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Challenge to the new lawyers

The passing rate of the 2016 bar examinations—59.06 percent—is the highest in 16 years. With the instruction of the bar chair, Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr., to the examiners to be reasonable in checking the examinees’ answers, 3,747 out of 6,344 examinees made the grade.

For the first time in the history of the reputedly toughest licensure examination in the Philippines, examinees from provincial law schools dominated the top 10 slots. Graduates of law schools in Metro Manila—UP, Ateneo and San Beda—who traditionally led the way in the bar exams, did not perform as well.

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After the euphoria of passing subsides, many of the new lawyers will join the thousands of recent college graduates seeking employment. Those who are already gainfully employed can look forward to a raise or a promotion. In the government service, the acquisition of the right to affix “Atty.” to an employee’s name often entitles him or her to an upward adjustment in service and salary grade levels.

In this regard, it is interesting to note that in spite of the heavy influx of new lawyers every year, hundreds of vacancies in the judiciary and prosecution service have remained unfilled. The higher compensation and incentives offered for these positions do not seem good enough to attract new lawyers to the government service.

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When the bar exam results are released, it is customary for the country’s high-caliber law offices to recruit from the top 10 passers to beef up their ranks.

The high grades received are viewed as proof of the new lawyers’ academic competence and potential to make good in the profession. But while good performance in the bar exams may be a significant factor in the recruitment process, some unwritten rules apply in determining who will be offered entry to the law office.

If most of the partners or “rainmakers” (or lawyers who bring in high-paying clients) in a law office graduated from a certain law school—say UP or Ateneo—chances are that law office will prefer to hire new lawyers who got good grades at their alma mater despite failing to make it to the top 10. The reason often cited to justify this “discriminatory” posture: The partners know the quality of the academic training that the new lawyer went through, something which cannot be said of the products of other law schools.

Besides, some law offices do not consider the ranking in the bar exams a reliable measure of a lawyer’s competence to meet the requirements of law practice. It is common knowledge that the examiner’s mood at the time he or she corrected the examination books can spell the difference between a high and a low grade.

Considering that the top 10 bar examinees come from provincial law schools, it would be interesting to see if the crème de la crème of Metro Manila law offices will maintain the practice of inviting the topnotchers into their fold.

While passing the bar exam may be a source of joy to the successful examinees, the entry of hundreds of new lawyers into the workforce each year raises some concerns. In a country beset with numerous economic and social problems, is there a need to produce that big number of lawyers every year? With more lawyers looking for ways to earn a living, are we not fostering the growth of a litigious society?

In his book “The Price of Inequality,” Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize winner in economics, said some studies “… showed that countries with fewer lawyers (relative to their population) grew faster. Other research suggests that the main channel through which a high proportion of lawyers in a society hurts the economy is the diversion of talent away from more innovative activities (like engineering and science).”

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This observation applies foursquare to the Philippines.

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Raul J. Palabrica ([email protected]) writes a weekly column in the Business section of the Inquirer.

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