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Proactive lawyering: The new, better practice of law

Traditional lawyering consists of being trial and litigation lawyers, filing pleadings consisting of hundreds of pages (ironically called brief). Law firms amass millions in attorneys' fees every month and companies allocate billions for legal expenses. Prices of goods and services become more expensive because of, among others, outrageous lawyers' fees. Well, I have bad news for giant law firms. Your days are numbered. Business magnates and tycoons are gradually realizing they have been overcharged all these years. Many are now shifting to proactive lawyering. They build up internal capabilities and address issues proactively, preventing small problems from escalating into celebrated cases that entail billions in legal costs.

I am among the few lawyers in this country advocating proactive lawyering. We joined Petron in 1983 and helped it and its allied PNOC-owned subsidiaries strengthen internal legal personnel and systems, and minimize reliance on external law firms which kept billing us for telephone consultations or lunch meeting with our executives. When I moved to San Miguel Corp. in 1983, I was tasked to train managers and supervisors handle employee grievances well. After they were already competent, grievances no longer escalated into cases. We saved on legal expenses because employee-employer irritations were nipped in the bud. When I was appointed Director for Labor Litigation, we solved cases through compromise instead of allowing them to reach court.

When I became vice president for both HR and legal in another soft drink company, the owners saved a lot of money because we united the Human Resources Group, whose personnel were expectedly more behavioral and proactive; and the Corporate Legal Division, whose lawyers were prone to be reactive and too legalistic dealing with people-related problems. My leadership pursued a proactive system of lawyering. More than 90 percent of our efforts focused on communications, team-building, employee relations, effective grievance systems, and internal mechanisms for labor-dispute resolution. That approach leads to a stronger labor-management relations and better harmony. Productivity and profitability soared. We doubled our market share and our stock value increased a thousand times than when traditional lawyers ran the company.

And so, today, I dedicated time and passion to pursuing this emerging system, a better alternative to the tension-filled, expensive adversarial way of leading people and managing business organizations. We are conducting a series of learning sessions for client corporations interested in proactive lawyering. We are also writing books and journals on how to prevent labor disputes by building positive relationships between labor and management. Traditional lawyers wait for disputes to arise so they will litigate in courts. Our kind of lawyering is preventive, non-adversarial, non-confrontational, and collaborative. This way litigation expenses are minimized and corporate profitability is better assured. Other lawyers, of course, do not like us. Our success would be bad news to traditional lawyers. When management and employees are friends, cases do not reach court. Lawyers cannot bill their clients. Everybody wins, except the traditional lawyers whose income is generated from conflicts between employers and employees. That is no longer the right way.

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