Tuesday, September 23, 2008


"The bar exam, however, is not law school, and it is not the practice of law. It is a contorted alternate universe where mediocre and good enough are the proven roads to success. As such, now is the time to stop trying to be perfect and to get comfortable with your mediocrity."
--David Galalis

A professor of ours in law school told us during our freshman year that we should not fear the bar exam. After all, he said, what will be tested is simply our basic grasp of the fundamental concepts of law. We kept this advice in mind, but having been aware of its notoriety and high mortality rate, the bar exams still lingered at the back of our minds.

Soon however, after reading hundreds of cases, memorizing and understanding a hundred more codal provisions, and undergoing an intense and sadistic tradition called "recitations", (I believe "interrogations" is a more apt term), we began to forget about the bar exam; we were more concerned as to how we could survive law school. This was exacerbated by the fact that our law school kept reminding us that we were taught how to become good lawyers and not simply to pass the bar exam. Whereas other law schools were reputedly "bar-oriented", ours tried to distance ourselves from the bar exam and anything intimately connected to it.

As such, we discussed voluminous cases, some amounting to more than a hundred pages per case. Multiply this by at least 20 cases discussed per subject and taking up at least two subjects a day, add to this the codal provisions and the commentaries or the reviewers to supplement the cases and the codals, and you will come up with mind-boggling numbers and statistical data that will make your head hurt. However, the question still remains: How does one become a good lawyer if he does not obtain his license to practice law in the first place?" Yes we were still concerned about the bar, but there were other more important concerns that we needed to address.

The "bar fear factor" began to rear its ugly head again during our senior year, while we were taking our electives and optional review classes. We were introduced to laws that were included in the bar coverage but were not thoroughly discussed during our first three years in law school. The harsh truth became apparent to us: the bar is already lurking just around the corner, and it seems as if we were hardly prepared for it. It was an inevitable hurdle that we needed to overcome, and yet we weren't too familiar with the hurdle in the first place.

And so a year later and we graduated, something which, as a friend correctly quipped, was anti-climactic: we were bonafide graduates of our university, our school, at the very least, believes that we already know the law. The only question is whether we can practice it or not. The only issue is whether we can become that which we worked so hard for during the past four years: a bonafide, full-fledged officer of the court, a lawyer.

The six months after graduation was pure torture. I decided to take review classes in Ateneo Law School as it was closer to our house. Despite trying my best to look and feel confident, I became restless and paranoid. I can't help but feel overwhelmed due to the voluminous amount of reading materials that you have to cover in preparation for the bar exam. As such I was introduced, albeit unpleasantly to the monster that we call the "bar exam".

The bar exam, the most anticipated, yet highly dreaded professional licensure exam in our country, or so according to law students and members of the legal profession. The longest four sundays of september that a law student will ever experience in his or her entire life. It would seem as if the proponents of this exam deliberated and for reasons unbeknown to us, conspired to pre-emptively punish those who want to become lawyers. They decided that four gruelling years of law school wasn't enough, and thus specifically designed this exam to be the ultimate test of how far one barrister can endure psychological, intellectual, and emotional torture, after already enduring four years of continuous (some may even say ritual) torture. Make no mistake about it, taking the bar exam is a humbling experience.

Contrary to the popular notion that the bar exam is simply a test that measures whether a person knows the basics of our law and jurisprudence and hence, is fit to practice law, most barristers discover that it is not a simple test whose outcome is based mostly on what you studied, or what you have learned from law school. On the contrary, more often than not, it is the various nuances that would greatly affect the outcome of the exam i.e. other factors other than your abilities can greatly affect the outcome.

For one, it is not an objective/enumeration type of exam. Although reforms are slowly being introduced in order to convert it to a part objective and part essay exam, 80 to 90% of it is still in essay format. Furthermore, answers are to be written by hand. This factor alone tests one aspect that is not in any way related to law practice; your handwriting. An essay exam will also test your reasoning skills, and how logical you can present your answer. The latter, I must admit is important, as lawyers earn their bread and butter by how well they can reason out their respective arguments, stand, or advocacies, assuming they do make a stand in the first place.

Moreover, you will be tested on eight subjects, Political Law and Labor Law on the first sunday, Civil Law and Taxation law on the second, Commercial Law and Criminal Law on the third, and Remedial Law and Ethics & Forms on the final sunday. As such, the bar examinations, gained its notoriety for the sheer brutality of the exam and the questionable procedure, method of administrating and correcting itself. Now it becomes easy to understand why most lawyers, when asked what is the one thing that they would never want to do again in their entire life, would quickly say: "take the bar exams".

And so, I cannot help but feel some discomfort and queasiness. Feelings that have been long gone or at the very least supressed are stirred; of late nights, depression, anxiety, stress, and yes, even despair slowly rise once again. On the other hand, memories of drum beats, beer shower, bar ops, messages of love and support from your family and friends bring back a smile and a sense of gratitude for all those who believed in you. And yet despite all of these, there still remains something unsettling about one of the most crucial and significant points in your life, that you can't help but feel nostalgic, and yes, even nervous for those who are about to undergo the same experience as you did.

For this is september, this is the month where thousands of people will pray together in unison and for the same purpose. To be able to survive the bar exam. Thousands of people will be very, very afraid. And why shouldn't they? They are going to take the bar exam. They will be going to war.

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