Lorna Patajo-Kapunan is the founder of Kapunan & Castillo, a full-service law firm with extensive experience in varied areas of law, and a member of the International Lawyers Network. In this episode, Lorna returns as a guest to discuss the impact of the pandemic on women in general and the Philippines in particular, how technology is shaping the next generation of lawyers, and her philosophy of “20 Hugs a Day.”
You can listen to the podcast here, or we’ve provided a transcript of the highlights below.
Lindsay: Hello and welcome to the Law Firm Intelligence Podcast. I am your host, Lindsay Griffiths, Executive Director of the International Lawyers Network. With us this week is one of our previous guests, Lorna Patajo Kapunan, with Kapunan & Castillo Law Offices in Manila. Lorna, welcome back. We’re so happy to have you. It has been great to be chatting a little bit with you pre-podcast and catching up, so let’s dive into our questions. You were just telling me a little bit about your quarantine experience and how your firm never closed during the pandemic at all. So why don’t you tell me a little bit more about that?
Lorna: Well, the partners met, and we did say that now more than ever, our people need us because except for the jobs they had in the office, there was no other source of income, especially the women. The women whose men, whose husbands lost their jobs, we said we had to keep that family going. Just to put it in context, I guess maybe worldwide or globally, but in Asian countries, especially in Asia and the Philippines, when companies were closed, it’s the women that get hit. The women are the first to go. So I work, I’m very involved with women’s groups and we have data on this. UN women says 33% of the women employed, formerly in the Philippines lost their jobs.
Lorna: That’s 33%. And in terms of families losing their income, there’s six out of 10 families lost their income.
Lorna: So that was really bad. So in the context of those glaring statistics, the office said, “Let’s do our bit.” We can’t just rely on government assistance, which was never there. The system never worked, again that’s corruption at the local level and at the national level. So we did keep our people, and not only that, the bar exams. In the two and a half years, we had a bar examination, that’s where my grandson passed. Instead of laying off, we even hired two more lawyers.
Lindsay: That’s great.
Lorna: And when we did reopen, we were very strict on sanitation and health restriction, and even our clients were told, “You have to be vaccinated.” I mean, although the no-vax movement here was also very strong, that was one thing we required our people to do at our expense, incidentally.
Lindsay: That’s great. I think the question that I was thinking about as you were talking was how was it then on the client side? And as a part of that, how were the courts working? So were you doing the same level of work while you were open and what were your client needs? And then were the courts operating at the same level while you were operating during the pandemic?
Lorna: Well, the pandemic is something like two and a half years. So the first time the pandemic, which was at the end of 2020, nobody really was functioning. All the courts were closed. Our offices had worked from home, if any. Because clients remain, clients remain clients. Whereas before you were talking about expansion, now you’re talking about bankruptcy. So there’s always legal work, but before you’re… And then a sense of mortality. So we had clients, husbands, and wives, who would ask us to plan their estate or write out their last will and testaments. They were personal. We also had a large case. We had many cases of domestic violence because, in a lockdown situation, the victim is trapped with the abuser. And it went both ways. We also had husbands who were victims of their wives. I mean, you know how women can be. And so it’s not as if it’s only women who are victims of domestic violence.
The other thing that happened to us was we needed to upskill our employees on how to use gadgets. We need also to be more understanding of flexible time because some of them are mothers and homeschooling their children. So they have to focus on the kitchen, on the children, and multitasking. Our female employees were multitasking. Now, our young lawyers did, I think, took the opportunity to catch up with research because we now had a whole menu of cases different from pre-pandemic time. So you catch up on bankruptcy laws, you catch up on… I mean, how do you arrest the person in a domestic violence case when there’s no… You can’t even leave the house to report to the police station. Okay, that is one thing.
