This administrative complaint arose from a paid advertisement that appeared in the July 5, 2000 issue of the newspaper, Philippine Daily Inquirer, which reads: “ANNULMENT OF MARRIAGE Specialist 532-4333/521-2667.”
Ms. Ma. Theresa B. Espeleta, a staff member of the Public Information Office of the Supreme Court, called up the published telephone number and pretended to be an interested party. She spoke to Mrs. Simbillo, who claimed that her husband, Atty. Rizalino Simbillo, was an expert in handling annulment cases and can guarantee a court decree within four to six months, provided the case will not involve separation of property or custody of children. Mrs. Simbillo also said that her husband charges a fee of P48,000.00, half of which is payable at the time of filing of the case and the other half after a decision thereon has been rendered.
Further research by the Office of the Court Administrator and the Public Information Office revealed that similar advertisements were published in the August 2 and 6, 2000 issues of the Manila Bulletin and August 5, 2000 issue of The Philippine Star.
On September 1, 2000, Atty. Ismael G. Khan, Jr., in his capacity as Assistant Court Administrator and Chief of the Public Information Office, filed an administrative complaint against Atty. Rizalino T. Simbillo for improper advertising and solicitation of his legal services, in violation of Rule 2.03 and Rule 3.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility and Rule 138, Section 27 of the Rules of Court.
Respondent admitted the acts imputed to him, but argued, among others, that advertising and solicitation per se are not prohibited acts; that the interest of the public is not served by the absolute prohibition on lawyer advertising; and that the rationale behind the decades-old prohibition should be abandoned.
He prayed that he be exonerated from all the charges against him and that the Court promulgate a ruling that advertisement of legal services offered by a lawyer is not contrary to law, public policy and public order as long as it is dignified.
The IBP Commission on Bar Discipline found respondent guilty of violation of Rules 2.03 and 3.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility and Rule 138, Section 27 of the Rules of Court, and suspended him from the practice of law for one (1) year with the warning that a repetition of similar acts would be dealt with more severely.
Respondent’s Urgent Motion for Reconsideration was denied.
Hence, the instant petition for certiorari.
Whether respondent is guilty of violation of Rules 2.03 and 3.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility and Rule 138, Section 27 of the Rules of Court.
We agree with the IBP’s Resolutions.
Rules 2.03 and 3.01 of the Code of Professional Responsibility read:
Rule 2.03. – A lawyer shall not do or permit to be done any act designed primarily to solicit legal business.
Rule 3.01. – A lawyer shall not use or permit the use of any false, fraudulent, misleading, deceptive, undignified, self-laudatory or unfair statement or claim regarding his qualifications or legal services.
Rule 138, Section 27 of the Rules of Court states:
SEC. 27. Disbarment and suspension of attorneys by Supreme Court, grounds therefor. – A member of the bar may be disbarred or suspended from his office as attorney by the Supreme Court for any deceit, malpractice or other gross misconduct in such office, grossly immoral conduct or by reason of his conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude, or for any violation of the oath which he is required to take before the admission to practice, or for a willful disobedience appearing as attorney for a party without authority to do so.
It has been repeatedly stressed that the practice of law is not a business.
It is a profession in which duty to public service, not money, is the primary consideration.
Lawyering is not primarily meant to be a money-making venture, and law advocacy is not a capital that necessarily yields profits.
The gaining of a livelihood should be a secondary consideration.
The duty to public service and to the administration of justice should be the primary consideration of lawyers, who must subordinate their personal interests or what they owe to themselves.
The following elements distinguish the legal profession from a business:
1. A duty of public service, of which the emolument is a by-product, and in which one may attain the highest eminence without making much money;
2. A relation as an “officer of the court” to the administration of justice involving thorough sincerity, integrity and reliability;
3. A relation to clients in the highest degree of fiduciary;
4. A relation to colleagues at the bar characterized by candor, fairness, and unwillingness to resort to current business methods of advertising and encroachment on their practice, or dealing directly with their clients.
There is no question that respondent committed the acts complained of. He himself admits that he caused the publication of the advertisements. While he professes repentance and begs for the Court’s indulgence, his contrition rings hollow considering the fact that he advertised his legal services again after he pleaded for compassion and after claiming that he had no intention to violate the rules.
Eight months after filing his answer, he again advertised his legal services in the August 14, 2001 issue of the Buy & Sell Free Ads Newspaper. Ten months later, he caused the same advertisement to be published in the October 5, 2001 issue of Buy & Sell.
Such acts of respondent are a deliberate and contemptuous affront on the Court’s authority.
What adds to the gravity of respondent’s acts is that in advertising himself as a self-styled “Annulment of Marriage Specialist,” he wittingly or unwittingly erodes and undermines not only the stability but also the sanctity of an institution still considered sacrosanct despite the contemporary climate of permissiveness in our society. Indeed, in assuring prospective clients that an annulment may be obtained in four to six months from the time of the filing of the case, he in fact encourages people, who might have otherwise been disinclined and would have refrained from dissolving their marriage bonds, to do so.
Nonetheless, the solicitation of legal business is not altogether proscribed. However, for solicitation to be proper, it must be compatible with the dignity of the legal profession. If it is made in a modest and decorous manner, it would bring no injury to the lawyer and to the bar.
Thus, the use of simple signs stating the name or names of the lawyers, the office and residence address and fields of practice, as well as advertisement in legal periodicals bearing the same brief data, are permissible. Even the use of calling cards is now acceptable. Publication in reputable law lists, in a manner consistent with the standards of conduct imposed by the canon, of brief biographical and informative data is likewise allowable.
The use of an ordinary simple professional card is also permitted. The card may contain only a statement of his name, the name of the law firm which he is connected with, address, telephone number and special branch of law practiced. The publication of a simple announcement of the opening of a law firm or of changes in the partnership, associates, firm name or office address, being for the convenience of the profession, is not objectionable.
He may likewise have his name listed in a telephone directory but not under a designation of special branch of law.
Respondent RIZALINO T. SIMBILLO was found GUILTY and was SUSPENDED from the practice of law for ONE (1) YEAR.