Posted by: Elmer Brabante | April 25, 2009

Back to the Basics


The Manila Law College turns 110. And as we brave the years onward, we are collectively compelled to revisit our glorious history, understand our reason for existence, gauge our present performance, and define our immediate tasks ahead.  Only by doing this mandatory assessment shall we determine our place in the competitive arena of Philippine legal education.  We must go back to the basics.

At the outset, we are wont to ask : Are we living up to the distinction of Escuela de Derecho de Manila as the first and oldest Filipino law school, where luminaries in all the branches of the government and the private sector had demonstrated brilliance and excellence in their study of law?  Have we learned from their examples and do we take pride in their achievements?  Are we proud to be students and graduates of the Manila Law College?

Our answers to these cursory questions can spell our success or failure not only as students of law but more importantly in our individual performance in the Bar examinations.

Don Felipe de Calderon, in establishing the Escuela, envisioned the school as the producer not only of great Filipino lawyers, but of men and women who would exhibit exemplary values in all human activities.  The Escuela was founded on nationalism and the pursuit of excellence – where diligence, intelligence, and articulateness were the standard qualities of every student of Law.  Our predecessors had put flesh to the ideals of the great Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes – to teach and study law in the grand manner. These vision and ideals are as poignant now as they were then.

Concededly, the Bar is the singular validator of a graduate’s fitness for the practice of law.  The gruelling examinations put on probe, in similar albeit indirect fashion, the credibility of the institution, the faculty, and the quality of instruction that they provide.  This conclusion is fairly based on the evident practice of taking credit by the school when its graduates pass and top the Bar.  In the same manner, the trajectory is cast upon the school when its examinees fail.

At this stage of MLC’s history, we are impelled to ask: How did we perform in the two immediately preceding Bar exams?  We must face this basic question and provide the honest answers if we are committed to pursue the vision and the ideals of our noble forebears. We must realistically recognize our present condition if we are avowed to prevent driving the institution into certain oblivion.

Where then do we go from here?

Most certainly, our standard response would be:  in the pursuit of excellence – that is, to place the MLC in the Top Ten – to produce highly competitive, competent and virtuous lawyers.

We must satisfy some tests if we desire to be certain of our direction.  For each student, the most important test would be:  Do we have the knowledge, skills, diligence, dedication, and character to reach those ultimate goals?  To the administrators and the faculty:  Are we providing the necessary materials and facilities, utilizing the most effective teaching-testing methodologies, and instillling the proper values to bring out the best from the students?


Knowledge here pertains to the optimum amount of understanding of the laws, rules, jurisprudence and legal precepts.  We had made the commitment to arm ourselves with the knowledge the very moment that we entered the law school.  It would be a futile undertaking if this primordial task were not our top priority.  In our global age of technology, there is no room for excuse as to where to find the knowledge that we are expected to possess.  Each student is expected to have read and understood the codal provisions, the annotations and commentaries of authors, and the landmark cases.


This is synonymous with English communication skills.  Thus, each applicant to the study of law is required to had completed at least eighteen (18) units of English in his/her pre-law course.  This requirement is not borne out of whim or caprice dictated by our English-speaking colonizers – that is entirely besides the point.  Our laws and other legal materials are written in the Standard English.  It follows that the main tool used in our studies (be it in writing, speaking, reading and listening) is our facility of the English medium.  It would not be pathetic to conclude that most failures of students and bar examinees can be attributed to the faulty English communication skills.  Like any skill or hobby, proficiency in English is acquired through habitual use and the conscious effort to check the grammar, construction, usage and vocabulary.  Lawyers are viewed as pedantic, bombastic and eloquent writers and speakers in English, and this should be so.  Those skills were the product of constant practice.  In the same manner, we must master the skills of active listening and reading.  Given the pressure in which recitations and the Bar examinations are conducted, we must equip ourselves with active reading and listening skills so as to grasp the questions fast and correctly and corollarily provide the correct answers.


Some people have the misconception that the legal profession is reserved only for the intelligent, gifted individuals.  Lawyers, however, commonly agree that their success is the product of diligence.  But what is our appreciation of diligence?  Is it the opposite of negligence?  That is a correct view in some respects.  For example, a student who works nine hours a day, five days a week, enrolled in six subjects: the number of hours allotted for studying should be at least double the number of units per subject.  conversely, for Persons and Family Relations which is a 4-unit subject, the minimum number of hours to be devoted to studying the subject should be not less than 8 hours in a week. Ergo, for a load of 18 units, there must be a minimum of 36 hours devoted to private reading in a week.  The bottomline is careful time management.  The task can be challenging, but will prove fun and rewarding once it becomes a habit.  If it is impossible to meet this demand, then perhaps it would be better to lessen the loads to a manageable level; otherwise, be prepared for the consequences.  As a wise judge would advise, “it is better to graduate and be a lawyer after long years of studying than graduate soon and fail the Bar early on.”


As students of law, our focus should be to pass all subjects with flying colors, and become a competent lawyer soon.  Hence, we must dedicate our time, energy and passion in mastering the laws.  (Coincidentally, why not rename the degree Master of Laws?) Have you heard of the paradoxical line, “Lady Justice is a jealous mistress”?  Ironically, why only regard Law as a mistress and not make her s spouse?  That way, everything that we do and aim for would be glady and holistically committed to make our “significant other” happy and contented.  That should be our attitude towards our study of law: glad and holistically committed. Indeed, it would not be excessive to set aside social activities for the time being.  Sometimes, even immature relationships can be an obstacle in our paths.


Of the five desirable – make that imperative – traits of students of law (students of law include lawyers since the study of law is a continuing process), character is of paramount importance.  Character is manifested in what we do in our most private, unguarded moments.  Character too is gauged by how we spend our time, power, and money.  It involves honesty, integrity, nationalism, industry, courage, humility, faith, and justice – all the good virtues that make great men and women worthy of accolades and emulation even long after they are gone.  Character must be the defining quality that sets the legal profession several notches higher than the other professions.

We must pass these tests if we are committed to achieve our vision.  We must make the firm commitment to teach and study law in the grand manner – without excuses.  Our commitment must begin here and now, before we are perished into oblivion.




  1. This is inspiring and challenging thoughts for me as a freshman law student.


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