For the next four Sundays, lawyers-to-be (although most will not be, at least not immediately, the passing percentage being roughly 20%, or about 1 in every 5 examinees) from all over the Philippines will be trooping to the De La Salle University campus in Taft Avenue to take the annual bar exams. It has the atmosphere of a fiesta cum college pep rally, complete with banners, confetti, marching bands and cheering well-wishers, adding to the pressure and distraction of the examinees.
However, I read in the Inquirer that the Manila city government, led by Mayor Alfredo Lim, himself a lawyer, has reined in such activities to ensure peace and quiet for the bar takers. Good move. Bar exam days are little more than an excuse for law students, alumni and sundry supporters to hang around the bar exam area, block traffic, get drunk and engage in the occasional frat rumble to liven up a dull afternoon. All part of the so-called law schools’ “bar operations”. “Bar”, get it ?
The bar exams has long ceased to interest me, age and long years in the legal trenches having disabused me of my starry-eyed notions of how things would be in what some refer to as the second-oldest profession. But I read in the Inquirer a piece written by Atty. Anna Patricia R. Del Castillo, who tragically passed away last June 21, shortly after hurdling the bar. In the title, she is referred to as an “accidental lawyer”, which I can totally relate to. In fact, much to my surprise, her story sounded eerily like mine, except for her sad demise at such a very young age. She wrote:
I studied law with apathy and nonchalance. In college, I acted as if it was not the beginning of my real “life” as an adult, or that it would spell out my future. Of course, I know better now. But in those days, I was just into partying, partying and partying.
The only reason I took up law was because both my parents are lawyers. I took up political science in college as a pre-law course. I had a little interest in the law in the beginning, but the path towards fulfilling my dreams through being a lawyer was not that clear.
My basic attitude didn’t really change that much in law school. I went out a lot hanging out with friends on so-called “gimmicks.” But of course, I had to work hard, working myself to death during exam time. I also had to put it together, just enough to make it through the “roasts” (or those “massacre recitations”).
Six months after graduation from law school, I took the bar. Being a born crammer, I knew I had to be serious and work like crazy all those six short months. I asked around and the usual schedule was to read at least a hundred pages a day, which meant at least 10 hours of reading and listening to review lectures daily. I did all these.
I’m an accidental lawyer too, and an inveterate crammer. In fact, I crammed for my bar exams in two months, and by some quirk of fate, luck and happenstance, passed it on the first try. Creditably, I’d like to believe, given the circumstances. It may have been the prayers of my wife and specially my daughters, who were small children then, who at just the exact time that we were entering the bar exam venue, would be at our village chapel, praying fervently for my success. I guess God does listen to good little girls.
Which made the untimely death of Ms. Del Castillo all the more poignant. She would have made a great lawyer. It’s not passing the bar in one take, or even making it to the list of topnotchers, that makes an excellent lawyer. It’s heart. And from all indications, her heart was in the right place.
This led to some musings on the bar exam process itself, and its anachronisms in a globalized age. But I’ll reserve it for a later post.
In meantime, I’d like to wish all of the bar examinees good luck. Enjoy the ride, guys. Hopefully, it’ll come only once in your lifetime. My best advice would be to take the Joker’s question seriously: Why so serious ? You’ll either make it or you won’t. The time and resources you expended will not be wasted. It’ll ensure that you’ll be more than ready the next time around.
To illustrate, during my first bar exam Sunday (then held at the MLQU campus), I was standing in line during the inspection of the small bags we were allowed to bring into the test venue. I was chatting with the guy directly in front of me, who graduated from a U-belt law school. When he opened his bag for checking by the guards, including proctors from the Supreme Court, it revealed not cram notes but cans of cold San Miguel beer. The gatekeepers were so shocked, they waived him through. I was awed by and, a bit envious of, his audacity and sangfroid (not to mention the beer). He was chug-a-lugging beer throughout the first day’s exams .
True story. I never found out if he made it, though. But that’s the spirit (pun intended). Adopt a balls to the wall, spit-in-your-eye attitude. You’ll make it. Eventually.