And the other thing that I saw also during the pandemic was although women were losing jobs and we’re the ones that were being laid off, it’s the women who stepped up to the plate. So at home, we would cook, they would go adobo or they would cook, shop out and sell it online. So they would be online businesses or there would be barter trade online. “I have extra vegetables, I need blah, blah, blah.” So there would be barter trade. And that was good because what they say, Lindsay, about crisis, brings out the best and the worst. So the pandemic brought up the worst, but it also brought up the best, especially in our women, mothers.
Lindsay: I agree with you. It’s interesting how it does create a lot of creativity and opportunity for people and you’re right, women especially. Do you think that it affected women in terms of leadership and leadership opportunities, or do you think women got creative about those as well?
Lorna: Well yes. So in terms of national leaders, we did notice, well, at least our women’s groups noticed that the countries with female heads of state, you’re talking about New Zealand, you’re talking about Taiwan, you’re talking about Germany maybe, had better COVID response during the pandemic. Even on a local level, our female lawyers, our female mayors, we had one in my area. We have a woman mayor. In there, you could see that in terms of the local governments, it was the women mayors or local leaders or community leaders that responded well to the pandemic because they know firsthand what the problem is. Now, in terms of women in general, part of my advocacy is I belong… Well, I’m co-founder of a group called the Women’s Business Council. This was really a reaction to the male-dominated Management Association of the Philippines.
So we did say, “Wait a minute, why are they all male? Why are we just a token female?” So during the time of President Ramos, we formed a women-owned and women-led organization called the Women’s Business Council. I was president and chair of that group. So during the pandemic, our beneficiaries were the micro, small medium industries who had to pivot to selling online, to learning about home gardening or vertical vegetables, vegetable gardening, et cetera, or how to preserve food. So 99% of the Philippine economy is micro, small, and medium enterprises. So that really is something that we have to deal with. So we supported what we call community pantries. So this community pantry would be a whole community giving what they had in excess, whether it be clothes, shoes, free. You had extra tomatoes or extra string beans, or you had extra clothes, you just bring them to a center within the community.
And we were the ones who propagated that because my client started it actually, she’s a college student, and she got noticed worldwide. She’s a college student who said, “I have to do something about this pandemic.” So she brings out her small wooden carton in front of her gate and puts it in there, “Please share.” So she puts in vegetables. So that started it. So the community started, and it was the idea of a 19-year-old college student. How did she become my client? And that’s how we got the idea of, “Why don’t we do this? Why don’t we have community pantries nationwide?” Which we did. And it started with us, and suddenly the government responds instead of welcoming it because it highlighted the government’s inadequacy to respond at the community level. Communities were doing self-help already through community pantries. They red-tagged her.
Red tagging is where… Do you know what red tagging is? You say, “Oh, you’re recruiting. You’re a communist. You’re recruiting. You’re recruiting students to go against the government.” So she came to me. They said, “Oh, you have to go to the attorney.” She doesn’t care about suing the government. So this little girl comes to me not knowing who I was and says, “They said I have to go to you,” was referred actually by the mayor. Can you help her? So she comes to me and she has no clue who I am. So I said, “Okay, this is what we do. We go media. That’s the only way to do it. You go media.” So I had and I still have my weekly Saturday radio program.
Yeah, 11:00 to 12:00. So it’s on YouTube, it’s on Facebook, it’s everywhere. Anyways, so she said, “I am not a terrorist. I am not a communist. I just want to start a community pantry.” And that was it. Then the government says, “Oh, of course, we support community pantries. We have this in terms of dah dah dah.” That sparked a whole movement. To me, that was a great example of, “Hey, we can do this.” Little girl telling us she did it, just a wooden carton in front of her house. That carton became a whole… Had multiplied in several cartons. So we had big companies, rice companies donating rice, flour companies donating flour, sugar companies donating sugar. We had noodles donating noodles. So it became more systematic and you know what it did? Not so much that it fed your hunger, it fed your hope in humanity, which was, “Oh my God, I’m not alone in this crisis. People care.” And that was the more important thing, not feeding the body, feeding the soul.
