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[OPINION] Beyond the Bar Exams: Producing practice-ready, ethical, and socially-responsible lawyers

Josefe Sorrera-Ty

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[OPINION] Beyond the Bar Exams: Producing practice-ready, ethical, and socially-responsible lawyers
'Unlike the others in the past, the 2023 Bar Examinations will host a batch of aspirants who have been required to go through hands-on experience'

Last Sunday, more than 9,000 examinees completed the 2022 Bar Examinations. They now belong to generations of future lawyers who took the challenge of not only taking what has been considered to be “the most grueling licensure exam in the country,” but also that important and necessary step to becoming bonafide agents of peace and justice.

There will be another batch of bar-takers for next year. Like many who have gone through this path, they would have been seasoned in the rigors of law school; but unlike the others in the past, the 2023 Bar Examinations will host a batch of aspirants who have been required to go through hands-on experience to practice what they’ve learned from their classes, represent indigent clients in courts, and provide other legal aid services to the communities. This is part of the push for the modernization of legal education in the country through the Clinical Legal Education Program (CLEP).

Three years ago, the Supreme Court (SC) expanded Rule 138-A of the Rules of Court (Revised Law Student Practice Rule). The Court provided guidance on the limited practice of law by students certified under the clinical legal education program or CLEP of the law school. Premised on the need to ensure access to justice of  the marginalized sector, enhance learning opportunities for law students, and instill professional social responsibility for practice-ready lawyers, the Revised Rule institutionalized CLEP in law schools nationwide. Since its promulgation, key stakeholders of  the Revised Rule have relentlessly designed, developed, and implemented their CLEP and established their law clinics.

CLEP is now a requirement for the 2023 Bar examinations. Students graduating in 2023 and are taking the 2023 Bar Examinations should have completed CLEP and rendered legal aid service under their school’s law clinic or externship program to qualify to take the Bar Exams.

The Revised Rule 138-A was promulgated in July 2019 and covers all 125 law schools nationwide. 

The Legal Education Board (LEB), the government agency responsible for the supervision of legal education in the Philippines, implemented the full integration of clinical legal education through the Revised Model Law Curriculum.  

To support these reforms, The Asia Foundation with support from the US Department of State – Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, has implemented a five-year Legal Aid Project called “Strengthening Rule of Law through Legal Aid Clinics in the Philippines” and engaged with its justice and legal education partners to develop and implement law schools’ clinical legal education program that are responsive to the needs of the communitiesmunder the auspices of the Revised Law Student Practice Rule.

Aside from the adoption of the Revised Rule 138-A and other issuances that enable CLEP in the country, the conduct of the first Legal Education Summit in 2019, launch of the pilot law clinics and other law clinics in the country, this program has supported at least 60% of all law schools nationwide in the development of their CLEP and the design of their law clinics, as mandated in the Revised Rule. This was done through training, mentorship, network building, and assistance to various legal aid activities of the law clinics.

The Revised Rule has not only become a potent force to address the legal aid needs of the communities, paving the way for greater access to justice, but also in developing excellent, ethical, and innovative legal professionals committed to the Rule of Law.

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One shining example of how CLEP has not only opened opportunities for law students to learn by doing, but also allowed the underserved sectors access to competent legal services is the engagement between the Ateneo de Naga University Legal Aid and Clinical Legal Education Project, the Ignatian Legal Apostolate Office (ILAO), and the Philippine Embassy in Damascus, Syria. ILAO assisted the Philippine Embassy in helping victims of Trafficking in Persons (TIP) in Syria, most of which are Filipino migrant workers. In a span of four months, 24 ILAO law student practitioners (LSPs) interviewed 13 TIP victims via face-to-face video conferencing and prepared their judicial affidavits. When the migrant workers came home to the Philippines, their affidavits were ready for use by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) in filing cases against the illegal recruiters and those involved in TIP. As of June 26, 2021 all the TIP victims housed at the Filipino Workers Resource Center (FWRC) Shelter of the Philippine Embassy in Damascus, Syria are now back at home in the Philippines.

Another success story is the Sarimanok Virtual Law Clinic of the Mindanao State University (MSU SLVC). At the height of the pandemic and the community quarantines, visionary leaders of the MSU and project partners developed the MSU SLVC – an online portal where members of their constituent communities (Iligan City, General Santos City, and Marawi City) can get vital legal information and connect to law student practitioners for legal assistance despite the restrictions on movement and face-to-face interactions. As restrictions eased, SLVC transitioned to in-person legal aid activities in areas where people converge, such as in malls, barangay centers, etc.

CLEP has also opened channels for collaboration and integration – not just among organizations working in the legal space, but also across other members of the community that are able to complement legal remedies a law clinic traditionally provides for its clients. The University of San Carlos Center for Legal Aid Work (CLAW) extended its assistance to small and medium enterprises to develop brand designs and standards with the help of their School of Fine Arts and Design. Such help does not fall squarely within the ambit of how legal aid is understood, but this lends the perspective to law student practitioners to realize that legal assistance is only one aspect of making their clients whole.

These examples give a preview to the enabling power of the Revised Rule and CLEP as a transformative tool for the community as much as it is for the students. Practice-readiness is not only confined to the legal arsenal law schools impart to their graduates, more importantly it grows deep into the constitution of the lawyer who is ethical, socially responsible, and immutably connected to public interest.

On December 1-3, the Legal Education Board will conduct the First Philippine Clinical Legal Education Summit in partnership with the Supreme Court Oversight Committee in the Implementation of the Revised Law Student Practice Rule, Philippine Association of Law Schools and Association of Law Students of the Philippines. The three-day conference, with the theme “CLEP AT THE FRONTLINE: Paving the Way Forward for Greater Access to Justice through Clinical Legal Education,” will discuss the legal aid needs of the communities and services rendered by law clinics in the country, the potential impact of the Revised Law Student Practice Rule in addressing access to justice issues, as well as theories and principles in clinical legal education such as experiential learning, clinical pedagogy, professional ethics, and skills-building for law student practitioners. This summit will also serve as a forum for law schools to share their experiences, challenges, and best practices in designing, developing, and  implementing their CLEP in accordance with  the requirements of the Revised Law Student Practice Rule and explore mechanisms to expand the programs of law clinics in the Philippines. –

Commissioner Josefe Sorrera-Ty has performed various roles in clinical legal education. Prior to her role as one of the Commissioners of the Legal Education Board, she was Dean of the Father Saturnino Urios University in Butuan City and among the prime movers of the Urian Legal Assistance Program. She also held a leadership role in the Philippine Association of Law Schools (PALS), an organization of law deans in the country. She is committed to addressing access to justice, promoting experiential learning, and ensuring that the Clinical Legal Education Program under the Revised Law Student Practice Rule is effectively rolled out in law schools nationwide.

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