Supreme Court of the Philippines

After acing 2022 Bar exams, topnotcher believes reforming law education needed

Jairo Bolledo

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After acing 2022 Bar exams, topnotcher believes reforming law education needed

TOPNOTCHER. A file photo of 2022 Bar topnotcher Czar Matthew Gerard Dayday.


'I think that the focus on legal education shouldn’t really be on how to pass the Bar exam, but really on how you’ll be a great lawyer,' Matthew Dayday says

MANILA, Philippines – Surrounded by his loved ones at home, Czar Matthew Gerard Dayday, or Matthew as his friends fondly call him, eagerly waited for the results of the 2022 Bar examinations.

Unlike some examinees who opted to wait in front of the Supreme Court in Padre Faura in Manila, Matthew decided to watch the High Court’s livestream of results. When Associate Justice Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, the 2022 Bar chair, announced that a passer named Matthew Dayday led the 30 topnotchers, Matthew thought there could be another passer with the same last name.

But when he realized he was the Matthew Dayday that Associate Justice Caguioa was pertaining to, Matthew said their house was filled with joy and celebration.

After acing 2022 Bar exams, topnotcher believes reforming law education needed

With a passing rate of 43.47%, the 2022 Bar exams produced 3,992 passers out of 9,183 examinees who completed the exams in November 2022. The top 30 passers, along with top performing schools, were recognized by the High Court. The results were announced by Associate Justice Caguioa on April 14 – nearly five months after the exams were held.

Matthew topped the exams with a rating of 88.8083%. His alma mater, the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Law, garnered the most spots in the top 30 after producing 11 topnotchers.

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A childhood dream

Unknown to many, Matthew is the first lawyer in his family.

He said that as early as high school, he had already wanted to become a lawyer. Fascinated by the portrayal of lawyers on television, Matthew said he wanted to become one, too, because he was inspired by how lawyers made solid arguments and used the power they wield for good.

“I still realize na (that) this was really a good way for me to help others and it would be a good way for me to solve problems as well,” Matthew told Rappler in an interview, adding that he also wants to become a lawyer because of his love for solving problems and figuring things out.

Navigating the complicated world of law school

Law school is already hard, but the pandemic made it harder.

When COVID-19 hit the rest of the world, including the Philippines, Mathew was in his early years in law school. Matthew and his law school class were the second batch of examinees who took the Bar exams during the pandemic, after the 2020/2021 Bar exams chaired by Senior Associate Justice Marvic Leonen.

At first, Matthew said he had a hard time adjusting to the online school set up. He is the type of person who prefers to have different environments in dealing with different things like personal life and academics.

Eventually, he found a way to effectively study at home. In their house, Matthew said he designated areas where he would study, and areas where he would spend his leisure time.

Para kahit papaano, mayroon pa ring boundaries between life and school para hindi nagki-creep into that work-life balance (With that, there would be boundaries between life and school so it will not creep into that work-life balance),” Matthew said.

After four years in law school and hurdling the complicated online set up due to the pandemic, Matthew finally finished in 2022.

Matthew earned his Juris Doctor degree from the UP College of Law, graduating cum laude and class valedictorian. Prior to that, he took Bachelor of Arts in Psyhology in UP and graduated magna cum laude in 2018. He is currently a legal assistant at the SyCip Salazar Hernandez & Gatmaitan law firm.

Acing the biggest test of his life so far

Before taking the Bar exams, Matthew said he prepared a calendar to meticulously plot his schedule. He started reviewing in June 2022 and laid out his plans from then.

According to Matthew, he aimed for certain milestones in his review each month. And each day, he tried to meet a certain goal in his study. But despite this, Matthew said he made sure he had decent sleep, ate on time, and spent time for the things he love.

Surrounding himself with the right people also helped him to prepare for what was, so far, the biggest test of his life. Matthew said he would go into a Zoom call with his friends every night to study together remotely. They would spend hours studying together, valuing the company of each other. They would toss questions at each other, Matthew added.

Studying with friends ensured that someone would call them to task if they did not study or review the required readings. After around two to three hours of studying, they would play an online game to ensure there would still be room for relaxation.

During law school, he found remedial law difficult, Matthew said. For him, civil procedure under remedial law was the hardest subject. It was also during this time when their semester was temporarily halted due to the pandemic.

But before taking the Bar exams, Matthew devised a game plan. Before starting his formal review, he categorized Bar exam subjects based on how he saw them: difficult, average, and easy. The topnotcher said he gave more time to the subjects he found difficult.

So at the time of the Bar exams, the difficult subjects for him had been “equalized,” Matthew said.

On law education reforms

There have been calls for reforms in law education in the country, with some calling on schools to not only focus on producing Bar passers, but also ethical lawyers with integrity.

Matthew believes these reforms are necessary. From what he has noticed, a big chunk of legal education and law school culture seems to focus on creating topnotchers. He added that the focus should be on building necessary skills and competencies – on honing the mindset, ethical standards, and different attitudes that make a good lawyer.

“I think that the focus on legal education shouldn’t really be on how to pass the Bar exam, but really on how you’ll be a great lawyer. Whether that means you being a litigation lawyer, being a corporate lawyer, being in the government, being in house counsel or whatever.”

The Bar topnotcher said there needs to be a change in how society perceives and treats the Bar exams. While he understands that it is the culmination of years and years of hardship in law school, Bar exams are treated in other countries like the usual qualifying examinations. Unlike in the Philippines where the release of results always seems to be a “spectacle,” Matthew said.

He said Bar exams should not be something we “put on a pedestal,” and “should not be the be-all and end-all” of legal education.

“And I’m also realizing now that even if I topped the Bar, it doesn’t mean that I’ll become the greatest lawyer in my batch. Because me topping the Bar means that I aced an exam, but an exam isn’t, you know, you being a lawyer. An exam isn’t legal practice,” Matthew told Rappler.

“It just means that I have the minimum competencies to practice the legal profession. But it doesn’t mean in one or two years, ako na talaga ‘yung magiging (I will be the) best lawyer out there.”

Essence of being a lawyer today

For Matthew, being a lawyer today means promoting the rule of law and making sure that people understand the legal process and legal system in place. Lawyers also have the responsibility to “demystify” law since many people are intimidated and avoid approaching legal professionals due to the technicality and the complexity of words used in laws, Matthew added.

The topnotcher said: “I think part of being a lawyer for the people is also making sure that law is accessible. Not only in a sense na (that) people have lawyers, but also in a sense that people understand the rights, the obligations of different laws that are in place.”

Matthew also has a message for aspiring lawyers who dream of passing the Bar one day: Knowing what works for you and being open to new learnings. What worked for him – the way he studied – will not necessarily work for everyone else, so it’s important to know what method of studying will work for you, Matthew explained.

After finding out what best works for you, sticking to it is a must, the topnotcher said.

Despite his stellar run both in law school and in the Bar, Matthew said he remains open to learning new things. The topnotcher said he is open to various points of view, new work and knowledge, so there will be room for him to continue growing.

“So it’s a matter of being open to these kinds of experiences and not closing yourself off na ‘Oh, alam ko na ‘yan,’ or ‘Oh, I think…’di ko na kailangan malaman ‘yan kasi ‘di naman ganyan ‘yung gusto kong gawin’ (Oh, I already know that, or oh, I don’t need to learn that because that’s not what I want to do),” Matthew said.

“So it’s really a matter of being open and accepting these new experiences,” he added. –

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.