End obsession with Top 10 | Inquirer Opinion
YOUNG BLOOD

End obsession with Top 10

12:07 AM December 13, 2016

Bar topnotcher: Every law student dreams to be one. Law professors, administrators and deans share that dream with their students, inasmuch as professors focus on preparing the students for the bar exam, and administrators craft curriculums and offer courses mostly intended for the students’ bar exam performance.

This has been the trend in the past decades. But this has to change if we are to keep up with the movements shaping the 21st century: regional integration, geopolitical power play, globalization, and rapid societal and technological advancement. Otherwise, we will be left behind.

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The obsession with landing in the Top 10 has limited our legal education to training law students intensively and exclusively in all fields of Philippine law. Thus, they do not have the opportunity to choose specific fields of interest. More importantly, law curriculums have left no space for specialized courses on issues and realities that challenge us today. As a result, law students are practically trained to become general practitioners, and eventually are left on their own to decide in which field to specialize when they graduate.

In 2011, a top law school, UP Law, dropped noncore electives in favor of bar-review and bar-related ones. Before then, it was said that UP Law was not focusing on the bar exam but on the students’ future outstanding law practice. But because of its graduates’ relative dismal performance in the bar exam, particularly the glaring decline of graduates landing in the Top 10,

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UP Law’s administration has somehow ridden the tide of the Top 10 obsession.

Another top law school, San Beda, has had a rigid curriculum for decades in which students have no electives at all, except for a two-unit subject, banking. In addition, fourth-year subjects are mostly bar-review ones.

Ateneo de Manila, another leading law school, is somehow a saving grace. It has retained 22 units of electives. Some electives are useful for the challenges presented by the Asean integration, geopolitical conflicts, and globalization, such as international taxation, international moot court, international economic law, and European business law. But these are few and rarely offered.

The trend should be reversed. Schools should not be bar-focused as the bar exam is a licensure exam that only tests one’s understanding of Philippine laws. It does not test one’s working knowledge on pressing issues of a multinational level, and preparedness in dealing with non-Filipino nationals, lawyers, institutions, and governments, including international bodies.

Although passing the bar exam is an essential requirement for law practice, a bar-focused student is ill-equipped for the challenges arising from the movements shaping the 21st century. It is true that new lawyers generally go through general practice (in a law firm, corporation, or the government) for years. Most new lawyers will not dare go straight to what they want to specialize in. And worse, most will not dare leave their comfort zones—the Philippine setting—precisely because they have been intensively and exclusively trained to be lawyers for the local stage.

With due respect to the Supreme Court, together with the media, they have somehow conditioned the public that the Top 10 examinees are assured of a highly outstanding career. As far as this writer is concerned, there is no difference in the cognitive and legal skills of any of the top 100 examinees, and any of the Top 10, as an examinee’s bar exam score is partly determined by the examinee’s luck (e.g., he or she had luckily focused on the exact topics actually asked) and the examiner’s whim (e.g., he or she may not like the examinee’s handwriting, or is in a bad mood while checking). What will determine a lawyer’s greatness is not his or her exam score—a tool of leverage—but his or her actual performance in the practice of law: Does the lawyer gloriously win—and graciously lose—court cases? Is he or she a revered professor or author? Perhaps these are some reasons there are no Top 10 lists in developed countries.

What should then be done? Amid rapidly growing societal and technological complexities, the profession is in dire need of specialization. Schools should provide specialized, nonbar-related electives, such as law and the internet, and law and emerging technologies.  A specific, fairly recent case that left us troubled was the Uber issue, which had our lawyers’ naiveness exposed. There were no local legal authorities. In the name of advancement, we instead heavily relied on the legal application in other countries.

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Furthermore, as we are faced with regional and global realities, students should have a stronger grasp of international, regional, and even individual foreign laws. Electives such as international human rights law, comparative Asean law, and Indonesian mercantile law, should be offered. With these electives, future Filipino lawyers will be academically trained so that they, equipped with a firm foundation and coupled with some experience, will be at par and will be able to work effectively with their foreign peers, and will be able to appear before or work with foreign institutions and international bodies.

Thus, it is essential that students be able to explore other areas. Schools can only start offering such subjects if they are not pressured to produce Top 10 graduates. It is then respectfully suggested that the Top 10 examinees no longer be publicized.

Legal education should not be bar-focused; otherwise, our future lawyers will fall into an abyss of complexities, or will have great difficulty in reaching their full potential for the regional and global stages. Schools, through their professors, should not put all their efforts on strategizing how to produce Top 10 graduates, or how to outperform other schools’ average passing rate. Instead, they should prepare the students to be great in practice not only locally but also regionally and globally.

The world has become overly complex these past decades, and will continue to do so. There are too many lawyers prepared for general practice, but there are too few who have legitimate specialized knowledge. And there are too many lawyers trained to tackle domestic issues, but there are too few who are well-prepared for the realities, beyond our shores, facing us.

Jose Luis O. General, 29, is a linguist-supervisor, a published translator, and a senior law student.

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TAGS: Bar Topnotcher, college, Grades, opinion, student, top 10 student, Young Blood
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