To the Other Side of the Bar
Four of six new Universitas lawyers, Attorneys Ted Velez, Joey Socrates, Neil Nabuab and Dardecs Villanueva, at the oath-taking ceremonies at the PICC
by Carlos Victa
There is no disputing the fact that the practice of Law is one of the toughest lines of work one can commit to. There is also no disputing the fact that the Bar Exams are among the toughest exams that this country has to offer. No other exam is set over a period of a month every Sunday, with each Sunday covering two subjects with a coverage requiring at least four years of study. It’s anyone’s guess why anyone would subject themselves to such grueling demands. But yet, they exist. Each with their own reasons.
Universitas fellows Philip Padlan, Joey Socrates, Neil Nabuab, Dardecs Villanueva, Joel Arzaga, and Ted Velez are among these brave souls. These six quite impressively passed the previous year’s Bar Examinations and share some valuable insights and tips for those who are thinking of studying law or about to take the Bar Examinations.
What made you decide that you wanted to study Law despite the obvious challenges?
Philip: To be honest, the decision to study and finish my law studies only came while I was already in law school. My naiveté back in college led me to think that I have to study law to keep up with my batch mates, to fulfill the wishes of a family member, or to secure a promising career in the future.
When I entered law school, I started helping out as a paralegal at a small notarial office in our town. The office catered mostly to our township, and I’ve personally dealt with people from different walks of life, including city hall employees, market vendors, drivers, and teachers. Seeing their smiling faces after having their legal problems solved gave me that altruistic satisfaction, gave me a fresh perspective, and fueled my love to study law even more.
Joey: I honestly thought at first that law school was not as difficult as people say. Perhaps this is partly because I have a number of relatives who are themselves lawyers. But once I got into law school, I realized that it was indeed challenging. That notwithstanding, I was convinced in my mind that that was the place for me. Aside from providing you flexibility in terms of employment, having knowledge of the law is also very useful in many aspects of life. I should also note that I didn’t think I could be anywhere else. I’m not good at math, I’m not a science guy, and I don’t think I have the skills or talent for business. I found the idea of being employed in some company or government office worth considering, but then in that case, why not be employed as a lawyer, right? Or at the least as a law graduate.
Neil: Going to law school was an obvious path for me when I decided to take up legal management in college. However, this conviction became stronger when my sociology professor brought my block to the National Bilibid Prison for a jail visit. Seeing prisoners in such sorry state made me ponder on what I can do for the justice system in the country. And I thought that as a lawyer, I will be able to play an active role in the administration of justice.
Dardecs: It was my late father’s dream that I become a lawyer. Since I wanted to fulfill that dream of his, I decided to enroll in a law school even while working in a multinational company. In the process, I learned to love studying the law, so I persevered until I finished law school in 5 years. By then, it was no longer just my father’s dream, but my own dream as well, that I become a lawyer.
Joel: I decided to study law because it was a childhood dream. That decision was strengthened with the encouragement of my father who would always tell me that being a lawyer would open up many opportunities for service and for personal and professional growth.
Ted: I had a friend who was taking up law. He encouraged me to take up law and the rest is history. To be honest, I really didn’t know about the challenges of being in law school until I had to face them, so I guess not knowing worked to my advantage. In that sense, you can say, ignorance is bliss.
Did you ever consider quitting? If yes, at what year and how did you decide against it? If no, what kept you from even thinking about it?
Philip: I never considered quitting. But there were instances when I just felt overwhelmed and exhausted by the rigors of law school. They say that the law is a jealous mistress, and this is especially true when it starts to bungle up your work and personal life. During those trying times, I just told myself that the hardships are temporary and that the challenges are opportunities to help me become a better person in the future. After all, difficult moments in our lives won’t end with graduating from law school, right?