Lindsay: Absolutely. Yeah. I think more than anything during the pandemic, that’s what everybody needed, feeling like you were in this together.
Lorna: So now that’s a long answer to your question. How did it affect women leaders?
Lindsay: But a great one.
Lorna: Yeah. Yeah. It brought out good leaders. And you’re not only talking about leaders politicians, you’re talking about a 19-year-old girl in her neighborhood.
Lindsay: Exactly, yeah. Those with leadership qualities, not just people with leader in their title.
Lindsay: Absolutely, yeah. On the other end of the spectrum, you talked a little bit before about the young lawyers in your firm who used the time to do more research and to learn, which I think is a really great way of looking at it, because I think a lot of people looked at the negative impact of the pandemic on their young lawyers. And I think that’s a really positive way of looking at it. But how else did the pandemic impact those young lawyers? And I mean, a lot of them, they didn’t know any different. This was just how they learned. But you said also you hired two new lawyers. How did that really impact the firm in general in terms of bringing new people on, hiring young lawyers, having young lawyers learn, and maybe not being able to learn and adapt and train as they normally would have had it not been a pandemic for two and a half years?
Lorna: The lawyering only is not… Oh, well, when you talk about a lawyer, you’re not only talking about research and you’re talking about clients, dealing with clients, dealing with other lawyers, dealing with the courts, and all that. During the pandemic, that didn’t happen. You were everybody. Well, while we were connected through the internet, ’cause there’s a saying that the internet and social media connects, but it also disconnects. And we had to take care of the mental health of our lawyers as well. So all, again, among my advocacy, I belong to this group for mothers who have lost children. During my time, I lost my youngest son to leukemia, and with some other mothers, we formed this group. But now you’re losing children to suicide, and this is because they have no control over what these kids see. Somebody posts new sneakers or rubber shoes, they’re called.
I just learned from my voice now you don’t call them rubber shoes, you call them kicks. It defines me. It defines me. And then I used to call… Now they’re not disco, you call them… I don’t know what you call them. But the generation gap in families and in law firms, the generation gap is there. Because these millennials, you only live once. So especially post-pandemic with revenge travel, everybody filing, we want to travel. So they don’t care if there’s a sale online at one peso or 100 pesos you can go to wherever. They buy tickets, they leave your work and all that stuff. You still have to go to them. Although you had to instill back into them a concept of love of your work. I mean, you don’t leave your work because you want to travel with your pals or your friends or you don’t… Or a concept of loyalty. I mean, we took care of them during the pandemic. After the pandemic, there’s a better offer, they leave us.
So there’s no sense of… I don’t know if it’s this new generation or if it’s just my generation reacting. There’s no sense of… There’s no passion for excellence in work. It’s just getting it done because everything is… It’s there, it’s available, and the Supreme Court digest all the cases. You just click the right keyword, it comes out. During my day, well, my father was justice of the Supreme Court, so I had a whole library. I read all the cases in the original. They don’t even know where to find the cases these days, except in their machine, some these young ones. And then they see a case, they lift it because that’s the decision. Without studying all of the facts, all of these instant things are affecting them. Not only affecting their work, affecting their values, there’s no sense of permanence, no sense of loyalty.
In Tagalog, we have a word for a sense of empathy. It’s a Filipino word that says, “Hey, love your work.” No, the pandemic also was a luxury to the partners because we didn’t have to go to work. And that spoiled us. So because you can see my background, that is a virtual background, I’m not in the office. And although we do… Before the pandemic, we would be in the office every time. So they would see us. There was a sense of reverence or a sense of a little fear, or the partner is here, we have to behave and all that. But no, no, we’re there. We’re there when we want to or when we need to. Although we connect with them online, it’s also a disconnect because they don’t see us every day. So that I think is one of the effects of the pandemic when the partners are not there every day. I mean, there’s wisdom in the saying, “When the cat is away, the mouse will play.”
