Bar exams toppers and downers
The Top 10 places in the last (2018) bar exams were captured by three Ateneo de Manila law graduates (Top 1, 4 and 5), four by the University of San Carlos (Top 2, 3, 9 and 10), two by the University of the Philippines (Top 6 and 7) and one by the De La Salle University (Top 8). That’s the good news.
The bad news is that only 1,800 or 22.07 percent of the 8,155 who took the tests passed. Of these 8,155 takers, about half (4,076) were first-timers while the other half (4,079) were repeaters. Of the first-timers, 1,340 or 32.87 percent succeeded; of the repeaters, only 460 or 11.28 percent did.
The performance of law schools in the bar exams is judged not just by the topnotchers produced but more so by the passing percentage of all their graduates who took the tests. By this standard, the Top 3 law schools were: first, Ateneo de Manila with a passing percentage of 86.76 percent (177 passers out of 204 takers); second, UP, 84.39 percent (146 of 173); and third, USC 72.45 percent (71 of 98).
Significantly, the top law schools in terms of topnotchers are also the best in terms of the passing percentages of their graduates.
The rest of the high-performing schools were: fourth, University of Asia and the Pacific, 66.67 percent (4 of 6); fifth, Ateneo de Davao, 64.52 percent (20 of 31); sixth, San Beda University, Manila, 64.50 (149 of 231); seventh, University of Santo Tomas, 63.16 percent (96 of 152); eighth, Angeles University Foundation, 55.00 percent (11 of 20); ninth, Xavier University, 54.90 percent (28 of 51); and 10th, Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, 50.00 percent (16 of 32).
The 8,155 takers graduated from 131 law schools. However, only 37 schools performed better than the overall 22.07 passing percentage, and only 106 produced at least one passer. Sadly, the rest (25) had zero passers. Ten of them had double-digit candidates; in fact, one had 31 and another 30 candidates, yet not even one passed.
Something must be awfully unwell about the legal education system, the law schools, the students, the exams or all of them. And worse, this problem of having only about 25 percent passers and too many law schools failing with zero passers has bedeviled the bar exams since the 1980s.
In this light, I welcome the Legal Education Summit sponsored by the Supreme Court to be held on July 31 to Aug. 1 at the Manila Hotel. This is one of the four reform projects of CJ Lucas P. Bersamin.
Since its creation on April 1, the summit’s organizing committee, chaired by Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo and vice-chaired by UP law dean Fides Cordero-Tan, has been consulting stakeholders nationwide to “identify the common problems encountered, and consider the solutions including updating the basic law curriculum for purposes of admission to the bar, and adopting the best practices to develop students to become practice-ready lawyers.”
To be sure, the upgrading of legal education has been talked about extensively for the longest time. As early as 1993, Congress tried to help by enacting Republic Act No. 7662 creating the Legal Education Board (LEB) principally “to administer the legal education system in the country.” However, it was not until 2009 when its members were appointed by the President.
Unfortunately, not everyone agreed with the creation of the LEB, because its functions appear to conflict with the power given by the Constitution to the Supreme Court to “[p]romulgate rules concerning… admission to the practice of law.”
This conflict was put to the fore when the LEB issued on Dec. 29, 2016, a “Memorandum Order” (amended by two other memorandum orders issued on April 20, 2017, and June 8, 2018) requiring the hurdling of what it called the “Philippine Law School Admission Test” before students can enroll in the basic law courses.
The test is intended to measure communications and language proficiency, critical thinking skills, and verbal and quantitative reasoning. (For details, see my 3/14/2019 column.)
Acting on a petition to nullify these LEB orders and to declare RA 7662 unconstitutional, the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order to stop the LEB from implementing them. I hope this case would be finally decided prior to the summit.
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