteran slugger of the court room. No flashes. No frills. Just pure legal brilliance and hard work. The fighter of hopeless causes, his most famous client is Congressman Jalosjos, the congressman who had sex with an 11 year old girl and was convicted of statutory rape. That case was tough and only Atty. Crescini had the guts to fight it out to the end. Nowadays, Atty. Crescini is the trial lawyer of former Philippine President Joseph Estrada. If Erap didn't stand a chance with his former lawyers, Atty. Crescini might just be Erap's beacon of hope. Atty. Crescini has mastered the science of of litigation, the elements of style, and the winning ways. His trial technique can be compared to Clarence Darrow. Hands down, he is the Philippines's number 2 best lawyer.
It is a testament to this lawyer's great abilities that it has been 17 years since the Marcoses were thrown out of power and the Philippine Government, with all its resources, consultants and thousands of lawyers, has yet to win a single conviction against any of the members Marcos family or cronies.His grasp of Philippine law in most areas of practice is deep, considering that he served for many years as Pres.Marcos's chief lawyer. As Pres. Joseph Estrada's impeachment lawyer, he showed very fine lawyerly habits under the most extreme pressure ever imaginable. It is also a testament to his abilites that most of his law clerks are now members of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals or are occupying chief offices in the Philippine Government. In normal trials, Atty. Mendoza's presence can best be described as electric and bring people to the gallery as if trials were a boxing match. It is no wonder that Atty. Mendoza handles only the most important cases of the most important personalities in the Philippines today.
Check out www.legal500.com. The list they have of the leading practitioners in the Philippines are expanded. Some of my Top Ten not are there. They missed Nicanor Gatmaytan, Carpio, Villraza and Cruz and Prospero Crescini. But I maintain them here.
Also, the liigation group of my former law firm PICAZO BUYCO TAN FIDER & SANTOS landed on the top of Property and Construction practice areas (after all these years) and even made it to the list of Dispute Resolution practice area (after being ignored for a long time). The principal reason is the big construction arbitration case we handled last year for a property giant. Well, that's cool.
Legal500 also cited several of the partners of the firm for their excellent work such as Purisimo Buyco for dispute resolution, Alex Erlito Fider for Telecommunications, Gemma Santos for mergers and acquisition, Estrellita Gacutan for banking and Cynthia Literegalde de la Paz for capital markets. Actually, if they had investigated further, they would have realized that the other partners of the firm also deserved a spot in each of the practice areas. If I were to add a second list of Top Ten if will be filled up by partners from PICAZO. But then again, people will probably think I'm not being objective.