• Lawyer-client relationship exists despite lack of compensation

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    Three police officers were involved in a shooting incident, resulting in the death of two people and the serious injury of another. They were tried and convicted of two counts of homicide and one count of attempted homicide by the Sandiganbayan.

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    The police officers then engaged the services of a lawyer. After filing two Motions for Reconsideration before the Sandiganbayan and a Petition for Review on Certiorari with the Supreme Court (SC), the lawyer disappeared. They repeatedly called his office but their calls were not returned. They visited his last known address only to discover that he had moved out without any forwarding address.

    More than a year later, the police officers were forced to personally verify the status of their Petition. They were shocked to discover that the SC had already issued a Resolution denying it for late filing and non-payment of filing fees. Further, since the Resolution was already final, warrants for their arrest had been issued.

    This prompted them to file an administrative complaint against their lawyer for violation of the Lawyer’s Oath, gross misconduct, and gross negligence.

    In his defense, the lawyer claimed that the police officers did not formally engage his services and, hence, were not really his clients. He pointed out that he was not their original counsel and had only met them during the promulgation of the Sandiganbayan decision, when their original counsel requested his assistance. He had only filed Motions and Petitions on their behalf out of sincerity and in the true spirit of the Lawyer’s Oath. He asserted that because of the “herculean” efforts he exerted for their case, which were all done without proper and adequate remuneration, his other professional obligations were neglected.

    The lawyer further claimed that he formally withdrew as their counsel when he wrote a letter to another police officer who served as the contact person between him and the accused officers. He had attached his Notice to Withdraw with instructions that they sign and file it with the Court.

    The SC, upon recommendation of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, found the lawyer guilty and suspended him for three (3) months. Rejecting the allegation that there was no formal agreement of undertaking between the parties, the SC held .

    After agreeing to take up the cause of a client, a lawyer owes fidelity to both cause and client, even if the client never paid any fee for the attorney-client relationship. Lawyering is not a business; it is a profession in which duty of public service, not money, is the primary consideration.

    x x x x

    A written contract is not an essential element in the employment of an attorney… To establish the relation, it is sufficient that the advice and assistance of an attorney is sought and received in any matter pertinent to his profession.

    Even if the lawyer felt inadequately compensated in the case he undertook to defend, his obligations towards his clients embodied in the Lawyer’s Oath and Code of Professional Responsibility remain. His zeal in handling the case should neither diminish nor cease for this reason alone.

    With respect to his alleged formal withdrawal as counsel, the SC held that the lawyer should have filed the Notice of Withdrawal himself, being more adept with court procedures and practice. His failure to do so rendered him negligent in handling his clients’ case (Francisco v. Portugal, A.C. No. 6155, 14 March 2006, J. Tinga).

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