Under the Rule on Mandatory Legal Aid Service issued by the Supreme Court on February 10, 2009, all practicing lawyers are required to render a minimum of sixty (60) hours of free legal aid services to indigent litigants in a year. The Rule defines “practicing lawyers” as “members of the Philippine Bar who appear for and in behalf of parties in courts of law and quasi-judicial agencies. . .”
Among those exempted from the mandatory legal aid service requirement are: (1) government employees and incumbent elective officials not allowed to practice; (2) lawyers who by law are not allowed to appear in court; and (3) lawyers employed in the private sector but do not appear for and in behalf of parties in courts of law and quasi-judicial agencies. Exempted lawyers are nevertheless required to pay an annual contribution of PhP4,000. The mandatory pro bono requirement is already generating controversy among lawyers on the ground that it constitutes “involuntary servitude” and a taking of lawyer’s property without justcompensation.
A similar controversy erupted in the United States when certain states, such as New York, tried to impose a mandatory pro bono plan on lawyers. Under the American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct, pro bono service by lawyers is not mandatory. Section 6.1. merely states that:
“A lawyer should aspire to render at least (50) hours of pro bonopublico legal services per year” (emphasis supplied).
The Annotated Model Rules described the history of the provision:
“first, a proposal for mandatory pro bono service, then a negative outcry, then a retreat to precatory language, and finally the addition of language emphasizing the importance of pro bono service. . .” (See Center for Professional Responsibility, American Bar Association, Annotated Model Rule of Professional Conduct (2002), p. 510)
The Annotated Model Rules state that the “constitutionality of mandatory pro bono service is an open question” (p. 510). It does not appear that the US Supreme Court has ruled on the issue.