‘Don’t Date Your Client,’ Philippine Supreme Court Instructs Lawyers in Conduct Code Revision

The Supreme Court has moved to revise the code governing the conduct of Filipino law practitioners, including a ban on attorney-client romance. “We want to be very clear that the lawyer-client relationship can clearly define what are your duties and what are your responsibilities. We don’t want any dating or romantic factor to blur these lines,” Associate Justice Maria Filomena Singh said in an ANC interview recently. The proposal to formalize the prohibition on romantic entanglements between lawyers and their clients is part of the high tribunal’s project to update the 34-year-old Code of Professional Responsibility. The Supreme Court has been holding an “ethics caravan” to present the proposed changes in the code, which would be renamed Code of Professional Responsibility and Accountability, to lawyers, judges and other stakeholders and seek input from them.

Previous roadshows were held in the cities of Cebu, Davao, Naga and Baguio, while another one is scheduled in Manila on Jan. 27.

Singh said the proposal to amend the code was prompted by concerning posts on social media. “These posts were very disturbing and were of grave concern to the high court, particularly, because of certain accusations and statements which were at the very least very irresponsible,” she said, without providing details about those involved and the nature of these posts. In the present code, there’s only general advice on proper decorum among lawyers. But Section 15 of the proposed version expressly prohibits a lawyer from dating or having an affair with a client.

“A lawyer shall not have dating, romantic, or sexual relations with a client during the engagement, unless the consensual relationship existed between them before the lawyer-client relationship commenced,” it states. Over the years, the high court has stripped a number of lawyers of their license for “illicit relations” and improper conduct. In November 2019, a lawyer was disbarred for having a romantic relationship with a client while he was still married and for failing to support his child. Other proposed changes deal with the responsible use of social media, such as a ban on spreading “fake news,” posting pleadings and communications with clients, and writing commentaries on pending cases.