Patricia-Ann T. Prodigalidad is a Senior Partner at Angara Abello Concepcion Regala & Cruz (ACCRALAW), one of Philippines's most established law firms. She is recognised as a Litigation Star and one of Asia-Pacific's Top 100 Women in Litigation in 2021.
Prodigalidad speaks to Benchmark Litigation about her practice history, memorable cases, and gender diversity in Philippines' legal industry.
In your opinion how does the firm differ from its competitors?
ACCRA’s competitive edge stems from the specialized and early hands-on training of its lawyers and its fully integrated nature or what we, within the Firm, call the “ACCRA Family” culture.
On the first point, all our new lawyers are required, from day one, to specialize in select practice areas, start building their expertise and are not limited to research work. They are immediately immersed and extensively involved in all aspects of handling a referral – from research to drafting, dealing with client representatives to attending hearings and counterparty negotiations, interviewing witnesses and client officers to crafting corporate policies. Hence, each lawyer of the Firm is trained to be an active and valuable participant in the development and implementation of legal strategy.
On the second point, most large law firms are divided into practice groups composed of partners and associates with their respective areas of expertise. Though ACCRA is similarly structured, when a client engages one member of the Firm, the rest of the ACCRA Family automatically comes with it. Thus, whether in the Head Office or in the Branches, every client has the full force of the expertise, experience, resources and network of the entire deep bench of all its lawyers, whether they be Partners, Senior Legal Counsel, Of Counsel or Associates. Frequently, projects are worked on by composite teams with lawyers from different departments. When needed, more senior lawyers who are not even part of the composite team provide input on novel issues. Indeed, like a family, one team is not left to manage or solve problems alone. The integrated whole of the ACCRA Family provides all the backroom support needed to attain the desired result.
What part of this job do you personally find most satisfying? Most challenging?
I see myself as a problem solver, a strategist. Through experience, I have realized that most clients dislike protracted litigation and prefer avoiding suits altogether. So, I find most satisfaction and have a sense of accomplishment when the strategy I helped formulate and implement attains the intended objective of terminating a litigation in its early stages or preventing a dispute from ripening into one. In this context, what I find most challenging is convincing disputants (whether clients or counterparties) that a compromise is not a form of capitulation. Coming up with a strategy that addresses the need for parties to” save face”, so to speak, is a bit of hardship especially in our culture.
What has been your most memorable case to date?
All my cases are memorable to me for a host of reasons – the client, the technicality of the issue, the volume of work that had to be churned out, the teammates I worked with, the personalities involved or even the novelty of the subject matter. But I would have to say that the ongoing litigation involving the first dengue vaccine – Dengvaxia -- may be at the top of the list. It is memorable not only because of the complexity of the issues involved or its highly publicized nature or its sheer number but because in this case my science undergraduate degree has intersected with my law degree. The benefits of vaccines and how they are developed are currently at the forefront of public awareness due to the pandemic and this adds a sense of serendipity that makes it even more memorable.
What is the employment outlook like within the legal field? How much demand is there for people, specifically women, in your particular practice areas? Are you finding that fewer women are entering these sectors (regulatory defence/internal investigation/consumer finance/etc.)?
There will always be a heavy demand for lawyers and so employment opportunities will continue to abound. First, the increasing emphasis in governance and compliance in business and non-profit organizations will continue to spur a corresponding rise in the need for individuals trained in the law. Second, as new industries emerge from technological advances, legislation to regulate them will surely be passed, which again will necessarily require more lawyers. Lastly, lawyers are ubiquitous and the practice of law pervasive and exhaustive. So, there will always be a position available. Whether lawyers are willing to take them is a different matter altogether.
For women in litigation, I am pleased that we are steadily growing in number and, more importantly, finally gaining recognition. This practice used to be dominated by men – from judges, prosecutors to private lawyers. With the increasing proportion of women in law schools in the Philippines, a woman litigator is no longer a rarity. Arbitration is, however, not as progressive. Though the number of women in ADR is rising, arbitration tribunals are still composed predominantly by men. Certain arbitration institutions have exerted efforts at affirmatively pushing for women and, I hope, this will start a trend that would lead to a healthy balance.
What obstacles do you believe women [in this profession] face that could potentially hinder their profitability or growth?
