Can attorney-in-fact represent "himself"?

In Ulep v. Legal Clinic, Inc., the Supreme Court defined what the phrase "practice of law" means:
Practice of law means any activity, in or out of court, which requires the application of law, legal procedures, knowledge, training and experience. To engage in the practice of law is to perform those acts which are characteristic of the profession. Generally, to practice law is to give advice or render any kind of service that involves legal knowledge or skill. xxx

When a person participates in a trial and advertises himself as a lawyer, he is in the practice of law. One who confers with clients, advises them as to their legal rights and then takes the business to an attorney and asks the latter to look after the case in court, is also practicing law. Giving advice for compensation regarding the legal status and rights of another and the conduct with respect thereto constitutes a practice of law. One who renders an opinion as to the proper interpretation of a statute, and receives pay for it, is, to that extent, practicing law.
Further, practice is more than an isolated appearance, for it consists in frequent or customary actions, a succession of acts of the same kind. In other words, it is frequent habitual exercise.

Meanwhile, under Section 3(e), Rule 71 of the Rules of Court, the acts of "[a]ssuming to be an attorney xxx, and acting as such without authority" constitute indirect contempt.

In the case of Kara-an v. Judge Lindo (A.M. No. MTJ-07-1674. June 7, 2017), Kara-an was practicing law when he appeared before various courts in Metro Manila, prepared, signed and filed pleadings before them. As he is not a member of the Philippine Bar, Kara-an had no authority to perform those acts. The fact that Kara-an did not indicate in his pleadings that he is a member of the Bar (i.e., by giving a PTR, Attorney Roll, or MCLE compliance numbers) is of no moment. The justification for excluding from the practice of law those not admitted to the Bar is found not in the protection of the Bar from competition, but in the protection of the public from being advised and represented in legal matters by incompetent and unreliable persons over whom the judicial department can exercise little control.Thus, following Section 3(e), Rule 71 of the Rules of Court, we find Kara-an guilty of indirect contempt.

Kara-an's claims of lack of intent to engage in unauthorized practice of law and that he was merely exercising his right to self-representation have no merit.

Section 34, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court recognizes the right of an individual to manage, prosecute and defend their own actions. He is allowed to represent himself in any case to which he is a party, as an individual litigant may personally do everything in the course of the proceedings from commencement to the termination of the litigation. In this instance, he would be acting not as a counsel or a lawyer, but as a party exercising his right to represent himself.

The reports submitted by the judges of the first and second level courts of Metro Manila indicate that Kara-an entered his appearance in different cases in the following manner: (1) for and in his own behalf or as a party to the case; (2) as counsel; and (3) as attorney-in-fact, administrator, representative and agent of a party. In cases under 2 and 3, the parties executed special powers of attorney designating Kara-an as their authorized representative and allowing the latter to act as co-litigant or representative of the parties.

The High Court has held, however, that an attorney-in-fact or representative is not a real party in interest. A representative does not stand to be benefited or injured by any judgment in the case; he is merely appointed by the parties for the limited purpose of performing acts on their behalf. The appointment does not mean that the representative is subrogated into the rights of the principal and should be considered a real party in interest.

Thus, Kara-an cannot claim for himself the right of the real parties in interest to represent themselves in the cases where he entered his appearance under Section 34, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court. This right is reserved for, and may be exercised only by, the real parties in interest, in these cases, Kara-an's principals.

Indeed, in Ciocon-Reer v. Lubao, the manner by which Kara-an illegally practiced law was already described and rejected:
Here, the OCA was able to establish the pattern in Kara-an's unauthorized practice of law. He would require the parties to execute a special power of attorney in his favor to allow him to join them as one of the plaintiffs as their attorney-in-fact. Then, he would file the necessary complaint and other pleadings "acting for and in his own behalf and as attorney-in-fact, agent or representative" of the parties. The fact that Karaan did not indicate in the pleadings that he was a member of the Bar, or any PTR, Attorney's Roll, or MCLE Compliance Number does not detract from the fact that, by his actions, he was actually engaged in the practice of law.
Unfortunately, despite our earlier pronouncements against this practice, Kara-an continued to employ the same scheme to illegally practice law.

Clearly, the number and frequency of cases where Kara-an appeared, the manner by which he entered his appearance, and the fact that this is not his first offense, belie his claims that he had no intent to illegally practice law and that he was merely exercising his right to represent himself in litigation pursuant to Section 34, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court. Certainly, Kara-an should not be allowed to circumvent the prohibition against unauthorized practice of law by allowing him to continue his deliberate and wanton scheme.

ADDITIONAL READINGS:

[1] B.M. No. 553, June 17, 1993, 223 SCRA 378.
[2] People v. Villanueva, G.R. No. L-l9450, May 27, 1965, 14 SCRA 109, 112.
[3] Maderada v. Mediodea, A.M. No. MTJ-02-1459, October 14, 2003, 413 SCRA 313, 324.
[4] Cruz v. Mijares, G.R. No. 154464, September 11, 2008, 564 SCRA 501, 508-509.
[5] Ang v. Ang, G.R. No. 186993, August 22, 2012, 678 SCRA 699, 708.

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