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THE MILLENNIAL LAWYER: Legal Ethics in the Time of Social Media

Our generation is a generation of a billion voices echoing all at once. In our fast-paced world, we tend to speak but not listen. Facebook posts become essay writing competitions, Tweets are judged by the number of retweets, Instagram posts are scrutinized by its likes. The reality of social media has burdened our relations and we seldom think about the implications of our beautifully worded Sunday, 9 PM posts. We shout to the void hoping that someone listens. We pretend to know what we do not, hide behind anonymities, or shut out inconveniences. We build our own realities and fortify them. As scholars of the law and guardians of justice, it is imperative upon us to dissect the core of this emerging truth — how do we become great lawyers in the age of social media?

The burden of keeping a dynamic foundation for what is true and what is just is a burden carried by legal scholars who have come before us, and we stand on the shoulders of these giants, wide-eyed and hopeful that we can give justice to their struggles.

The Code of Professional Responsibility was brought to our shores by the Americans. It has gone through several revisions and was last amended in 1989. It embodies, supposedly, the ideals of our profession. But we see now that there is some disconnect. Because it is a foreign transplant, there is difficulty in understanding why we must follow it. It is deconsecrated, not because we are troublesome people, but because there is little kinship, there is little semblance of rootedness.

The challenge of the symposium rings true for many laws in our land — how do we make it ours? How do we instrumentalize our morals as people of the Philippines and guardians of the law? It begins, I humbly surmise from the event, in minding the gaps. In letting practice and cultural identity dictate the foundations of the law. In creating spaces for discourse between what is and what should be. We came here today armed with burning questions — can we advertise on social media, can we give legal advice on Twitter, can we be Facebook friends with Judges and Justices of the Courts, can we use social media posts to build our cases?

Photo by Lorena Cruz

Atty. Theodore O. Te enlightened us saying that social media is a space for dissent, and our voices must be protected. Dissent, after all, is the essence of democracy. “Freedom of expression is for the benefit of the few who want to speak and the many who do not want to listen.” (Philippine Blooming Mills Employees Organization v. Philippine Blooming Mills Co., Inc., G.R. No. L-31195, 5 June 1973)

Atty. Ignatius Michael D. Ingles reminds us to always take the high road. Knowledge is power but it must never be used to oppress.

Dr. Estelle Marie M. Ladrido’s wisdom is that social media is both public and private. The key is awareness. To understand that social media is multi-layered because we are complex beings, we always go back to the public good.

The wise words of the panel remind us that the path to a just and humane society is tortuous and unkind, but we must endure. In law studies, we are burdened with the daily grind — to memorize the codal, to read cases, to take heart of at least ten authors’ commentaries — we have a tendency of getting blinded by the struggle. We become zombies. And the law dies with us. This is our challenge from here on out: to stay alive so that the laws we study may grow and thrive in the service of our nation. We must not lose hope. The burden of keeping a dynamic foundation for what is true and what is just is a burden carried by legal scholars who have come before us, and we stand on the shoulders of these giants, wide-eyed and hopeful that we can give justice to their struggles.

As we learned from the symposium, the principles of our Code are as ancient as the profession: we must be fair, we must be truthful, and we must always aid in the administration of justice. These principles must remain our guide. But we must also recognize that there are new realities to contend with. These gray areas, though many times a source of strength and artistry, become waterloos for practitioners. Clearly, there is great interest in these matters and necessary changes must be made. But what changes and how should they be introduced? These are the questions we leave with. The beauty of the profession, as alluded to earlier, is the dynamism of the law. It is alive and we must keep it alive. P

(This was originally delivered as a speech by Mr. Balisong during the symposium, THE MILLENIAL LAWYER: Legal Ethics in the Time of Social Media organized by Block C2020 in partnership with the Palladium.)

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