By Atty. Eduardo T. Reyes III
Entering the 22nd year of being engaged in the private practice of law, and teaching the law at the same time, this columnist would not be true to himself if he will not admit that his love affair with the law has not all been rosy.
Even under the common law (the earliest days of the law), lawyers had already been taken with suspicion- if not disdain- for their ability to twist the law in the air then have it dropped in the form of an injustice.
Yet the law is not neutered albeit it can be manipulated to serve ones ends- for good or bad. It is in the hands that rock the law that must be guided by conscience.
“Justice is not what goes on in the courtroom” according to the great Clarence Darrow, “it is what comes out of the courtroom”. And to add, justice begins in the classroom.
“The business of a law school”, in the immortal words of Justice Holmes, “is not simply to teach law but rather to teach it in a grand manner and to make great lawyers”. So getting a firm grip of the legal concepts right at the inception of law study is primordial for every lawyer. This is because in the normal run of things, lawyers point out to the courts how the law is to be applied in a given situation in order that justice can be attained.
“The question is sometimes asked, in serious inquiry or in curious conjecture, whether we are a court of law or a court of justice. Do we apply the law even if it is unjust or do we administer justice even against the law? Thus queried, we do not equivocate. The answer is that we do neither because we are a court both of law and of justice. We apply the law with justice for that is our mission and purpose in the scheme of our Republic”. (Republic v. Manalo, G.R. No. 221029, April 24, 2018 citing Alonzo v. IAC, reiterated in The Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Fatima (Peach Sisters of Laguna) represented by Rev. Mother Ma. Concepcion R. Realon v. Amando V. Alzona et al., G.R. No. 224307, August 6, 2018).
In parallel, according to Judge Learned Hand, “Courts know today that statutes are not to be viewed, not in isolation or in vacuo, as pronouncements of abstract principles for the guidance of an ideal community, but in the setting and the framework of present-day conditions, as revealed by the labors of economists and students of the social sciences in our own country and abroad.”
Too, a person who gets embroiled in litigation must be given his/ her day in court. This is the benchmark of due process. And the litigant’s mouthpiece must be his/ her lawyer who can provide competent and efficient legal representation. “Legal representation” in turn is heavily nuanced. Jurisprudence holds that “the right to be heard would be, in many cases, of little avail if it did not comprehend the right to be heard by counsel. Without it, though he be not guilty, he faces the danger of conviction because he does not know how to establish his innocence.” (Justice Hugo Black quoting Justice Sutherland in Gideon v. Wainright overruling earlier the earlier US Supreme Court decision in Betts v. Brady).
The facets of the law are as diverse and complex as there are different cases. The challenge is how to find the right mix of applicable law and/ or jurisprudence that will convince the court that such route is the way to illumination and justice.
With a surfeit of cases being heard in courtrooms on a daily basis, decisions which may or may not accord with justice can be handed down every single day. For the trial lawyer, handling a case is like consulting a wayward compass: there is no clear way of where to go.
But in the midst of the confusion, the only guide is not found on the empty skies or on muddled ground. It is rather one that inheres in the lawyer. It is by summoning those values and principles which he/ she had formed and nurtured while studying the law.
Lawyering is like playing a musical instrument; one has to know the right notes or chords. It is also akin to singing: one has to always be in tune.
Then you can dance with the law. You may be wrong-footed once in a while. But when you do, it does not necessarily mean you are out. For as long as you can keep the music playing, all you need to do is listen back to the tune. Then you can start to dance again.
Moving forward to more years of trysts, serendipitous encounters, or appointed meetings, I know that I cannot have that perfect rhythm in law all the time.
But I must keep dancing with the law. For this is life’s music that I have chosen.
Mindless of who is watching.
(The author is the senior partner of ET Reyes III & Associates- a law firm based in Iloilo City. He is a litigation attorney, a law professor and a book author. His website is etriiilaw.com).