Women, particularly women in the Philippines, will continue to be handicapped by the cultural biases that support the mindset that women need to be protected, not because they cannot fend for themselves, but because to be a good Filipino one must be sure to keep women out of harm’s way - a reflection of a traditional Filipino’s love and respect for his mother. These biases could easily be manifested in decisions of employers on whether women litigators will be tasked to do field work – such as implementation of search warrants, interview of persons deprived of liberty and even direct coordination with law enforcement --- which is essential for a good foundation in litigation practice. In addition to biases, employers may prefer a risk-averse approach and, thus, employ a strategy that minimizes potential liabilities. Often, this approach will result in a decision to send the male counterparts to do seemingly dangerous tasks (like attend hearings in far flung areas or assist clients in eviction processes) where the women may be similarly competent or even more so.
Do you find that women encounter different expectations with respect to personality and demeanour than male counterparts by clients, the courts, and other professionals across the industry?
I do not think client’s expectations as to personality or demeanour stem from gender distinctions per se. Rather, most clients have a stereotype of what effective and good lawyering is. There is that mistaken impression that the louder and more aggressive lawyer is the better lawyer. For most litigators, adaptability is key. The saying that “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” is quite apropos for litigation practice.
My observation and experience are that expectations as to personality and demeanour do not stem from biases as to gender, but age. Courts and opposing counsel tend to assume that younger lawyers, especially when up against a more seasoned one, are more timid. So you will sense their surprise, and respect, when the younger lawyer is able to stand her ground.
Have you found the legal industry to have addressed the disparity in expectations?
I have not witnessed a disparity across genders, not from clients, from courts or from colleagues, especially not in ACCRA. I am fortunate that women litigators are not rare in ACCRA. Clients, judges, justices, court personnel and opposing counsel know that ACCRA has women litigators. In fact, when I entered the Firm 25 years ago, the head of the litigation and dispute resolution department was a lady lawyer, who later became the Chairperson of the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission. Also, quite a number of the in-house attorneys that I dealt with were women lawyers. Thus, in the Philippines, the legal industry may be more than sufficiently inclusive of women.
Unfortunately, though, the stereotype of what a good lawyer is subsists, perhaps reinforced by television shows depicting lawyers as combative.
What do you think the legal profession needs to do in order to improve opportunities for women (in-house or private practice) litigators?
For women litigators to fully attain their potential, I believe that there must be a conscious decision on the part of employers to require women lawyers to do the field work that would typically be considered “dangerous”. It is a disservice to women lawyers, and women in general, if employers who are supposed to train them will deprive them of this learning opportunity in the guise of protection.
Admittedly, there are women lawyers who prefer not to engage in field work because they believe doing so will place them at risk. For those working with others in a law firm or in an in-house legal team, the solution may be to send their male counterparts. In my view, the employers should take a firm stance on this point not only to ensure that there is no reverse discrimination (against the male lawyers) but also to guarantee that women litigators become as competent in all aspects of litigation as their male colleagues.
How important is mentorship in this profession and what advice, if any, would you give women who are just starting their legal careers?
I would not be where I am as a lawyer if not for the learnings and opportunities afforded me by my esteemed mentors at ACCRA. These mentors took the initiative of taking me under their wings and unselfishly pushing me to greater heights. So, I truly believe mentorship is a valuable component to a lawyer’s growth and success regardless of gender.
For the women who are just about to start their legal careers, I have three (3) separate pieces of advice.
First. Find what you love in the law. To do the work well, you must love what you do. As you begin your career, it is important for you to discover what field of practice and/or what area of expertise you most identify with and have passion for. Once you have figured this out, get as much exposure and experience in the field as you can. Learning comes from actual work and experience is the best teacher.
Second. One cannot become a great lawyer, or even a good lawyer, without mentors along the way. So, throughout your career, always look out for good mentors and do not be shy to make them know you wish them to fill that role. I use the plural form deliberately. Initially, you will need a mentor who will teach you how to put theory to practice. How to draft good pleadings, how to do effective cross-examination, how to be effective oral advocates, and how to develop good legal strategy. Then you will need mentors to provide you opportunities to showcase or develop your expertise whether in speaking engagements or publications or through key positions in professional organizations. After that, you will need mentors to demonstrate how to gain client confidence and manage their expectations. It is rare to find all these mentors in one individual – but if you do, don’t let go.
Third. Your actions decide your fate. Your work ethic and the values you put to practice will be the ultimate determinant of whether you succeed in the legal profession. But, to all young women lawyers, I take this opportunity to remind you of two things: define your own success, define your own happiness. Do not be pressured to achieve what your colleagues have attained or to follow the path your peers have taken. You are your own person, always do what is best for you.
PATRICIA-ANN T. PRODIGALIDAD
Angara Abello Concepcion Regala & Cruz
Position: Senior Partner
Address: Taguig City, Metro Manila
DID +63(2)8830 8000
Please click here to view Ms. Prodigalidad's professional biography