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Riding the waves of change

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The Philippine legal industry is continuously evolving amid various social, political, economic and technological changes.

A democratic state like the Philippines is bound by laws that govern the behavior of individuals and groups in many areas of business and life. This has fostered a vibrant local legal industry, composed of lawyers and law firms that play a critical role in the preservation of rules and regulations of the society.

According to Atty. Nilo T. Divina, managing partner of the full-service law firm DivinaLaw, the local legal industry is in a good place. A number of relatively new law firms are doing well and getting good business nowadays, he said.

“One particular trend I see is a lot of the young lawyers are getting very good international exposure through internships, jobs in foreign companies/firms, and higher studies abroad. Cross-border transactions and arbitration are increasingly enabling many local lawyers to practice in other countries and learn best practices of those jurisdictions. This is a trickle-down effect of globalization which can only be good for the local industry,” Atty. Divina told BusinessWorld in an e-mail.

The evolution of the local legal industry is influenced by many factors. The thriving start-up scene, the aggressive government spending, and the advent of new policies are some of them.

Atty. Divina said that there has been an influx of foreign and local startups that are seeking legal advice on corporate, tax and other regulatory matters.

“I am used to meeting middle-aged CEOs of our institutional clients, now I deal with a lot more millennials who own their own businesses and are thriving in this hi-tech age,” Atty. Divina said.

Since the present government is pouring a lot of money into various projects, particularly infrastructure projects, Atty. Divina noted that they are also getting a lot of requests for assistance in negotiating government contracts and procurements.

“We also saw a notable increase in referrals relating to compliance with the new rules on mergers and consolidations with the advent of the Philippine Competition Act, on data privacy requirements under the Data Privacy Act, public-private partnerships in relation to the government’s ‘Build, Build, Build’ program, and conciliation and arbitration, as opposed to traditional litigation,” he added.

Just like other industries, the legal industry is not immune to the waves of rapid technological innovations. There is this growing trend, for instance, of going paperless that provides many benefits to lawyers and law offices, including increased mobility and flexibility.

“There is an increasing trend in going paperless even with the courts, as rules are now in place before the Supreme Court and the Department of Justice on electronic filing of pleadings,” Atty. Divina said.

At DivinaLaw, Atty. Divina said the firm is adapting by investing in technological infrastructure and personnel, ensuring access to online and electronic-based legal databases and research tools, and putting up the firm’s online docket system to allow the seamless and electronic search of its case system by lawyers.

At the same time, DivinaLaw ensures that its systems are fully compliant with data privacy regulations, so vital information and documents are routed for action instantaneously and lag created by traditional manual systems is obviated.

In this hi-tech age, people are also finding more efficient means to communicate. Atty. Divina said that his team uses e-mail and app-based communications more nowadays and meets face-to-face less. This helps increase efficiency and manage expenses, he said.

In addition to the aforementioned changes and developments that are shaping the practice of legal profession in the country, there are more players are coming in.

“Since there are a lot more players now, the competition has become more vigorous not just in terms of securing new accounts or clients but also in recruiting talent. Honor graduates from the top universities are aggressively recruited by major law firms with compensation packages and perks that are unheard of years ago,” Atty. Divina said.

Meanwhile, the Philippine legal industry is expected to become more robust in the following years, especially once the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Economic Integration is fully in place.

The transformation of ASEAN into a single market could lead to increased flows of trade and investment within the region and foreign direct investments from outside the region. Transnational legal services would be critical in facilitating these transactions. Thus, market access opportunities for Filipino law firms will expand.

“With the ASEAN integration, it is easy to see the coming in of more referrals, translating to income generation for private practitioners and law firms, and opportunity for business development across Southeast Asia,” Atty. Divina said.

“Lawyers are indispensable in the negotiation, crafting and closing of these cross-border financial documents. The great demand for legal services in the whole of ASEAN is a certainty,” he added.

Furthermore, Atty. Divina is anticipating that more and more Philippine law firms will start considering the possibility of opening international offices.

“In short, the industry will continue to be robust. More partnerships will be forged between local and foreign firms as necessitated by more cross-border transactions. Whatever the political-economic situation is, the good law firms will continue to thrive and we are optimistic that ours will continue to flourish,” Atty. Divina said.





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