The Big Daddy: Atty. Karl Castillo (Part 1)

ATTY. KARL ARIAN A. CASTILLO is one of the most accomplished young lawyers in the in the country today. At age 40, he is one the youngest Partners in one of the country’s leading litigation firms — the law firm of FORTUN NARVASA AND SALAZAR. As such, Karl Castillo had handled some of the most controversial cases in the Philippines. He has also represented some of the most famous (and infamous) personalities in the country.

This is his story.


Karl Castillo had absolutely no plans of becoming a lawyer. In fact, he never intended to work at all. He wanted to spend the rest of his days as a beach bum. He did not yet realize that his AB Political Science degree from UP Manila would leave him with no other choice but to take up law.

As it turns our, reality would not let him go. His mother convinced him to enter law school. According to her, his  grandfather would be extremely proud of him if he did so.

With this in mind, Karl realized that he had to show his family that he could be a productive and responsible person. Working, however, was still out of the question. Thus, he went to the one place where he could bum around yet still appear to be mature, dependable and responsible; a place where he could pretend to have a goal in life; and, most especially, a place where he could still validly demand allowance from his parents.

Karl Castillo enrolled at the Ateneo School of Law.


In June 1997, Karl entered law school.

It was in Ateneo law that he met a certain trendy trial lawyer who was so good looking he always got into trouble. Of course, at that time, I was still just a trendy law student. Karl and I were in the same batch but in different sections. I was introduced to Karl Castillo thru a classmate of mine who was also Karl’s friend back in college days. Up to this day, Karl claims that he saved me from the bullies in law school.

When we entered law school, Ateneo Law was still located in a tiny building in Dela Costa Street, Makati City. At that time, however, they were already constructing this beautiful, new campus in Rockwell Drive. After spending two years in the Dela Costa Campus, we transferred to that new building.

Back then, I, along with three of my classmates, lived in an apartment near the old campus. Karl then lived in a hole in the wall — literally.  His place was so small, that only his bed could fit inside. Since both our places were too far from the new campus in Rockwell Drive, we had to look for a new one. I found the perfect house in a compound in Manalac Street, just a few blocks from the Rockwell Campus. In fact, it was located so close to school that the entire compound was occupied by Ateneo Law students.

Surprisingly, when we transferred to the Manalac compound, I found out that our next-door neighbor was one Karl Castillo. Again, Karl lived in a hole.  But instead of one in the wall, he lived in one under the stairs. His room was so tiny that Karl entertained his visitors — whether they were friends, family, guys, girls or kids — in his bed.  It was not long until Karl wallowed in self pity.  Thus, in order to avoid killing himself, he transferred to another room in the same house, one that was a little bigger.  After a year, he commandeered the apartment’s living room and transformed it into his own living quarters.

It was in the Manalac compound that Karl and I became good friends. We spent our entire law school days in that compound. Most nights, we would be drinking and playing video games or fiddling with our guitars. Sometimes, on very rare occasions, we did study for law school. In fact, our bar review days were spent playing that immortal video game Diablo: Lord of Destruction.

It was also then that Karl and I formed our first band together. Along with other schoolmates, we played at law school parties and events. We were purely a cover band, playing songs from the Beatles, Tom Jones, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and whatever else we felt like playing then. I played the bass guitar while Karl was our rhythm guitarist and lead vocalist.

Despite that kind of lifestyle, Karl finished law school at the top 30% of our batch. We took the bar in 2001. Immediately afterwards, and without even waiting for the results, Karl Castillo went to the beach. Once again, he tried to spend the rest of his days as a beach bum. This time, however, he would be a beach bum with a law degree.


For the second time in his life, reality interfered with Karl’s plan of becoming a perpetual beach bum. Having graduated from law school meant no more allowance from his parents. So Karl needed to earn money. Reluctantly, Karl looked for a job.

Being one of the top students of his batch, Karl Castillo had no shortage of job offers. He, however, chose to join his fraternity brother in Ortigas — Atty. Rainier Madrid, the Founding Partner of the Law Firm of Madrid and Associates.

Coincidentally, a few months before Karl started working at this law firm, a certain trendy trial lawyer had also accepted a job offer from this very same firm. At that time, I was just a trendy law graduate, working my ass out while waiting for the bar exam results. Thus, Karl and I became officemates.

In that firm, we learned the basics of litigation practice. We attended our first court hearings. We drafted our first pleadings. We interviewed our first clients. We practiced law the way it was taught to us.  In fact, back then, we used typewriters because the law office did not provide computers. Lawyers who refuse to use these typewriters could either write their own pleadings in a sheet of paper or they had to bring their own laptops.

Karl and I worked with that firm until the bar results came out. I still remember that day. While all our other batchmates opted not to work on that fateful day, Karl and I had to attend a hearing in Imus, Cavite. It was there that we found out that we passed the bar. Once we were lawyers, we went our separate ways — at least for a while.


Immediately after Karl passed the bar Karl joined one of the top litigation firms of the country — the law firm of FORTUN NARVASA AND SALAZAR.

Like all new lawyers, he started out as a Junior Associate. There, he was given specific legal tasks to accomplish. And just a few months after transferring to that firm, Karl Castillo’s talent for litigation immediately became apparent. The Partners realized that Karl could solve difficult legal problems on his own. He also demonstrated great passion for the legal practice and his out of the box crazy unpredictable style became his asset. Because of this, he was assigned to work on important cases early in his career.

In 2004, Karl was promoted to Senior Associate. He set a new record for the firm. Normally, it took lawyers around four years to be rise in the ranks. Karl did it in two and a half.

As a Senior Associate, it became apparent that he did not only get the job done. More importantly, he proved that he could take charge of cases and score victories thru his own legal strategies. And in only five and half years in the Firm, he was promoted as Partner. Again, he set a new record not only in his firm but also for his law school batch. He was the youngest lawyer to ever be promoted as Partner. He was also the first of his law school batchmates to become a Partner in a law firm and the first Atenean Partner in Fortun Narvasa and Salazar.


It could be said that Karl Castillo is one of the most famous young lawyers today. Some would argue, however the correct term to describe him would be “infamous”.  He had been practicing law for just about a decade now and he had already earned his reputation as a lawyer who could win difficult cases.

He is an accredited Arbitrator of the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market. He was part of the technical working group of the Supreme Court that crafted the Rules of Environmental Cases.

Due to his vast trial experience and wide knowledge of remedial law, and of course, his first hand involvement in numerous landmark cases, Atty. Karl Castillo is known as an expert in litigation. He had conducted numerous lectures for lawyers in the subjects of Oral Advocacy and Oral Arguments before appellate courts. He now also dabbles in energy law.

There can be no doubt that Atty. Karl Castillo can get things done. He certainly has great talent for litigation. Surprisingly, however, his talents are not just confined to the legal practice.

Atty. Karl Castillo is definitely a hotshot lawyer. But as you will see, he is clearly far more than that.


In part 2 of this feature article, we will get to know Karl Castillo not only as a lawyer but also as a musician.

*For more information of Atty. Karl Castillo’s legal career, please check out

*Photo by Don Carlo R. Ybanez

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