Question A.5, 2019 Legal Ethics Bar Exam

A.5.

(Question A.5, Legal and Judicial Ethics, 2019 Bar Exam)

P was dismissed by his former employer, Company X, for allegedly misappropriating company funds entrusted to him. P alleged that there was no proof to substantiate the same; hence, his dismissal was invalid.

Aggrieved, P engaged the services of ABCDE Law Office to represent him in an illegal dismissal case against Company X. Atty. A, a partner of the said law firm, was assigned to handle P’s case. Eventually, the illegal dismissal case was terminated upon settlement by all parties, and thus, P’s engagement with ABCDE Law Office ceased.

Two (2) years after, a criminal case for Qualified Theft was filed by Company X against P based on the same events which led to his dismissal. To his surprise, P found out that Company X was being represented by ABCDE Law Office in the criminal case. Decrying a violation of the rule on conflict of interest, P filed an administrative complaint against Attys. A, B, C, D, and E, the partners of ABCDE Law Office.

(a) Was the rule on conflict of interest violated in this case? Explain. (3%)

(b) Is the prior termination of P’s engagement with ABCDE Law Office a valid defense to the administrative charge against Attys. A, B, C, D, and E? Explain. (2.5%)

(c) May Attys. B, C, D, and E be held administratively liable for violating the rule on conflict of interest despite the fact that it was only Atty. A, the handling lawyer, who had knowledge of P’s engagement as a client? Explain. (2.5%)

Suggested Answer:

(a) Yes. Answer

Under the Code of Professional Responsibility, a lawyer shall not represent conflicting interests except by written consent of all concerned given after a full disclosure of the facts. Rule

In the case at bar, ABCDE Law Office previously represented P for an illegal dismissal case on the same subject matter that the law office was subsequently engaged by Company X for qualified theft. Due to the previous engagement, the lawyers of ABCDE would have obtained various information from P that might prejudice the latter and give an unfair advantage to Company X. There is also no indication that both parties gave their written consent to ABCDE Law Office Apply

Thus, the rule on conflict of interest was violated in this case. Conclusion

(b) No. Answer

Under jurisprudence, the protection given to the client is perpetual and does not cease with the termination of the litigation, nor is it affected by the client’s ceasing to employ the attorney and retaining another, or by any other change of relation between them. It even survives the death of the client. Rule

In the case at bar, ABCDE Law Office is required to protect the interest of their client P even after the termination of the engagement. Accordingly, the law office should not represent Company X on the same subject matter to avoid violating the prohibition against conflict of interest. Apply

Thus, the prior termination of P’s engagement with ABCDE Law Office is not a valid defense to the administrative charge against Atty. A, B, C, D, and E. Conclusion

(c) Yes. Answer

Under jurisprudence, when a law firm represents a client, it is the law firm that is engaged as the counsel and not the handling lawyer/s appearing on behalf of the client. Rule

In the case at bar, ABCDE Law Office represented P. It is the entire law office, including all its lawyers, that is considered as the legal counsel of the P. All of the lawyers of the law office are thus covered by the attorney-client privilege and the prohibition against conflict of interest. Apply

Thus, Attys. B, C, D, and E may be held administratively liable for violating the rule on conflict of interest. Conclusion

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(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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