by Tomas Socrates

JANUARY 21, 2020, Pasig City – The Foundation jump-started 2020 with its first activity for the year, the Universitas Lawyers Quarterly (ULQ), last January 9. The speaker for the event was no less than Atty. Paulo Garcia, a Member of Parliament (MP) of New Zealand, and the only Filipino who now holds a national elective post in a foreign country to which he migrated. 

Atty. Paulo, or MP Paulo, had been in the practice of law in the Philippines for about ten (10) years before he migrated to New Zealand with his family sometime in the first decade of the 21st century. He succeeded in qualifying to practice law in New Zealand where he worked for two law firms for approximately 5 years, after which he then became licensed to set up his own law office known as GarciaLaw. GarciaLaw was the first and only Filipino-owned law firm in New Zealand for over 8 years. It closed in May 2019 upon MP Paulo’s election as Member of the NZ Parliament.

Atty. Paulo gladly accepted the Foundation’s invitation to speak at the ULQ, having learned of the values Universitas seeks to promote in society as well as its vision of forming principled leaders who are competent, with a stable moral character and a well-formed conscience. Atty. Garcia shares these values and vision with Universitas and wanted to inspire the young attendees to hold on to their ideals and their pursuit of virtues.

Atty. Paulo, or MP Paulo, started his talk by telling the audience how he started his career and, in general, how his family journeyed to New Zealand and settled there. 

Atty. Paulo Garcia, First Filipino Member of the Parliament of New Zealand

The beginning of his life in New Zealand was not easy, and they had to make a lot of adjustments. With respect to finances, his income was initially not very high for a new lawyer who has a family to support, especially compared with the income he received in the Philippines, where he already had a steady career. 

Nonetheless, Atty. Paulo thought it was alright – so long as he was with his family, he was happy. “[I]f I were only looking at the money aspect, we would have stayed in the Philippines,” he pointed out.

Hence, he continued and strove to do his best in his work as a lawyer. Soon, more people began to know about his legal services. His practice began to prosper because his clients appreciated the competence he displayed and his genuine concern for their cases and needs. 

All these, he said, bear witness to the fact that the legal profession is a form of service. When a lawyer takes care of the legal pursuits of his clients, the lawyer must have a real concern for the client, and must deliver with competence, instead of focusing on the monetary compensation. Being a lawyer, according to Atty. Paulo, is a very good means to serve other people – the knowledge of law and the training a lawyer gets equip him to offer help to others.

Atty. Paulo’s genuine concern for his clients has been the cornerstone of his personal friendships with them, to the extent that they – and even those who are no longer his clients –  would sometimes invite him to their houses, and vice versa, for meals. 

Also because of his close friendship with his clients, the latter would often help him get more clients with their referrals to people who they know are in need of legal assistance. But even without this positive “side-effect” on his career, Atty. Paulo mentioned that the simple fact of having friends is itself already a priceless reward.  “Be very friendly, be open to people, build relationships. Say ‘hi’ and greet people,” the MP said. 

Mrs. Maria Lourdes Garcia calls the attention of her husband, Atty. Paulo, to remind him of an interesting story he could share with the audience

One of the experiences he shared was when he was still a newbie in New Zealand’s law practice and was working for a different law firm. His boss then would throw papers at him because he did not write in the way his boss expected him to. He would get admonished, and this was compounded by the fact that he was already thirty-nine (39) years old by then. “Imagine that experience. But I did not get mad at my boss. In those experiences, you just get on with it and smile. But now, we’re really good friends and he gets out of his way just to help me in my endeavors,” he related. 

Such acts of humility and self-discipline, among others, manifest the value of overcoming too much focus on oneself, which is part of having a stable moral character needed in a leader.

Atty. Paulo Garcia also made a strong emphasis on the value of having a well-formed conscience, especially in the legal profession which has a negative reputation in the minds of many people. The MP mentioned in his speech that we should “develop our conscience, to strengthen it, because there are many temptations in the practice of law”. 

He further mentioned that “the battle is within.” Lawyers, according to him, get tempted to charge more than what is fair; to say they can do something which they know they cannot do, and later on explain the failure to the client by putting the blame on ‘malas’ or ‘bad luck’. He encouraged lawyers to form their conscience, put it into practice, and talk about it openly with others.

Atty. Paulo’s enthusiasm while giving the talk was very much felt by the audience. In fact, before starting his speech, he joked that the people who were standing should find seats for themselves since he had many things to share to help inspire the young lawyers and law enthusiasts to be principled.

Soon enough, the talk touched on his election as a Member of the Parliament, which can be likened to being a member of the Congress in the Philippines. 

He mentioned how it was noticeable that Filipinos lacked representation in New Zealand. This, according to Atty. Paulo, can be attributed to the fact that the Filipinos there are first-generation migrants, as compared with the other migrants who have been in the country for a few generations already. 

In due course, the New Zealand National Party proposed to him the idea of becoming involved in an effort to have elected a representative from among the Filipino migrants. Over time and a deepening involvement with the Party, Atty. Paulo felt encouraged to give it a try himself since he saw being a Member of the Parliament as a good opportunity to serve and cater better to the needs of others.

Atty Paulo’s election, he maintains, is by God’s Grace. In his first speech in the New Zealand Parliament, thus, a segment was dedicated to thanking God. As an MP, he fearlessly speaks his conscience, especially now that controversial bills such as those relating to the legalization of euthanasia, decriminalizing abortion and allowing recreational cannabis are pending, inconsistent as they are with his faith and morals.

Attendees of the ULQ take the opportunity to engage Atty. Paulo in conversation during the cocktails

The significance of having a lawyer who is competent, and has a stable moral character and a well-formed conscience occupy a seat in the New Zealand Parliament cannot be overstated. One can imagine the substantial good that such an MP can contribute to the general welfare, benefiting not only New Zealand, but even the whole of humanity.

This also reminds us of how the President of the Foundation would continually reiterate his dream of having principled leaders occupy high positions in government, thus being a dominant force in the Philippine political scene to the benefit of the common good.

The get-together ended with Atty. Paulo entertaining questions from the audience. Some of the questions touched on the process of getting the qualification or eligibility to practice law in New Zealand, as well as the common perception of politics in New Zealand as compared to the Philippines. The members of the audience were so engaged by the talk that some even expressed their desire to practice law in New Zealand.

Atty. Paulo poses for a photo with some of the attendees of the ULQ

The Foundation and the attendees were very much inspired by the MP’s talk and became even more motivated to promote the vision of Universitas, that is, the formation of leaders who have all the three “C’s” – competence, character, and conscience.

To conclude his ULQ talk, Atty. Paolo stated that when it comes to being successful, “the formula is not a secret: work hard, strengthen your conscience – this is what sets you apart from those who don’t. Be out there and not afraid of speaking your conscience. Speak to people about your faith, live your faith in your practice.” –

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