Lindsay: That’s exactly what I was thinking. But it’s interesting too, a couple of points to your points. I mean first you did, I mean, you did put in all that time so it’s not that you weren’t there putting in the same kind of time. So you have done all that. Although I think some of that depends on where you are because generationally in other countries, it’s the partners that want to be in the office and not want to be working from home. So I think those are the ones who are pushing for the return to office. So I think it does depend on what country you’re in, but it’s a really interesting point that you make about this ephemeral nature of work and respect for work.
Because you’re right, there is this really big push for the “work-life balance.” And I have always thought of it as when you’re at work, you’re putting your whole self into work and you’re treating it with a great deal of respect, and you’re giving it 100% so that when you’re then not at work, you can leave work behind and then give 100% to your personal life. But that’s a really interesting point that you’ve made, that people are then rushing through work and just checking a box and treating it that way. And I’ve never really thought of it that way, but I think you’re right. And this idea of, as you say, you find the case law that goes with the matter, but then you don’t really dig into the case law to understand the point behind why that case is relevant to the matter that you’re citing it for and all of those types of things.
And I think that is not just from the pandemic, but also from the immediacy of social media and everything being like bam, bam, bam, very quick. And so I think that has to do with a lot of immediacy of the current point we are in time and I wonder where that’s going to lead us. And I wonder how that is in other industries, not just the legal industry. But you’re right, I do see that in the legal industry especially. So I’m curious as to where we’ll be in the next five to 10 years, especially as we now see things like ChatGPT, which is doing a lot of some of the more basic research or text for people, and we expect it to do some of those more menial tasks even for lawyers.
Lorna: That’s true. I mean, if you’re talking about the future, talk about artificial intelligence replacing us. I mean, I read somewhere that, well, they’re even replacing lawyers already.
Lindsay: Right. And to some extent, it’s good because you want to replace some of the menial tasks that lawyers do so that lawyers can do the strategy, which is the really important part. But you wonder how can you train lawyers to get to that strategic level if you don’t do some of the other stuff first. So that’s the thing that I’m unsure about as to how can you get lawyers. We know how you got to where you are and so I have no doubt and absolute faith in you as a lawyer, but I’m curious as to how we’re going to get people from where they are now at the younger associate level to your level without putting them through that gamut.
Lorna: That’s true. The thing about lawyering is, I mean, because of years of experience, it almost becomes a habit to fall into the spirit of the law or the wisdom of the law, which the young ones don’t still grasp. They’re still on the letter of the law and that’s what artificial intelligence will probably do. They can put, you can say, “Hey robot, what’s the latest law on this?” Then they type out all the laws or whatever. And to that, in that sense, young lawyers are robots because they deal with the letter of the law. As you grow older, you find out, “Hey, this law makes sense because…” Then you are dealing more with equity, the equities that may be the law, but the circumstances dictate otherwise. And that comes from years of experience. That comes from dealing with actual warm bodies, clients, that comes with getting a sense of judges and how the judges think. All of that is the practice of law.
And that could be generational, but hopefully, our young lawyers will get a sense of that from the partners they work with. And that is an argument for the partners. We should be in the office more often than not. Although I did say it’s a luxury to be virtual, partners must make a conscious effort to be at the office so that you can transmit that experience, that wisdom, and they can knock at your door and say, “This is what happened to me in court. I got objected to by the opposing council, but I cited this law.” I said, “It’s not math, it’s not…” Lindsay, you’re in marketing as well. And that’s what lawyering is all about. It’s marketing of ideas. Who’s your audience? Your judge. Who’s your audience? Your client. Who’s your audience? Your public. If you’re in an advocacy, who is your audience? Your beneficiaries or your funders or your sponsors or the country in general. So it’s all about marketing the right ideas. So…
Lindsay: It’s true. And that supports my belief that everything is marketing.
Lindsay: Thank you.
Lorna: Everything is marketing, even this podcast.
Lindsay: That’s right. Oh, for sure this podcast.
