Called to the bar

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By Neil Honeyman

An Independent View

Monday, February 10, 2014


FOR four October Sundays, approximately five thousand students, representing 121 law schools from the length and breadth of the archipelago, troop to Manila to take the Bar examinations. Eighty percent will fail. In October 2012, approximately 5,000 took the examinations but only 989 passed. Very sad.

When the examination results were announced in Easter 2013, it was revealed that the passing grade was reduced from the normal 75 percent to 70 percent. Otherwise there would have been few Bar passers. The authorities magnanimously announced that this reduction was implemented as it was the Lenten season. This implausible reason was not reassuring to the rest of us who are directly or indirectly affected by those who are deemed to be qualified lawyers.

In Bacolod City, the results are similar to the national average. We have two reasonably-sized law schools at the University of St La Salle (USLS) and the University of Negros Occidental- Recoletos (UNO-R). Of the many who took the Bar examinations in October 2012, only four passed [three from USLS and one from UNO-R].

Why are there so few bar passers?

Firstly, the circumstances of most students are not easy. Many are full time employees who attend classes in the evenings. This also applies to many of the faculty.

Secondly, faculty absenteeism, at least at UNO-R, is unacceptably high. Endless cancelling and rescheduling of classes adds to the difficulties of working students.

Poor faculty attendance, which is habit-forming, is unacceptable particularly when students are paying fees of around P32, 000 per annum.

Sloppy management, underpinned by insouciant clerical and administrative staff, cause us not to be surprised that the passing rate is so low.

We believe it is time that the reasons why few students pass the Bar examinations be fully understood so that remedial action may be taken. It seems that the law department of either USLS or UNO-R should be closed so that the available quality teaching talent be focused on one institution. I would have not excluded the possibility of both departments being dissolved but geographical reasons may make this impractical.

As mentioned earlier, there are 121 law schools in the Philippines. Some, such as the law departments of the University of the Philippines and Ateneo de Manila, are large and have many Bar passers. Since only 989 passed in the Lenten season results in 2013, this means that there are many schools, such as USLS and UNO-R which have few, if any, passers.

Some of these schools should be closed and, for those remaining, efforts be made to find out why the passing rate is so low. This would enable the energies of faculty and students to be directed more effectively.

As far as the Bar examinations are concerned, we are unrelaxed about the fairly recent introduction of multiple choice questions (MCQ’s) for which there is one correct answer and several “deflectors” which appear reasonable but are incorrect. A sophisticated examinee can often recognize which are the deflectors, and by elimination, establish which is the correct answer which he would have not reached in his answer to an essay-type question. Although MCQ’s are a small part of the Bar examinations, we believe they should be dropped.

***

The law profession is lagging behind other professions when it comes to the effectiveness of its practitioners.

Why did it take two years to establish that the case brought by SM Prime Holdings Inc.(SMPHI) against Negros Occidental provincial officials for the sale and lease of Capitol property to Ayala Land Inc (ALI) lacked merit? Two weeks should be more realistic. The unconscionable delay in this case has hampered Bacolod City’s economic growth.

Unsurprisingly, SMPHI is fighting a rearguard action. We hope this will be sorted out quickly. There is a Public Relations dimension to this imbroglio and SMPHI is not making any friends in Bacolod City. Discretion is the better part of valor.

***

The law profession’s lack of efficacy accounts for its gradual decline in its standing in the community. Corporate lawyers are often demonstrably inadequate. Perhaps it is that they receive inappropriate instructions. But attorney/client dialogue should prevent corporate lawyers from being put in untenable situations which make them look silly and cause adverse consequences for the corporations for whom they work.

But the saddest aspect of practice of law is that the system usually favors the rich and powerful over those of the lowly and downtrodden.

Does this mean that ALI now has more clout than SMPHI?

Cases become more interesting to the voyeur when who is more powerful (or who has the more powerful allies) becomes a matter of debate. Which, in addition to the sex and violence, makes the Navarro versus Lee case a news story that will run and run.

***

‘What I say is that ‘just’ or ‘right’
means nothing but what is in the
interest of the stronger party.’
Plato (429-347 BC)-‘The Republic’-Book 1

Plato and his mentor Socrates had a hard time defeating the Sophists in 5th Century BCE Athens. But due to their rigorous search for the truth they did prevail. Plato’s book “The Republic” is arguably second only to the Bible in its influence. No one remembers the Sophists.

Sophists are deservedly reviled and humiliated. It was a Sophist lawyer who caused Bill Clinton to say: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms Lewinsky,” when the rest of us consider fellatio to be a sexual activity. It was a Corporate Sophist defending a Legacy Group-type scam who said

“The policy was issued with an effective date of 12 September” when he knows it was not issued at all.

Shame. Shame on the legal profession. It is high time for the Integrated Bar of the Philippines to exert a more effective discipline on its sleazier members.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on February 10, 2014.

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