Almirante: Contingent attorney’s fee

RESPONDENTS Nestor N. Nerbes and Armenia F. Suravilla filed before the Labor Arbiter (LA) a complaint for unfair labor practice (ULP), illegal dismissal and money claims against petitioner BDO Unibank, Inc.


Pending resolution of the petition for certiorari before the Supreme Court, petitioner BDO moved for the withdrawal of its petition as regards respondent Suravilla in view of the parties’ compromise agreement. Part of the agreement is Suravilla’s undertaking to release the bank from any and all claims arising from or related to the petition.


Lawyer Emmanuel R. Jabla, counsel for Nerbes and Suravilla moved to intervene. He alleged that said compromise agreement was wrung from Suravilla without his knowledge and consent, resulting in him being deprived of his professional fee supposed to be payable upon full recovery of her monetary claims. He further alleged that there was a verbal agreement between him and Suravilla for the latter to pay a contingent fee of 10 percent of all money recovered.


He prayed that BDO and Suravilla be held solidarily liable as joint tortfeasors to pay his professional fee which constitute as a lien upon the judgment.


Can his claim prosper?


Ruling: Yes.


Be that as it may, the grant of the bank’s motion to withdraw the petition as regards Suravilla and the approval of their compromise agreement does not affect counsel’s right to compensation. On this score, the Court’s disquisition in Malvar v. Kraft Foods Philippines, Inc., et al., G.R. No. 183952, September 9, 2013, resonates with relevance and is thus quoted extensively:


On considerations of equity and fairness, the Court disapproves of the tendencies of clients compromising their cases behind the backs of their attorneys for the purpose of unreasonably reducing or completely setting to naught the stipulated contingent fees. Thus, the Court grants the Intervenor’s Motion for Intervention to Protect Attorney’s Rights as a measure of protecting the Intervenor’s right to its stipulated professional fees that would be denied under the compromise agreement.


The Court does so in the interest of protecting the rights of the practicing bar rendering professional services on contingent fee basis.


Nonetheless, the claim for attorney’s fees does not void or nullify the compromise agreement between Malvar and the respondents. There being no obstacles to its approval, the Court approves the compromise agreement.


The Court adds, however, that the Intervenor is not left without a remedy, for the payment of its adequate and reasonable compensation could not be annulled by the settlement of the litigation without its participation and conformity. It remains entitled to the compensation, and its right is safeguarded by the Court because its members are officers of the Court who are as entitled to judicial protection against injustice or imposition of fraud committed by the client as much as the client is against their abuses as her counsel.


In other words, the duty of the Court is not only to ensure that the attorney acts in a proper and lawful manner, but also to see to it that the attorney is paid his just fees. Even if the compensation of the attorney is dependent only on winning the litigation, the subsequent withdrawal of the case upon the client’s initiative would not deprive the attorney of the legitimate compensation for professional services rendered.


In this case, We find that Atty. Jabla adequately and sufficiently represented Suravilla and prepared all the required pleadings on her behalf before the LA, the NLRC, the CA and this Court. Despite the absence of a written agreement as to the payment of fees, his entitlement to reasonable compensation may still be fairly ascertained. x x x.


x x x


Taking into account the foregoing, the Court finds that the amount equivalent to 10 percent of the settlement amount received by Suravilla, or P348,751.27 is reasonable compensation for the skill and services rendered by Atty. Jabla. (Tijam, J., 3rd Division, BDO Unibank, Inc. (Formerly Equitable PCI Bank) v. Nestor N. Nerbes and Armenia F. Suravilla, G.R. No. 208735, July 19, 2017).