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Confessions of a bar passer

/ 05:02 AM November 26, 2017

Even for a million bucks, I wouldn’t take the bar examinations again. Let’s disregard the fact that P1 million is not worth much these days. It doesn’t make you rich—a millionaire, yes, but not rich. But that’s beside the point.

The bar exams made me pragmatic, a firm believer in luck and chances, so going through the drill again would mean pushing my luck too far, which I won’t dare do. Honestly, I was just lucky the first time, and I just know that luck has this nasty habit of running out.

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After brushing up on some questions from the first Sunday of the ongoing bar exams on the first subject of political law, the more I became convinced that I would flunk in an epic way if I should take the tests a second time.

The bar exams, and I think this holds true of other licensure tests, tend to measure our ability as students but not so much our aptitude as future professionals. It is largely an academic exercise designed to test how much we know, which depends a lot on the length of our review and preparation.

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Some bar questions are simply mental games with little practical application in real life. These questions are usually the ones with an unbelievable degree of difficulty, designed to throw you into a state of shock and mental block until you give up. Many fall into these mind traps and never become the darn good lawyers that they would have been. They lose heart over a question, or lose their mind completely.

It takes some madness to survive this rite of passage, too.

I remember during my bar exams a question hit me from out of the blue. Name the current president of the International Court of Justice. Unable to contain my indignation, I wrote: Abubakar Mahabaratbu. The examiner must have fallen off his seat while checking my papers. But I do believe that it has something to do with the fact that I passed political law with a decent enough grade. My desperate attempt at humor must have earned points, or maybe it inspired divine mercy from the examiner. But if you are taking the bar today, I insist you forget such a stunt; you just can’t pull it off. I merely got lucky, and luck, like lightning, doesn’t strike twice.

If it’s any consolation, the practice does not torment the brain as much as the bar does. Basically, it’s only for purposes of the bar exams that you need to know reserva troncal, and the doctrine of nunc pro tunc. Once you pass the bar, you can say the hell with those hideous terms in the Latin language.

Law practice is still essentially grounded on basic principles, and very rarely do you come across truly complicated and novel questions of law, in which case you will actually welcome the opportunity, because unlike the bar, the practitioner is given ample time to research and prepare for litigation, not to mention to collect a king’s ransom because of the inherent difficulty of the job that justifies the reward.

Although it’s a white-collar job, the practice of law demands a blue-collar approach to stay in the running. It’s not so much about the intellectual capital that you start with as the labor that you put into the practice—the actual hours of hard work spent in research and continuing legal education that will sustain you in the long haul.

The irony of passing the bar is that after having invested so much time and hard-earned money, many new lawyers would find the inherent hard work in lawyering and the ensuing rat race too much of a personal burden to them that they would rather walk away without even trying. I don’t take it against them, as long as they are truly happy with that decision.

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So take heart and remember: There is life after the bar exams.

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Adel Abillar is a private law practitioner with a small office in Quezon City where, he says, “I alternate between being boss and messenger.”

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