For starters, this is not about the Bar Exams.
That remains a considerably valuable rite of passage that not only tests the legal knowledge of the examinee but more importantly the ability to utilize such while under tremendous stress.
It separates the layman who thinks he knows the law from the legal professional who actually knows it and can apply it under pressure.
For more on the Bar exam, do read the article from Nov. 4, 2016, “Taking the Bar,” on bworldonline.com.
The Bar Operations, however, which pertains both to the organization within a law school and the function the latter ostensibly has (e.g., collate notes, arrange the logistics for the examinees), is another thing.
Just last weekend, observe a random Bar Operation from any of the “top” established law schools, you’d see the assembly of equipment, people, bags, food, transportation, etc., of such quantity akin to a typhoon rescue or military operation.
To be emphasized is that these resources are not for the Bar examinees but just for the Bar Operations students and staff helping the examinees.
For the examinees themselves, that will still be a different set of expenses.
In fairness, one can understand the organizing and originating principle for the Bar Operations and that is legal education remains – unfortunately – unduly Bar oriented. It is also a matter of fellowship or raising school esprit de corps.
However, through time it has ballooned into this huge monstrosity that, considering the need to develop more focus on legal studies as a truly disciplined academic field rather than a craft, considering the national economic situation, considering that the law profession must lead in the display of virtue (amongst which are restraint and temperance), then the Bar Operations either has outlived its usefulness or is in dire need of pruning.
None of the activities in the Bar Operations theoretically adds to the students’ legal training, knowledge, or even ethics. Even if there were, these should be taking place in the classroom.
Besides, the examinees themselves are theoretically ready already anyway to take the Bar exam from the moment they graduate.
And the Bar exam is just that: just another exam.
Assuming they went to a competent law school, law graduates would already have gone through four years of far harder exams without the pomp and extravagant use of resources that is the modern day Bar Operations.
And as one legal education expert points out: “this is more reason to strengthen the 4th year review so that Bar examinees are truly confident to take the Bar exam when they step out of law school even without the pre-Bar review and the placebo of Bar Ops.”
“Placebo” is the perfect word to describe it. Many previous Bar examinees went through the exams without the Bar Ops. I drove myself to the Bar exam venue, brought my own lunch and supplies, spent Saturday calming myself down, went to anticipated Mass with family and loved ones, and basically just ignored the tips. Somehow, I managed to survive.
Another law expert exclaimed: “Bar Ops make a carnival of what should be a purely academic exercise. This becomes a competition of arrogance and affluence among law schools.”
Consider that these Bar Operations are normally housed in hotels, employing hundreds of student manpower hours, food and drinks provided, all costing hundreds of thousands of pesos (perhaps millions for the so-called ‘elite’ law schools).
This is ridiculous.
There are ways to stop this nonsense without running afoul of constitutional provisions on assembly, education, and expression.
One is police power legislation to stop or discourage such extravagant use of resources (akin to controlling election spending).
Thus, measures can be made as to funds capping, outright prohibition on university spending (and collecting fees from students), and disallowing use of university premises and resources for Bar Operations purposes. Private law schools can also stop this by way of contract.
There is also this dark side to the Bar Ops, which is the last minute “tips.”
Think about that: what are these tips and where are they from? Are we encouraging law schools to get undue advantages? The ethical questions these alone raises should put into doubt the merit of the Bar Ops.
Again, retain the Bar exam.
Make the exam more rigorous so that only the truly qualified pass.
Raise the quality of legal education so that law students are not only good at passing the Bar exams but can truly serve society well as educated lawyers.
Let’s continually refine the PhilSat so that only those possessed of the qualities to survive law schools geared toward producing true legal professionals are allowed to enter.
Let’s have the legal profession, legal education, and undergrad programs coordinate properly so that prospective law students possess the communication, logic, reasoning, and other basic education skills even before they enter law school.
Let’s use time, money, and resources as prudently and wisely as possible.
And we can start by discouraging Bar Operations.
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.
For starters, this is not about the Bar Exams.