Joey: I never really considered quitting, but there were many times when I felt like it. The feeling of simply giving up and abandoning law studies was always there, especially with subjects that I found more difficult. Sometimes also, certain concepts and cases are just so hard to understand, and facing them can get very frustrating. There were times I felt like tearing apart the material I was reading. But what kept me from seriously considering the option of quitting was that, as I mentioned earlier, I felt like this is where I should be. Not that I had a clear vision of what I would want to be in the future, but at least I had this idea that it just might be my path. Of course, for most of my time in law school, I always prayed for understanding and wisdom, so that I may discern whether I should stick to this course or not. And I should say that after every semester, it sort of became clearer for me that perhaps this was the path for me. I didn’t know for sure. I was always uncertain about everything, but then again it just seemed to be the way for me.
Neil: Well, I never thought of quitting, although I did consider delaying graduation. Thankfully, I finished on time. It was in the last semester of fourth year, in Criminal Law. I got the second lowest mark (34/100) in the midterms and the professor in that subject happened to be notoriously known as one who mercilessly flunks students. When I saw my low mark, I called my mother and just cried and cried, telling her that I would not graduate this year. Well, she did what mothers do, she encouraged me and the rest is history.
Dardecs: As you can glean from my answer to the previous question, I did not at all consider quitting. 🙂
Joel: No. When I took up law, I knew that there was no turning back and there should be no quitting until I reached the very end.
Ted: No, I never considered quitting law school. Don’t get me wrong, there were bad days but I had really good friends with whose help I managed to turn those bad days into memorable ones. Also, beer helps.
Name one technique you learned in Law School without which, you might never have graduated and passed the bar.
Philip: Making and sticking to a schedule helped me to graduate and pass the bar. I noticed that my mind is quickly drained even before flipping a page in my readings just by considering trivial matters, such as when, where, what, and how to study. By setting a schedule, I am able to focus my mental energy on what actually needs to be done: studying law.
Joey: If there is one thing in law school I consider very important, it is learning to simplify the concepts and doctrines in my mind so that I can understand them better, and it becomes easier to recognize them if presented in a case format. I wouldn’t really say that it is a technique, but for me it is very important in answering in the exams.
Neil: There is really no special technique. I just did the most basic thing, that is, to study faithfully in my assigned study time. I usually attended the morning Mass then studied from 8AM to 5PM. I read the newspaper in the morning before studying to keep myself aware of what’s happening in the world. I would also schedule breaks in between. After my class, which usually ended at 9PM, I was free to do anything until 11PM. That was my leisure time; I drank beer, or read non-law books. I even finished Don Quixote and 3 other books during my 4th year! During Bar season, I just did what I was actually doing during law school. I developed the habit of attending Mass in the morning and studying from 8AM to 9PM. However, there were quality breaks in between to relax my mind.
Dardecs: One study technique that helped me was to remind myself that “codals first.” Before trying to read the thick annotation of your favorite author, first make sure that you know the law itself. In my case as a working student, I didn’t have the luxury of time reading a lot of notes, books and reviewers. I focused on the basics: the codals! For jurisprudence, I read the full text rather than the digests. I enjoyed reading the full texts which helped me understand the concepts better.
Joel: Be docile. The earlier you realize that you don’t know everything, the better. Learn from what your professors impart in class. Learn from what your professors tell you in conversations outside of class. Allow yourself to be formed and trained by those who have walked before you.
Ted: I think there is no one technique that will guarantee your success in law school, but learning how to adapt helps a lot. Law school is unique. Studying alone is not enough. Among others, one must be able to adapt to his/her teachers, adapt to the teacher’s way of teaching, and adapt to the way such teacher gives his/her exams. During the bar, I had to change the way I usually answer my exams. If I stuck to the way I usually answer, I would not have been able to finish said exams on time.
How do you calm yourself before an Exam? Whether for Law School or the Bar?
Philip: Like many students and bar candidates, I had this lingering feeling that I hadn’t studied enough, or that I had studied the wrong material, etc. But each time I had those thoughts, I reassured myself that I had done everything I reasonably could for this exam. I usually followed it up with a short prayer (or Rosary during the bar exams) to ask for God’s grace to help me hurdle the exams.
