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Lower quality of lawyers

12:07 AM March 30, 2015

The Philippines has 1,126 new lawyers. Boon or bane?

For the successful examinees, their families and loved ones, it’s a boon, or something to be happy about as it means the start of a new career or professional life. For people who do not think highly of lawyers, it’s a bane, or something not to bother about, much less given front-page treatment in the newspapers.

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The latest batch of compañeros represents 18.82 percent of the 5,984 law graduates who took last year’s bar examinations. It is lower than the 22.18 percent passing rate in 2013, and second to the lowest in 2012 where only 17.76 percent made the grade.

The number of new lawyers could have been lower had the Supreme Court not reduced the passing rate from 75 to 73 percent.

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This is the third consecutive year that the tribunal relaxed the passing grade to allow more examinees to pass what is reputedly the toughest professional licensure test in the country. In 2012, the passing grade was trimmed to 70 percent; in 2013, it went down to 73 percent.

The tribunal adopted the liberal policy to address the declining percentage of successful examinees in recent years.

It is ironic, however, that while other professional licensure offices are tightening up on the quality or caliber of their examinees, the highest court of the land has chosen to do the opposite.

Rather than raise the bar on the men and women who will be licensed to dispense legal advice, the tribunal has lowered it instead. In a manner of speaking, it “dumbed” rather than “upped” the system that is meant to ensure that only the academically prepared are allowed entry in a profession that supposedly should be looked at as a calling, and not a mere means of livelihood.

Time and again, the tribunal has called on lawyers to maintain the highest standards of excellence and integrity in the performance of their duties and responsibilities as officers of the court.

It is appalling that the criterion of excellence is compromised even before the lawyer is given permission to enter the bar, as the practice of law is traditionally described.

In all professions, specific benchmarks or qualifications are set to accomplish certain objectives.

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The 75-percent passing grade is the minimum proof that an examinee has sufficient knowledge of the principal facets of Philippine laws that would qualify him or her to give legal advice. Any grade below that means the examinee cannot be trusted or relied upon to perform the responsibilities that attaches to the title “attorney at law.”

If that principle is applied to, say, the medical profession, it would be inappropriate to entrust a person’s life or health to a doctor who failed to meet the academic requirements of his or her profession, or earned his or her license by the grace of licensors who did not take their job seriously.

The fact that there has been a decline in the number of successful bar examinees for the past years does not justify making entry into the legal profession easier. It’s not as if lawyers are such an endangered species in the Philippines that “conservation” measures should be implemented to ensure their continued existence.

To date, there about 60 law schools all over the country that offer legal education to thousands of Filipinos who think the legal profession is the gateway to financial affluence, or politics, which is also another lucrative source of money.

Looking at the number of students in law schools and the number of bar examinees every year, one will find it obvious that there will be no dearth of lawyers in our country for a long, long time. There is in fact a standing joke that if half of the Filipino lawyers were exported to other countries, the Philippines would enjoy a healthy balance of payments!

Quality, not quantity, should be the principal criterion in determining who should and should not be allowed to practice law in our country.

The argument that entry to the Philippine bar should be made less cumbersome to compensate for the time, money and effort spent by the students and their parents in eight years of education is feeble.

The decision to enroll in a law school is personal. When one decides to embark on a career in law, he or she knows the risks that go with choosing that path rather than any other profession. If, after eight or more years of study, he or she fails to meet the minimum passing grade for one reason or another, that’s just too bad. That’s how the cookie crumbles in the game called life.

The solution to the declining passing rate of bar examinees is not to lower the passing grade but to improve the system of legal education.

Unlike colleges that offer various professional courses which are under the supervision of the Commission on Higher Education, law schools are supervised by a Legal Education Board, an attached agency of the Department of Education. The five-person board is headed by a former justice of the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeals; the rest, except for the student representative, are all lawyers.

Since admission to the practice of law in the country is regulated by the high court, it has a big say or influence in the manner by which law schools should conduct their academic affairs.

This gives it the opportunity to take the appropriate steps to make sure law students are provided the proper skills and training that will, at the minimum, enable them to get the 75-percent grade needed to pass the bar examinations.

Strategic academic preparation, not legal shortcuts, would address the problem of the poor showing of the examinees.

 

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

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