JOSE C. SISON: PASSING THE BAR

MANILA, September 29, 2003 (STAR) A Law Each Day (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) By Jose C. Sison  - The bar exams are given primarily to find out whether a law graduate is qualified to practice the legal profession. Preparing for the exams is supposed to start from day one of the four year law course in a duly accredited law school capped by a pre-bar review on different bar subjects.

During our time some forty years ago, a number of bar candidates even skipped the pre-bar review classes and just reviewed by themselves in some quiet and isolated place where they could fully concentrate. The preparation was one supreme personal effort at recollecting and scrutinizing the various legal subjects and doctrines learned in four years. The examination itself was conducted solemnly with no fanfare or "cheering squads". It was arduous and backbreaking...and lonely. But the hardships entailing the intense preparation build up greater confidence and self assurance not only in the readiness to tackle whatever questions might crop up during the exams but more importantly in the fitness to practice the profession after hurdling the exams.

As in any human endeavour however, the tendency is to follow the line of least resistance, to look for the easy way. Thus, over the years various devices have been contrived to make the bar review less arduous so that passing the bar would be like a walk in the park. In the process, passing the bar exams has become the end in itself rather than merely the means to assure fitness and competence to practice law.  Achieving that end led to efforts at concentrating the review on answers to possible test questions to enable the candidates to "breeze through" the exams if the questions indeed come out. Today, bar candidates are considered well prepared not because they have reviewed long and hard but because they have been equipped with enough information on possible test questions by support groups in their respective schools. "Bar Ops" (Bar operations) groups are mobilized to assist the examinees. Law school frat members are visible any where within the vicinity of the exam venue to boost the morale and pass on last minute "tips". The present competitive and carnival atmosphere is really conducive to leakages like what happened in the exams on mercantile law. Invalidating that test and requiring the more than 5,000 examinees to take another test on the subject is but necessary to preserve the integrity of the bar exams unfair as it seems to those not involved in the alleged anomaly.

On the plus side, the leakage brings out a highly debatable issue about the bar examinations. Is it really the best method to determine who will be licensed to practice law? For sure, it is a test of the graduates’ well-rounded knowledge of the law and their command of the English language, not to mention their skills to write legibly. These factors however are not enough to assure the public that passing the bar makes for a good lawyer. Sometimes the element of "tsamba" plays a big role. And with the current practice of relying too much on "tips" for the bar questions, the bar exams may not really be an accurate gauge of the examinees’ well rounded knowledge of the law.

Besides, lawyering is more than merely rendering legal services to client and collecting attorney’s fees. The essence of lawyering consists in discharging their duties and responsibilities as officers of the Court in the administration of justice. They are supposed to assist the courts in dispensing justice promptly because justice delayed is justice denied. But as it is,most court litigations drag on mainly because of lawyers. They either throw all technical gauntlets to prolong them or they cause delay because their legal knowledge are not up to date. This stagnancy is also the cause of so many injustices and failure in ferreting out the truth. Hence the Supreme Court even saw the need of a continuing legal education (MCLE). The MCLE is the best proof that the bar examinations has not served its purpose.

There are enough reasons therefore to look into the possibility of scrapping the bar examinations, with all its glitter and glamour. A much better method should be considered. A higher benchmark in the average grades of law graduates in all their law school subjects may be fixed for the issuance of the license to practice law subject to revocation if they fail to take the mandatory continuing legal education (MCLE). This is an alternative worth looking into.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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