SC relaxes rule on law students appearing in court

SOURCE: Edu Punay (2019). July 2, 2019 - 12:00am. SC allows law students to represent poor. Read more at

The Supreme Court (SC) has expanded the rule allowing law students to practice law and represent indigent clients in courts, Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin has bared.

During a testimonial dinner last Friday, Bersamin revealed to The STAR that the SC has approved his proposal to amend the existing law student practice rule to cover second and third year law students.

The current rule under Rule 138-A of the Rules of Court allows a law student “who has successfully completed third year of the regular four-year prescribed law curriculum” to “appear without compensation in any civil, criminal or administrative case before any trial court, tribunal, board or officer to represent clients accepted the legal clinic of the law school.”

“A lot of our countrymen are still underserved in the needs for legal services. Even the current number of lawyers are not enough,” the SC chief lamented as he explained the need to amend this rule.

Bersamin said the proposal was already approved by the SC full bench last week and Associate Justice Alexander Gesmundo has been tapped to draft the formal order for this purpose.

SOURCE: Edu Punay (2019). July 2, 2019 - 12:00am. SC allows law students to represent poor. Read more at

The matter of allowing a law student to appear before the court unaccompanied by a supervising lawyer cannot be left to the discretion of the presiding judge. The rule clearly states that the appearance of the law student shall be under the direct control and supervision of a member of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines duly accredited by law schools. The rule must be strictly construed because public policy demands that legal work should be entrusted only to those who possess tested qualifications, are sworn to observe the rules and ethics of the legal profession and subject to judicial disciplinary control.

Court procedures are often technical and may prove like snares to the ignorant or the unwary. In the past, our law has allowed non-lawyers to appear for party litigants in places where duly authorized members of the bar are not available (U.S. vs. Bacansas, 6 Phil. 539). For relatively simple litigation before municipal courts, the Rules still allow a more educated or capable person in behalf of a litigant who cannot get a lawyer. But for the protection of the parties and in the interest of justice, the requirement for appearances in regional trial courts and higher courts is more stringent.The Law Student Practice Rule is only an exception to the rule. Hence, the presiding judge should see to it that the law student appearing before the court is properly guided and supervised by a member of the bar. The rule, however, is different if the law student appears before an inferior court, where the issues and procedure are relatively simple. In inferior courts, a law student may appear in his personal capacity without the supervision of a lawyer. Section 34 Rule 138 provides; Sec. 34. By whom litigation is conducted. — 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.

The appearance of the law student authorized by this rule, shall be under the direct supervision and control of a member of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines duly accredited by the law school. Any and all pleadings, motions, briefs, memoranda or other papers to be filed, must be signed the by supervising attorney for and in behalf of the legal clinic.

The phrase "direct supervision and control" requires no less than the physical presence of the supervising lawyer during the hearing.

This is in accordance with the threefold rationale behind the Law Student Practice Rule, to wit:

[1] to ensure that there will be no miscarriage of justice as a result of incompetence or inexperience of law students, who, not having as yet passed the test of professional competence, are presumably not fully equipped to act a counsels on their own;
[2] to provide a mechanism by which the accredited law school clinic may be able to protect itself from any potential vicarious liability arising from some culpable action by their law students; and
[3] to ensure consistency with the fundamental principle that no person is allowed to practice a particular profession without possessing the qualifications, particularly a license, as required by law. (Bar Matter No. 730 June 13, 1997)