Our obsession with Bar topnotchers


UnknownUnknown-1The UP College of Law topped anew the 2014 Bar examinations with my student, Nielsen Pangan, placing first. His schoolmate, Mark Oyales, bagged the second place. Three other students from UP Law landed in the top 10: Eden Mopia was fourth, Michael Tiu was eighth and Cyril Arnesto was tenth.

This was the first time for UP Law to top the Bar Examinations since Joanne de Venecia placed first in 2005. In 2011, no one from UP placed in the top 10 of the Bar.

I am, of course, together with the entire UP community, ecstatic about the results. This is not just because I am a product and a professor of UP Law. It is more because every UP graduate’s success is a toast to the poor and the middle class in this country. The UP dream is the stuff that is written about in telenovelas: poor children dreaming of climbing the economic ladder through a world-class education.

That’s why more people celebrate when UP students top not just the Bar -but the other Board exams as well. While private school graduates should also be honored when they reach similar success, the joy of topping the exams for a rich kid is simply not the same when poor or middle class students achieve the same fete. This explains why when the likes of Nielsen, the son of a Meralco engineer and a housewife; and Mark, son of a security employee and a bakery worker from Tacloban, top the bar, the entire nation celebrates with them. This is because their success is the success of every middle-class and poor family in this country. Rich people, when they achieve the same feat, celebrate only amongst themselves in their gated enclaves. The poor and the middle class, on the other hand, live their dreams through students like Pangan and Oyales. This is the UP fairy tale.

Be that as it may, this country really ought to reconsider the prestige and importance that it bestows on the Bar top notchers. Having been a Bar examiner in 2010, I have probably earned the right to say that given the very limited time given to Bar examiners to check almost 6,000 booklets of essay questions, the Bar exams could not be a reliable measure of one’s preparedness to be a member of the Bar. Moreover, one’s success as a lawyer is not measured by how well one does in the Bar examinations. Here, it’s the successful barristers’ future conduct as lawyers that will determine his or her greatness as a lawyer. Case in point is that of the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who despite having been a bar top notcher, earned notoriety for infringing on rights protected by the Bill of Rights. Here you have an instance when a topnotcher earned notoriety because of what he did with his title later on in his life. If the bar exam results were indeed the ultimate measure of one’s preparedness to be a lawyer, then the remains of Marcos should today be at the Libingan ng mga Bayani and not in an air-conditioned crypt awaiting a funeral.

But an even more fundamental consideration is: what kind of lawyers are we producing with the obsession we have with topping the Bar examinations? Responding to the debacle of 2011 when no student from UP landed in the top 10 of the Bar, UP Law has since required its students to enroll in bar review subjects as electives instead of those that will enrich them as lawyers in an increasingly internationalized profession. For instance, I no longer teach electives on International Humanitarian Law and UNCLOS that have enabled at least two of our graduates, Raymond Sandoval and Suzette Suarez, to land appointments in the International Criminal Court and the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea, respectively. Likewise, we have done away with the elective on International Trade Law that enabled the likes of Dr. Diane Desierto and Ana Ramos to land careers as a tenured faculty teaching trade law at the University of Hawaii and the World Trade Organization, respectively.  Likewise, we have done away with the elective on project financing which has proven to be the country’s monopoly in terms of cross border legal practice.

Worse, this giant step backward—just to satisfy the country’s obsession with Bar top notchers—is still happening when we only have a year before the borderless Asean Economic Community comes into being in 2015. This will usher in not only free cross border trade in goods, but also in services, including the practice of professions.

There is hence an apparent contradiction with UP Law’s decision to revert to being a bar review institute with the decision of the University itself, for instance, to change its academic calendar to begin in August, to be in synch with the rest of Asean. Simply put, we are retreating to the Jurassic past when we seek to produce Bar topnotchers instead of preparing grand lawyers for an increasingly interdependent world.

But what the heck: the public wants the topnotchers and for now, UP played well to the gallery. I hope though that for the country’s sake, this obsession will soon be a thing of the past. For otherwise, while we continue to heap praises on the topnotchers of an archaic exam, the country, meanwhile, may be left behind in the race for modernity.

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11 comments on “Our obsession with Bar topnotchers

  1. allelu says:

    Hear, hear.

  2. grace p. says:

    Hi, Sir Roque! Well said! However, perhaps it is time for UP to seriously consider offering an LLM program. Students should still have access to UP law professors’ rich pool of talent, skill, and experience that go beyond simply passing the bar. But it seems like we can’t get around the importance of bar performance in this country. Thus, an LLM program might solve the quandary for many law students on whether they should focus on bar preparation (while sacrificing the chance to take enriching electives) or to look ahead and prepare for practice (but sacrifice bar preparation).

