Legal Ethics

Tan Tek Beng vs Atty. Timoteo David

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A.C. No. 1261 – 126 SCRA 389 – 211 Phil. 547 – Legal Ethics – Malpractice – Solicitation of Cases; Ambulance Chasing – Attorney’s Fees cannot be shared with a non-lawyer

In 1970, Atty. Timoteo David and Tan Tek Beng, a non-lawyer, entered into an agreement whereby Tan Tek Beng will supply clients to Atty. David and in exchange thereof, Atty. David shall give Tan Tek Beng 50% of the attorney’s fees collected as the latter’s commission. Atty. David also agreed not to deal with clients supplied by Tan Tek Beng directly without the latter’s consent. The agreement went sour due to allegations of double-crossing from both sides. Tan Tek Beng complained Atty. David before the Supreme Court but did not seek the enforcement of their agreement.

ISSUE: Whether or not Atty. David is guilty of Malpractice.

HELD: Yes. The agreement between Atty. David and Tan Tek Beng is void because it was tantamount to malpractice which is “the practice of soliciting cases at law for the purpose of gain, either personally or through paid agents or brokers” (Sec. 27, Rule 138, Rules of Court). Malpractice ordinarily refers to any malfeasance or dereliction of duty committed by a lawyer. Section 27, Rule 138 gives a special and technical meaning to the term “malpractice”.

That meaning is in consonance with the elementary notion that the practice of law is a profession, not a business. “The lawyer may not seek or obtain employment by himself or through others for to do so would be unprofessional”.

On the agreement to divide the attorney’s fees, the Supreme Court noted: No division of fees for legal services is proper, except with another lawyer, based upon a division of service or responsibility.

On the agreement that Atty. David shall not deal with clients supplied by Beng directly: The professional services of a lawyer should not be controlled or exploited by any law agency, personal or corporate, which intervenes between client and lawyer. A lawyer’s responsibilities and qualifications are individual. He should avoid all relations which direct the performance of his duties by or in the interest of such intermediary. A lawyer’s relation to his client should be personal, and the responsibility should be direct to the client.

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