Question 15, 2018 Legal Ethics Bar Exam

XV

(Question XV, Legal and Judicial Ethics, 2018 Bar Exam)

Charo Conti engaged the services of Atty. Cesar Compostela for the registration of a property located in Cebu, and which property she had inherited together with her siblings. It was agreed in writing that Charo would pay Atty. Compostela PhP 20,000 as acceptance fee and PhP 2,000 as appearance fee. During the last hearing of the case, Atty. Compostela demanded an additional amount of PhP 20,000 for the preparation of a memorandum, which he said would further strengthen Charo’s position, plus 20% of the total area of the property as additional fees for his services. Charo did not agree to Atty. Compostela’s demands since they were contrary to their agreement. Besides, the property was co-owned with her siblings and she could not agree to Atty. Compostela’s demands without the consent of her co-heirs.

Four (4) years later, the petition for registration was approved and the Land Registration Authority notified Charo that the decree of registration and the original of the owner’s duplicate copy of the title had already been transmitted to the Register of Deeds (RD). When Charo went to the RD, she was surprised to discover that the owner’s duplicate copy of the title had already been claimed by, and released to, Atty. Compostela. Despite demand, Atty. Compostela refused to deliver the title to Charo until she paid the additional attorneys’ fees that he was demanding. Charo then instituted a complaint for disbarment against him. In his defense, Atty. Compostela claimed that:

(a) he had a right to retain the owner’s duplicate of the title as his retaining lien; and

(b) he was entitled to the payment of additional professional fees on the basis of the principle of quantum meruit.

Rule on Atty. Compostela’s defenses. (2.5% each)

Suggested Answer:

(a) On Atty. Compostela’s claim that he had a right to retain the owner’s duplicate of the title as his retaining lien:

His claim is not correct. Answer

Under the Code of Professional Responsibility, a retaining lien is the right of the attorney to retain the funds, documents, and papers of his client which have lawfully come into his possession until his lawful fees and disbursements have been paid and to apply such funds to the satisfaction thereof. Rule

In the case at bar, Ms. Conti as the client did not agree to the additional fees demanded by Atty. Compostela. Accordingly, Atty. Compostela as no basis for his retaining lien. His possession is unlawful. Apply

Thus, Atty. Compostela may be subject to disciplinary action. Conclusion

(b) On Atty. Compostela’s claim that he is entitled to the payment of additional professional fees on the basis of the principle of quantum meruit:

His claim is not correct. Answer

Under jurisprudence, quantum meruit – literally meaning as much as he deserves – is used as basis for determining an attorney’s professional fees in the absence of an express agreement. Rule

In the case at bar, Atty. Compostela and his client Ms. Conti had an express agreement on the attorney’s fees. Accordingly, the principle of quantum meruit does not apply. Apply

Thus, Atty. Compostela may be subject to disciplinary action. Conclusion

..

(Notice: The suggested answers simulate those that a bar examinee may provide, and thus specific citations are not provided. Notwithstanding, in the reviewers, the bar exam question is answered under the appropriate topic which discusses the concepts and principles, as well as provide for specific citations. Accordingly, please refer to it on the reviewer or in the Library.)

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