Joey: I am a very pessimistic person, and that makes me nervous in every recitation and exam, especially during the Bar. But I’d say that it was always prayers that helped me keep calm. Perhaps not as calm as most, but at least as calm as a person as pessimistic as I am can be (in fact I couldn’t sleep during Saturday night of the first week of the Bar). Another thing, even if my heart would not stop pounding due to anxiety, my faith helped keep my mind off these worries and simply trust in whatever God wants for me. But it took a lot of effort on my part. I realized more that even abandoning myself to God is an act of the will. I learned to get myself to think always that whatever happens to me must be for my own good, even if I didn’t feel like it, and my heart seemed to be finding its way out of my chest.
Neil: I stopped studying 30 minutes before examinations during law school. I had to relax my mind. During the Bar Examinations, there was a 30 minute quiet time before the exams. During this period, I prayed the Rosary.
Dardecs: Through praying the Rosary or mental prayers; lifting everything up to Him.
Joel: Prayer always works. Study as if everything depends on you, but pray as if everything depends on God, because oftentimes, it does!
Ted: Happy Thoughts
If there’s one thing you could say to incoming Law Students and Bar Candidates, what would it be?
Philip: The same thing that Dean Nilo Divina always tells us: Pray as if everything depends on prayer, and work as if everything depends on work.
Joey: I would advice them to be optimistic and cheerful. Be confident in spite of the challenges they may face. It is something I always aimed to be during my time in law school and also during the Bar, but I was never really able to perfectly achieve. They should get enough rest and take at least one or two days to relax every week (I’m referring here to Saturdays and/or Sundays). Of course during exams it might become necessary to study even on weekends, but that should only be an exception and not the general rule. Also, they should do away with stress and too much worrying. They should focus and not waste time (this is a real challenge) when it is time to study. And always, pray. Pray a lot.
Neil: If there is one thing I would tell them, that is to go back to the basics. Passing the Bar requires no secret. Prepare for it by studying diligently, there is no other way to pass the Bar Exams. And preparation begins in the first year. When I was in first year, I can proudly say that I read cases in their full text. Come Bar Exams, I was not able to review these cases but I could clearly remember them especially the very long Imbong v. Ochoa, which was the subject of the first 3 questions in Political Law. Secondly, preparation requires good study habits. It means that you take breaks from intense studying and put your focus on other important things also like volunteering to some good causes, visiting sick people at the hospital, or even giving Catechism classes to street children.
Dardecs: There’s more to life than law school. You still have family and you should find time to enjoy each other’s company. You still have friends to hang out with. And most importantly, take care of your soul. “For what profits a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?”
Joel: Fight, struggle, conquer every single day! It’s all worth it!
Ted: Enjoy the Ride.
Survival of the fittest? The smartest? Law school is far too unpredictable for a one size fits all strategy. But if it could be narrowed down to one thing that law students and bar candidates alike can’t do without, it would be to keep going. Study habits and means of unwinding may differ, but the grit to keep going page after page, class after class, day after day, remains the same.
Law school, unlike most graduate schools and, more so, undergraduate school, is a marathon rather than a sprint. The objective is to accomplish what you started. Not everyone finishes at the same time. It is a fact of law school life, even taking the bar. More importantly, not everyone will get the result that they desire. But what must be certain to anyone studying law or about to take the bar, is that the finish line will be crossed. Nothing less than endless amounts of grit will get you to the end. But of course, endless grit is only possible if there is an endless source from which it is derived. But from where? As our bar passers have shown, faith in God and prayer. What better place to seek endless endurance to go on? This is something worth keeping in mind when the going gets tough. Whether it be law, or any other profession, a little bit of faith might just be the edge you need – as these brand-new lawyer Universitas fellows can attest to.
NOTA BENE: The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and the speakers mentioned in the article, and not necessarily to the Foundation.
Be our partner in forming principled leaders!
Universitas is a non-stock, non-profit organization relying heavily on the financial support of donors like you. Donations of any amount are very much appreciated, and would form part of the funds to be used for education, research, social welfare and outreach, and other endeavors aimed ultimately at the formation of future leaders who are competent, with the right character and a well-formed conscience.
Support Universitas today, and it only takes a minute!