Lorna: Congratulations incidentally. I’m very proud to say ILN. So many have sprung overnight, Lawyers Network inviting us. And I say, “Oh no, a proud member of ILN.”
Lindsay: That’s great. I’m glad to hear that. We’re proud to have you as part of our network. So…
Lorna: Thank you, Lindsay.
Lindsay: So one final question. What is something that you’re enjoying right now, having nothing to do with work, that you’d like to tell us about?
Lorna: Oh, well, during the pandemic, as you know, and you also went through it, we went through painting.
Lorna: Numbers painting. So the problem is I have so many.
Lindsay: Me too.
Lorna: I thought I need more walls to put them in. And my kids are saying, “Mom, minimalist. Minimalist.” Now I found the term for myself, maximalist.
Lindsay: I agree. Someone told me that that last year, and I was like, “I’m embracing it. Maximalist is the way to go.”
Lorna: Is the way to go, so oh well. Shopping habits, I find nice shoes, I buy them in all the colors.
Lindsay: Why not?
Lorna: Yes, exactly. And my kids say, “You don’t have to.” Just my boys. My boys of course can identify because their shopping habits as well when they buy kicks and buy the shirts, blah, blah, blah. But anyway, so they say to me, because when I buy, especially when we travel and I buy and they have to carry my stuff so I’m not overweight and all that, I have to distribute the weight of the luggage so that I don’t get overweight. And so I say, “Oh, I had to buy this.” And then the simple answer to me is, “Mom, you don’t need to justify. You buy because you can.”
Lindsay: That’s right. That’s the right answer right there.
Lorna: Yeah. So as you can see, I brought up my boys well.
Lindsay: You did. They’re smart. They know what to respond. That’s-
Lorna: They know what to tell mama or grandmama.
Lindsay: That’s right.
Lorna: So yes, I’d like to go traveling with family, spending more time with them. When I was starting my career, I think all career women invented this quality time syndrome, which is a justification for mothers, working mothers. Now I’m realizing it’s not only quality time, it’s quantity time. And I’m talking about my formula for that, for good relations, it’s 20 hugs a day.
Lindsay: Ooh, I like that.
Lorna: It’s my 20 hugs a day formula. I’m not talking about physical hugs, I’m talking about hugs. “How’s your day?” One. “You want to order out?” Two. And even if my boys are grown up, I mean Lino’s going to be 50, I think, or turn 50, or is turning 50 next year.
Lorna: I make the mistake of calling him baby only because I don’t remember their names anymore. I do a roll call of all the names before I hit the right spot. So I say before I say Lino, “Hey Cho, hey Marco.” And he says, “Mom, Lino.” Okay, so now they’re all baby. And I make a mistake of calling him that in the office. So he comes to me and says, “Mom, please don’t call me baby in the office.” Back to my 20 hugs a day, okay. So it could be telling your secretary, “Hey, nice hairdo,” or, “Hi, good morning,” when they greet you or… 20 hugs a day. Or your client, you don’t go into business because you charged by the hour. I mean, try to say, “Hello, how’s your family?” And all that without clocking in the time that you say hello as part of billable time. So that’s my advice to everybody, whether at home or at work, try to make an average of cumulatively 20 hours a day. I think it makes you feel good, people around you that are family or friends or office, makes them feel good as well.
Lindsay: That’s a great philosophy. I love that. That’s a wonderful takeaway. And I bet everybody listening is going to start doing that too. It’s going to spread everywhere.
Lorna: 20 hugs a day.
Lindsay: 20 hugs a day. All right. Well thank you so much for joining us. This has been really wonderful. I’ve enjoyed it so much. And thank you so much to all of our listeners. We’ll be back again next week with another guest. And in the meantime, please take a moment to rate, review, and subscribe on Apple Podcast or wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you so much.
Lorna: Thank you. And everybody, don’t forget your 20 hugs a day. Ciao. Bye-Bye.