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Too many lawyers? Just a question of distribution

The recent Supreme Court announcement of the results of the 2016 Bar examinations has thrown the spotlight once again on the lawyer component of this country’s population and the role played by Filipino lawyers in the life of the nation and the number of Filipinos engaged in ministering to the legal needs of their fellow-citizens.

There is a pervasive impression that, measured against the national population, there are far too many lawyers in this country. “We have lawyers coming out of our ears,” is how one commentator has put it. Is this a fact? Is there-are-too-many-lawyers the situation on the ground?

The answer to these questions depends on geography. There may be far too many lawyers or very few lawyers, depending on the geographical context of the discussion about over-abundance or paucity of lawyers. In the principal population centers of this country— Metro Manila and the immediately surrounding provinces, Metro Cebu and cities like Davao, Iloilo, Bacolod, Cagayan de Oro, Legazpi and Angeles—the “Attorney at Law” sign and shingle are indeed pervasive. Competition among lawyers in these parts of the nation can be very intense.

 But in the rest of this country the situation is different, sometimes very different. Most of the 1,443 municipalities have few legal practitioners—lawyers actively engaged in private law practice—and the smallest municipalities have only a handful of practicing lawyers in their midst. No lawyers-coming-out-of-our-ears situation there.

Any fairly knowledgeable person knows why it is that many lawyers do not want to practice their profession in the small provinces and the municipalities. The need to have undergone a pre-law degree course and the four-year (now five years under the Juris Doctor program) law course to make legal training a very expensive proposition. The major population centers are where the big fees are; elsewhere, fees are modest and are all too often paid in kind. And so we have the sad situation where the legal needs of the majority of Filipinos are served by a minority of the nation’s lawyers.

A factor that contributes to the imbalance between the supply of law practitioners in the metropolitan areas and the supply of “Attorneys at Law” in the rest of the nation is the reality that many of the signers of the Supreme Court’s Roll of Attorneys go into private law practice. There are several other options for those who are able to hurdle the Bar examinations. Not all of the 3,747 men and women who passed the most recent Bar examinations will go into private law practice. Some will join the civil service and become government lawyers (in the judiciary and Executive offices). Some will join the corporate world. Some will go into business for themselves. Others, especially some of the newly minted companeras, will simply become housewives (the former term for the now more politically correct ‘homemakers’).

Thus, an economist will settle the question about excess or sufficiency of Filipino lawyers by pointing to the word ‘distribution’. The Philippine legal profession is badly distributed, with lawyers super-abundant in some places and grossly inadequate in many others. If Filipino lawyers are less unevenly distributed, there will be far less talk of ay excess of lawyers.

To the 3,747 men and women who have just joined the ranks of this country’s legal fraternity I say: If you intend to go into private law practice, don’t exacerbate the lawyers-coming-out-of-our-ears situation already prevailing in places like Metro Manila. Go to your hometowns and serve your townmates. You will be performing a real service to your chosen profession, and it will be better for your health too.

E-mail: [email protected]

Topics: Rudy Romero , Supreme Court , 2016 Bar examinations , lawyers
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