New Law Student Practice Rule (A.M. No. 19-03-24-SC)

The Supreme Court en banc, on June 25, 2019, adopted and promulgated A.M. No. 19-03-24-SC Rule 138-A Law Student Practice, otherwise known as the Revised Law Student Practice Rule (Revised Rule). The Revised Rule is an amendment to the existing provisions of Rule 138-A of the Rules of Court. A salient feature of the Revised Rule is that a law student must now be certified to be able to engage in the limited practice of law.

What are its most important features?

[1] The Rule covers the limited practice of law by students certified under the Clinical Legal Education Program (CLEP) of the law school. Examples of law practice allowed are:

[a] Appearances;
[b] Drafting and submission of pleadings and documents before trial and appellate courts and quasi-judicial and administrative bodies;
[c] Assistance in mediation, legal counselling and advice; and
[d] Others mentioned under Section 1.

[2] The Rule requires that law students, before engaging in practice of law via the Clinical Legal Education Program (CLEP), must first apply for and secure the following:

[a] Level 1 Certification for those who have completed the 1st year; and/or
[b] Level 2 Certification for those who are currently enrolled in their third year, second Semester under Section 3.

[3] Section 4 enumerates the areas of law student-practitioners can engage in in accordance with their certification.

[4] Section 5 enumerates the requirements for certification application.

[5] Section 6 enumerates the duties of a law student-practitioner. It says that they are bound by the Code of Professional Responsibility.

[6] Section 7 is the counterpart of the lawyer's signature provision under the Rules of Court. A law student practitioner may sign briefs, pleadings, letters and other similar documents under the direction of the supervising lawyer and indicating his/her practitioner's certificate number.

[7] Section 9 enumerates the duties of law schools, one of which is to develop and maintain a legal clinic.[8] Sections 10 and 11 provide for the qualifications and duties of supervising lawyers. Unfortunately, the Rule requires the personal appearance of the supervising lawyer with the law student-practitioner.

[9] The Rule provides for appropriate sanctions in cases of violation (Section 13).

[10] The Rule shall take effect at the start of school year 2020-2021.

[11] Rule 138, Section 5 has been amended by this Rule, regarding the prerequisites to take the 2023 bar examination.

Pursuant to the provisions of Section 5(5), Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution, the Supreme Court used its power to adopt and promulgate rules concerning legal assistance to the underprivileged through the amendment of the provisions of Rule 138-A. This amendment ensures access to justice of the marginalized sectors, enhances learning opportunities of law students by instilling in them the value of legal professional social responsibility, and to prepare them for the practice of law. The Supreme Court also addressed the need to institutionalize clinical legal education program in all law schools in order to enhance, improve, and streamline law student practice, and regulate their limited practice of law. The Revised Rule is now more comprehensive with 14 sections and shall take effect at the start of the Academic Year 2020-2021 following its publication in two newspapers of general circulation.

Under Section 3 of the Revised Rule, a law student shall apply for and secure a Level 1 or 2 Certification, as the case may be, in order to be permitted to engage in any of the activities under the Clinical Legal Education Program of a law school. The basic distinction between the two levels involve the minimum academic requirement the law student has successfully completed: for Level 1 Certification – first-year law courses, while for Level 2 Certification – third-year law courses.

Section 4 enumerates the practice areas for law student practitioners for both Level 1 and 2 Certifications. Section 5 itemizes the certification application requirements, which include a duly-accomplished application form under oath in three copies accompanied by proof of payment of the necessary legal and filing fees. It also distinguishes where each level certification is valid. Level 1 is valid before all courts, quasi-judicial and administrative bodies within the judicial region where the law school is located, whereas Level 2 is valid before all courts, quasi-judicial and administrative bodies.

Once the law student is certified, the certificate number must be used in signing briefs, pleadings, letters, and other similar documents produced under the direction of a supervising lawyer. (Section 7) The law student shall also take the Law Student Practitioner’s Oath, a modified lawyer’s oath, under Section 8 before engaging in the limited practice of law.

The duties of law student practitioners, law schools, and supervising lawyers are also enumerated in Sections 6, 9, and 11 respectively.

The Revised Rule also enumerates in Section 13 acts considered as unauthorized practice of lawas well as the corresponding sanctions, without prejudice to existing laws, rules, regulations, and circulars. It stresses that “unauthorized practice of law shall be a ground for revocation of the law student practitioner’s certification and/or disqualification for a law student from taking the bar examinations for a period to be determined by the Supreme Court.” (Supreme Court Media (2019). SC Adopts Revisions to the Law Student Practice Rule. July 16, 2019.