  3. pchan_august says:

    Reblogged this on Random Thoughts and commented:
    “…the Bar exams could not be a reliable measure of one’s preparedness to be a member of the Bar. Moreover, one’s success as a lawyer is not measured by how well one does in the Bar examinations. Here, it’s the successful barristers’ future conduct as lawyers that will determine his or her greatness as a lawyer. …
    But an even more fundamental consideration is: what kind of lawyers are we producing with the obsession we have with topping the Bar examinations?” – Atty. Harry Roque

  4. Knight says:

    I’m not sure about your stand Atty. Harry. When UP Law did not reached the final rounds of the 2011 IHL Moot Court Competition, you were quick to look down at the provincial law schools and say that only the best should be here (referring to the Supreme Court ), you were undermining us! ur claim that Up is the school of the ordinary Juan is not even a fact. UP is a school of the elite few also – the rich.

  5. Yuri says:

    Why not aim for 20/20 (read: perfect) in Bar exams as well as global-oriented curriculum by standardizing “20” as the minimum number of units each semester at UP Law?

    That’s 27 more units over four years. Add that up to the existing 20 units of electives. And you’ll have a total of 47 units of electives. More than enough to cover both Bar review subjects and global-oriented electives. With the 113 units of core law subjects, you’ll have a grand arsenal of training for would be great lawyers who are both locally-grounded and globally-oriented.

    If implemented within the next couple of years, UP Law may see the first fruits of its Oplan 20/20 as early as the 2020 Bar exams. :-)

  6. Reblogged this on Thoughts Gone Astray and commented:
    UP’s decision to remain a “bar exam review institute” is not really commendable. It’s saddening that more relevant, useful and interesting courses in UP Law like International Humanitarian Law and the UNCLOS have been removed just to accommodate bar relate courses.

    Nonetheless, congratulations to UP Law for dominating the Bar this year. May our new lawyers serve the Filipino people.

  7. dan I. amosin, esquire says:

    I practIse law here in California, USA. To promote egalitarianism, the State Bar of California does not announce the grades of bar examinees who pass the biennial bar exams. The grades remain secret, so that no one can brag he/ she topped the bar exams. You are only provided your grades in the bar exams if you flunk, so that you will know where you stand in terms of your strengths and weaknesses in the subjects. This system holds true in all other American states. There are no published bar topnotchers in the USA, simply because passers are not allowed to know their grades. Why can we not adopt this in the Philippines to de- emphasize bar results as the determinant of one’s future performance or acumen as a lawyer? It would likewise defenestrate elitism among lawyers.

  8. At ngayon na SANDAANG MILYON na ang POPULASION niniong mga pepenios, (bagay na mukhang HINDI nio ikinababagabag) alam naman po nating lahat na sa BILIS na pag daaami ng POPULASION ay HINDI amka-catch-up ang pag bigay ng trabaho sa mga nagsapagtapos….Kundi PART-TIME/CONTRACTUAL….kundi mga demeaning na mga trabahos sa ibang bnsa….alam naman natin na npka LIIT at kaakunti ng mga INDUSTRIAS sa Pinas…IMBIS na malaking INVESTMENT sa mga KNOWLEDGE BASED INDUSTRIES na para lalong LUMAWIG at mag SANGA ang mga KNOWLEDGE BASED INDUSTRIES na to…..Bigy hilig ang gbyerno sa pagpapalawig ng mga TRABAHOS sa ibang bnsa na kng hindi man magpunas ng pwet ay mga BLUE COLLAR jobs…At kaya narin, napka RAMING gustong maging ABUGAGOS at ABUGAGAS….alam naman nating lahat na itong PROFESSION na ito ay walang pinag KAIBA sa mga SINUNGALING na KURAKOT na mga NAKA-UPO sa gbyerno ngayon…Kahit na sinong mga KRIMINAL na WUMAWASAK sa buhay ng mga ordnaryon mamamayan o di kayay mga nag bubulsa ng pgkalaki-laking pera ng bnsa ay PO-PROTKTAHAN ng mga ABUGAGOS na mga ito……alam naman nating lahat na walang pinagkaiba ang mga abugagaos na ito sa mga KURAKOT-SINUNGALING, MAGNANAKAW na mga plitikos na naka upos sa gbyerno nayon…”A lawyer is nothing different than a THIEF/ CORRUPT OFFICIAL hiding and bombarding you with legal terms to cloudy/muddy up the truth in the sole pupose of hiding the true crimes of these CRIMINALS, It is one of the reasons for the downward trend of a country. The increasing numbers of these LIARS is definetely NOT a boon to any country!!!” by Andres Rizal.

  9. PS. Just to clarify, and I say this categorically, there are definitely rarely a few lawyers out there who are “nation conscious” and able to see that sometimes defending a lot of these big time criminals of the country not only emboldens these crooks but is definitely a big DAMAGE to this developing countries. And if you say NO to them, somebody will definitely pick up the cudgels.

  10. Bong says:

    In general, UP actually has lost sight of its higher mandate, i.e, of producing experts on “missionary” or non-traditional (read: non-commercial or non-popular) fields or profession. It has become too mainstream and glories in competing with private schools in its offerings. One of its effects is the shortage of people in necessary profession like scientists, historians and the like. The other is the “shortage” of funds to run UP or for offering free education. This “obsession” even by UP for topping Bar Exams is just a symptom of a greater malady in its management.

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