I taught lawyers things they didn’t expect

WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty. Josephus B. Jimenez - The Freeman

The lawyers expected me to teach them labor law and social legislation. They anticipated Supreme Court decisions. What they got was a sharing of how a lawyer can find purpose and real happiness in life. They were surprised but appreciated the message.

One week ago in the Waterfront Hotel ballroom, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines commissioned me to lecture some 500 lawyers for their Mandatory Continuing Legal Education. Vice Governor Junjun Davide was one of them. Others came from other parts of the Visayas. This was organized by the Cebu City Chapter under Michelle Geraldine Palmares and IBP Governor Regal Oliva. I was invited by Darchy Wagas-Estorgio, UV Gullas Law School associate dean.

My topic was Profit with Honor, or Productivity with Social Justice. I started by asking: Why did you want to become a lawyer in the first place? Did lawyers want to practice law in order to protect the status quo or did they want to be a passionate advocate for social and economic transformation? Are lawyers happy with the current situation where 80% of national wealth is monopolized by less than 80% of the people? Do lawyers enjoy filing cases against farmers, suing poor people for unpaid rent, and asking the court to eject the homeless?

Do lawyers find lawyering meaningful when they defend big corporations who dismiss employees for the flimsiest causes, defend alien taipans who commit unfair labor practices, bust unions, engage in perpetual casualization of regular jobs and even cheat workers of wages and benefits? I made the lawyers uncomfortable and hit their core principles by challenging them on how many "pro bono" cases they handle every month. Yes, I understand, lawyers have to earn a living too. But how many times have they charged more than 10% of the monetary awards in labor standards cases involving money claims? How many times did they refuse to compromise a case because their clients would rather pay millions than give in to an employee's claim for a few thousand pesos?

Some of the lawyers frowned, but majority, including the vice governor, smiled. I know him to be a very good lawyer. There are many good and honest lawyers. Usually they die poor. I remember my boss, Judge Eliseo Ynclino of the City Court. Whenever his old car broke down he refuse to accept the monthly allowance given by the city government for maintenance. Every Christmas, he would take a vacation to avoid gift-givers. Those big law firms which sent expensive gifts were astounded. I had to return them one by one. He used to walk from City Hall where he held court to the Law schools where he taught at night. He died poor but very rich in honor and integrity.

The true meaning of life as a lawyer is to be the hand of God in administering human justice, to work for and advocate for social justice, to humanize the law and equalize the forces in society through law. The true happiness of a lawyer is when he has done his best to make sure that the rich and powerful don’t oppress the poor and powerless, and also avoid an extreme situation when the poor and the powerless have no other option but to use force to seek justice against their oppressors and exploiters.

If they have done these then, who knows, lawyers may also be admitted to heaven and enter a place where there are no tyrants, slaves, oppressors, or oppressed. For God is the highest lawyer, judge, jurist, and magistrate, even higher than the Supreme Court. The 500 lawyers knew in their hearts that I told the truth. They interposed no objection. I won my case.

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