Musings on legal technology

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“There have been talks in revising the conduct of the Philippine Bar Exam.

This writer recently finished his 36 units of Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) at the UP College of Law. This meant four whole consecutive days of nine hour straight lectures on the latest legal developments, Supreme Court (SC) issuances and decisions, conducted by fellow lawyers. It felt like it took forever.

A hundred lawyers attended this MCLE leg — a full house that filled up the huge room in Malcolm Hall. After each class, around two to three hours long, depending on the subject, the lawyer-students are asked to line up at the back of the classroom, like kindergarten children, so that the representatives of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) may sign their class attendance slips. At the end of the day, a form is submitted to the IBP representatives as proof of one’s attendance, not necessarily comprehension. A lawyer with completed units is awarded an MCLE Certification, sort of like a diploma.

This exercise is done every 3 years, which is considered as one cycle in an MCLE compliance period. There are various MCLE providers in the entire Philippines held in convention halls, hotel functions rooms, law school classrooms, etc. The SC requires that private MCLE providers be partnered with a law school to ensure that academicians conduct the lectures. It is considered as a chore by most of lawyers, some you would see to be inattentive, erstwhile busy on their laptops or smartphones. Good thing no quizzes are held in MCLE.

Imagine if this is done with the efficient use of technology. In the US, some states allow MCLE (although in the US it is only called CLE without the word “Mandatory) through distance learning by taking online courses and listening to audio downloads. There are private accredited CLE providers from whom lawyers may register and download applications in which they can take courses at their own pace and time.

It is true that the Philippine legal profession remains to be traditional, consistent with the Philippine legal practice that has a more personal touch as compared to other jurisdictions. Filipinos would rather personally meet their lawyers for counsel and they would be bringing bundles of paper documents, most of which would be impertinent to their case. Being, perhaps, one of the most emotional races in the world, lawyers are more valued if they are face to face with their clients.

Yet there are certain aspects of the legal profession that may be considered to be archaic or antiquated, such as the style of conducting the MCLE. There have been talks in revising the conduct of the Philippine Bar Exam, the most grueling intellectual, physical, emotional and, for some, spiritual exam, in the country. Held every November, the Bar consists of four Sundays of two exams, for a total of eight exams. The only exam site is at UST, along España Boulevard, Manila, so examinees from the province are forced to stay in Manila for an entire month. But despite the supposed home court advantage of those in Manila, for the past years, the Bar topnotchers have always been students enrolled in provincial law schools.

For all the bravado of Manila law schools, it seems that the teaching style of law schools in the provinces are more appropriate for the archaic Bar exams. Manila law students are more millennial that what we think and maybe their attention spans are much shorter, with all the legal information available online. During the Bar exams, one can’t Google a doctrine or a provision of law.

“The SC requires that private MCLE providers be partnered with a law school to ensure that academicians conduct the lectures.

There are quite a few legal tech companies that modernize legal research, such as CD Asia, the undisputed market leader with its famous Lex Libris legal library and My Legal Whiz. Both of these companies provide convenient ways to look up SC cases and existing laws and regulations.

Some companies are more adventurous as they seek to modernize other aspects of legal practice, particularly the interface between lawyer and client. LegalEx is a downloadable app that allows lawyers to link with potential clients. Another is LexMeet! — a website that allows video conferencing or e-lawyering.

But in the opinion of this writer, what is needed is a tech company that would uphold the traditional way of Philippine lawyering, rather than seeking to disrupt it. Filipino lawyers will always be considered as an abogado de campanilla, translated as lawyer with a bell, if they have the ability to give good counsel to a huge number of people. The better the lawyer, the bigger the bell, they say.

As such, there are different fields that may be aided by technology — legal education, legal research and legal practice. Though the area that may require it the most would be the Philippine judicial system which is overseen by the SC. There are attempts to modernize it, such as the requirement of electronic filing (in select courts) and the digitization of court records. The SC has also issued its rules on Cyber Warrants — a recognition of the importance and need for special handling of, electronic evidence.

All told, the institutions tasked with modernizing lawyering are the SC and the IBP. With a few weeks left in her term, this may be the least of the worries of Chief Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro. We hope that her successor would be very much open to technology. As for the IBP, they may be too busy issuing statements against the Administration’s actions. This writer prays that the IBP be more proactive in introducing innovation to the practice.

Email: darren.dejesus@dejesuslegal.com

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