bar exams

Law school jitters

Christopher Bonoan
The real adventure of lawyers begins on the first day of class

Tempus fugit. Almost 6 months ago, jittery law graduates trooped to the University of Santo Tomas (UST) on España Boulevard to take the final test to become lawyers.

Today, the long wait is finally over. The “Gods of Faura” have released the much awaited verdict for this year, the final lap of the long obstacle course of legal education – the bar examination results.

Passing the bar exams – or flunking them, for that matter – may just be a facet of a law student’s journey to the portals of the legal profession.

The real adventure begins on the first day of class.

Ask any law student, and you’ll probably get a similar answer. For one, it is an entirely different academic arena, far from the usual classroom routine.

Society has its own way of showing its high regard for law students and I take pride in being one of them. The respect and courtesy that society has bestowed upon people in the legal profession, you must realize, is earned not from the time they pass the bar and become full fledged lawyers, but from the time they become students of the law.

Surviving law school

As a mere law student now, I have my own share of stories about struggling to keep such respect. Surviving it is one.

To survive law school you have to have a one-track mind – read, read and read.

Sometimes there seems to be no escape from this book-driven life.

In my case, I have to set aside my social life if any, even religious activities, just to devote more time reading voluminous cases being assigned to us by our professors.

But the more dangerous and fearful path for each law student is class recitation. Law students, even most established lawyers I know, have their own story of recitation mishaps to tell. I am happy to tell mine.

First mishap

It was Monday evening, first meeting for my environmental law class. The silence was deafening as I stood valiantly after my name was called. It was the start of a long night for class recitation.

The case dealt with the constitutionality of the IPRA law, a novel legislation that protects the ancestral land rights of indigenous peoples.

As I was about to discuss the court ruling, my mini-eccentric professor suddenly interrupted me and started to fire questions indiscriminately.

While still armored and battling, I seemed a helpless victim for a while. The adrenalin kept rushing as I searched for more answers in my head. Most of the questions were really tough and he was posturing, like he wrote the dissenting opinion of that case.

After his unwritten dissenting opinion, he out of the blue muttered, “Mr. Bonoan are you reading the book of Zaide?”I stood my ground and proudly said yes to the question. I had no choice but to defend my argument about the benefits of the Spanish inquisition, otherwise I would be in limbo.

I must not quiver at this point, I told myself over and over again.

Obviously, he was aghast at my answers. He ordered me to simply sit down and called on another student. I was totally devastated because I studied the case from all possible angles, or so I thought.

It was only later that I came to know that my professor was a fiery advocate of indigenous peoples’ rights. Incidentally, he was among the lawyers who argued before the Supreme Court in the IPRA case. What was I thinking?

On second thought, I felt vindicated because I engaged him in a sword fight, although I ended up being slaughtered to death.

From then on, I bowed not to limit my readings simply to law books, and expand them to include history and other disciplines.

Second mishap

My next terrible experience was when I was taking up Tort law under a Jesuit-educated professor.

Tort law is a very interesting subject because it deals with mostly accidents and mishaps, and the facts of every case are fascinating and fun to read.

One such case was Picart v. Smith, a very old yet landmark case in tort law.

While it seemed an easy read at the start, the intertwined facts and colloquial language made it trivial.

When my professor shuffled the class cards, I suddenly found myself mumblng all over again, “Oh God, not me. Not me, please.”

But alas! I was the first one to be called! His next words were defeaning. “Chris Bonoan, where are you? Oh there you are! Please recite Picart v. Smith.”

In utter fear or confusion, in whatever order, I muttered to myself, “Oh God, Lord why have you forsaken me!”

And like any good soldier, I kept the faith and kept trying to explain the case until my esteemed law professor asked me to visualize on the board what transpired in this popular calesa accident case.

Unfortunately, I just could not hit the mark. He suddenly became impatient. But who would not be?

I was literally consuming more than the time allowed for each case. No wonder his expression turned sour as my voice trembled. Finally, he said, “Sit down Sir, sit down!” in a tone that almost buried me alive.

My classmates definitely had a good laugh with my shocking and unforgettable experience that night.

Good thing for me, they had worse encounters.

As I said, there will always be a next time. But not too many next times. We have to earn the respect right now and not next time. We can always have room for that one time, and maybe another.

And this is the time! Congratulations to those who passed the 2013 Philippine Bar Exams.

Indeed, you guys have been tested and found not wanting! –

Judicial gavel and law book image from Shutterstock

Christopher Diaz Bonoan is a law student on leave and a former congressional staff. He is a certified bibliophile and Beatles’ maniac. He maintains an online journal/blog entitled “Discourses of a Free Mind” which advocates historical and legal education of our youth.