Being Right

Just guessing: there are probably between 16,000 to 20,000 students that annually want to enter law school. That’s before the PhilSat (Philippine Law School Admission Test). The PhilSat in 2018 cut that down to roughly 10,000 to 12,000.

Without PhilSat and staying at 20,000, historically a rough average of 5,000 law graduates will take the Bar. Setting the Bar passing average at 20%, around 1,000 will become lawyers.

That means, theoretically, around 19,000 people would probably have been better off being encouraged to explore other careers. From the beginning. Without wasting time and money.

And that is with a legal education many criticize (a bit unfairly, albeit with modicum of truth) as built on rote.

Now the Bar exams, believe it or not, are actually simple. And also designed to respond to rote studies. Bar questions are neither deep nor complicated.

This is not because the Supreme Court (SC) is composed of simpletons — far from it — , but because the SC is reasonable: the Bar exams are deliberately designed to give everyone a fair chance at passing. (I should know. I was an examiner once for political law and international law).

My point is this: Assuming it’s true that legal education today is rote, memorization tested by mere Q&A recitations and essay exams — yet 19,000 still fail to become lawyers — What does that tell you of the quality of law school entrants?

And yet people still complain about the quality of the 5% that do become lawyers!

Now, the reader may want to think about this: memorizing law provisions is much simpler than analytical/philosophical work that involves not only law but also socio-economic-political thought-philosophical learning.

So, does anybody see the disconnect here and with many of the proposals made at the recently concluded Legal Education Summit? At simple rote, 95% of those who enter law fail in the end to become lawyers, and yet some law professors are hoping to make law studies even more complicated.

But we can’t have it all: we can’t allow morally to have the bulk of those 19,000 people waste their time entering law school knowing the chances of them becoming lawyers are close to nil. But we can’t raise the passing rates because that will mean lowering standards and endanger society.

There is also the matter of legal academics talking at cross-purposes. Or even agreeing at cross-purposes.

The issue of “social justice” being one of them.

If the idea is based on that of Catholic social teaching relating to matters of human dignity and the common good, to “purify reason and to contribute, here and now, to the acknowledgment and attainment of what is just” (as Pope Benedict XVI puts it), resting on the cornerstones of human dignity, solidarity, and subsidiarity (Pope John Paul II), then such is all well and good, and indeed proper for legal education.

But 99% of the time today, when “social justice” is mentioned, usually it refers to the liberal progressive version, which means whatever it is that liberal progressives want — be it totalitarian State power to reengineer society, coercive wealth redistribution, LGBT+ “rights,” or same sex “marriage.” To build legal education on this ridiculous concept is insane.

The other is the Bar Exam.

Of course there is a need to improve it. But people again are talking at cross-purposes: there is indeed merit in a legal academe not dependent on the Bar results for increased quality, but such does not necessarily follow that the Bar exams have no positive contribution in developing and regulating traditional legal practice. In other words, developing a scholarly legal academe and developing ethical competent legal practitioners. Those are two strands of issues and to reform the Bar exam not recognizing these differing strands or purposes could be tragic.

The reality is if something has reasonably (not necessarily perfectly) worked for a long period of time, then we must be wary of making changes based on some new fashionable idea.

The problem is when you have legal academics getting all giddy over some “progressive” practice they saw abroad. Never mind if those other countries had been implementing the said changes only for a relatively short period of time, if discernible results can be analyzed, and whether such are actually appropriate for Philippine conditions. It is a good bet many of these novel or “progressive” suggestions fail this standard.

Finally, three additional points:

• the PhilSat has only been in execution for a few years and none of the PhilSat “babies” have taken the Bar — we don’t have the data yet if the program resulted in better educational and professional performance;

• the rest of the academe, particularly that leading to law school (i.e., grade school to college), should be surveyed, consulted, and analyzed; and

• the whole legal community, meaning the practitioners and not merely the academics, plus the concerned end user clientele (businesses, government, etc.) should be surveyed, consulted, and analyzed as well.

Legal education is just too important to be left to the lawyers.


Jemy Gatdula is a Senior Fellow of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations and a Philippine Judicial Academy law lecturer for constitutional philosophy and jurisprudence.

Twitter @jemygatdula