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Can an Artificial Intelligence (AI) operated machine – like Watson – be allowed to offer

its services (giving legal advice online) in the Philippines? Will that be considered
practice of law? Can the new business models of online based law firms like “Counsel
on Call”; “Axiom” and “Rocket Lawyer” be allowed to operate in the Philippines?

In order to determine whether an Artificial Intelligence (AI) operated machine can


be allowed to offer its services such as giving legal advice online in the Philippines, it is
necessary to define “practice of law” in the Philippine context.

The authority on the matter is the landmark case of Cayetano v. Monsod1 wherein
the Supreme Court laid down the definition of Practice of Law:

Practice of law means any activity, in or out of court, which requires the
application of law, legal procedure, knowledge, training and experience. "To
engage in the practice of law is to perform those acts which are characteristics of
the profession. Generally, to practice law is to give notice or render any kind of
service, which device or service requires the use in any degree of legal knowledge
or skill.”

Also, the Court emphasized in Philippine Lawyers Association v. Agrava2, that:

The practice of law is not limited to the conduct of cases or litigation in


court; it embraces the preparation of pleadings and other papers incident to
actions and special proceedings, the management of such actions and proceedings
on behalf of clients before judges and courts, and in addition, conveyancing. In
general, all advice to clients, and all action taken for them in matters
connected with the law, incorporation services, assessment and
condemnation services contemplating an appearance before a judicial body, the
foreclosure of a mortgage, enforcement of a creditor's claim in bankruptcy and
insolvency proceedings, and conducting proceedings in attachment, and in matters
of estate and guardianship have been held to constitute law practice, as do
the preparation and drafting of legal instruments, where the work done involves
the determination by the trained legal mind of the legal effect of facts and
conditions. (Emphasis supplied)

1
G.R. No. 100113, 3 September 1991, 201 SCRA 210.
2
105 Phil. 173 (1959).
Given these jurisprudential bases, it can be said that Artificial Intelligence operated
machine providing online legal services is practicing law for its function is within the
definition of what “practice of law” means.

Nevertheless, it is well-recognized in our jurisdiction that in order to be engaged


in the practice of law, Sec. 1 of Rule 138 of the Rules of Court should be complied, to
wit:

Section 1. Who may practice law. — Any person heretofore duly


admitted as a member of the bar, or hereafter admitted as such in accordance
with the provisions of this rule, and who is in good and regular standing, is
entitled to practice law. (Emphasis supplied)

Section 1 of Rule 138 of the Rules of Court specifically identifies that to be entitled
to practice of law, he/she must be a person duly admitted as a member of the bar. Hence,
By way of necessary implication, any activity, in or out of court, which requires the
application of law, legal procedure, knowledge, training and experience, would only be
considered as practice of law if performed by a lawyer.
“The title of “attorney” is reserved to those who, having obtained the necessary
degree in the study of law and successfully taken the Bar Examinations, have been
admitted to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and remain members thereof in good
standing; and it is they only who are authorized to practice law in this
jurisdiction.”3 (Emphasis supplied)

Therefore, since the AI operated machine cannot be considered a lawyer, such


giving of legal advice, by implication, cannot be considered as engaging in the practice
of law.

On the other hand, Axiom, Counsel on Call and Rocket Lawyer business models of
online based law firms may be permitted in our jurisdiction subject to the provisions of
the Code of Professional Responsibility, Rules of Court and other rules promulgated by
the Supreme Court.

Rocket Lawyer is an online legal technology company founded by Charley Moore


and based in San Francisco, California. It provides individuals and small to medium-sized

3
A.M. SDC-97-2-P. February 24, 1997, 268 SCRA 638
businesses with online legal services—including incorporation, estate plans , legal health
diagnostics, and legal document review. The site also provides a network of attorneys
that consumers and small businesses can consult with on legal issues through its On Call
service.4

One of the law firms in the Philippines also has a similar business model like Rocket
Lawyer and Counsel on Call. Atty. Marlon P. Valderama founded the “E-Lawyers Online”
which is online legal consultation platform of Valderama Law Office. A virtual law office
(VLO) is a professional law practice that exists online through a secure portal and is
accessible to the client and the attorney anywhere that have access the Internet. The use
of an online client portal allows for the initiation of the attorney/client relationship through
to completion and payment for legal.5

There is yet no express provision of law prohibiting these new business models of
online based law firms. This may be so because the concept is entirely new in the
Philippines and was not yet contemplated at the time of the promulgation of rules
governing the legal profession such as the Code of Professional Responsibility. Elementary
is the principle in law that what is not prohibited is allowed. Therefore, since it is not
prohibited online based law firms are allowed. However, its operation must be done within
the existing laws, jurisprudence, and rules.

It bears stressing that the profession is a branch of the administration of justice


and not a mere money-making trade6. Consequently, improper solicitation of legal
business online would still be prohibited. Improper advertisement of legal services online
would still be considered to lower the standards of the profession.7 In fine, in adopting
such online based law firms the existing limitations in the practice of law must still be
complied with.

The legal profession plays a huge role in the effective administration of justice. It
is imperative for the legal profession to be able to adopt with the vagaries of the future
and there is no impediment in the present state of the rules for the adoption of
innovations in the profession. Canon 2 of the Code of Professional Responsibility expressly
provides that “a lawyer shall make his legal services available in an efficient and
convenient manner compatible with the independence, integrity, and effectiveness of the

4
Bernard, Tara Siegel. Writing a Will, With a Lawyer Looking Over Your Shoulder. The New York Times. September
15, 2010.
5
https://www.e-lawyersonline.com/static/page/about_us// accessed on March 13, 2019
6
Jayme vs. Bualan, 58 Phil, 422
7
In Re: Tagorda, 53 Phil. 42
profession.” Said canon seems to encourage the adoption of technological advancements
in the practice of law. Legal services will certainly become more easily accessible with the
aid of technology and online operations. In such a way, the adoption of the online based
law firms would make legal services more efficient and convenient. Furthermore, lawyers
are commanded to participate in the improvement of the legal system by initiating or
supporting efforts in law reform and in the administration of justice.8

In sum, there is no reason to prohibit the operation of online based firms so long
as it is conducted in a legal and ethical manner.

8
Code of Professional Responsibility, Canon 4