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Brainstorm: The Next Generation | Law school tips

“Gentlemen, please look at the person on your right and the one on your left. By the end of the year, one of you will be gone.”

This is a favorite quote of the late Dean Hildegardo F. Iñigo, apparently from a Dean of the Harvard Law School in the years of yore, that he repeated, year in and year out, at every orientation for the freshmen of the Ateneo de Davao University College of Law. He was not trying to scare the “new blood”, he was, more or less, stating a statistical fact.

When I entered law school, there were only two (2) freshman sections, each with around forty (40) students, so a total of around eighty (80) students. As far as I remember, only fourteen (14) of us finished our law course in four (4) years and twelve (12) of the fourteen (14) became lawyers. Of course, some of those who were delayed a bit still became members of the Philippine bar.

Nowadays, we usually have four or five sections in first year but the statistics are pretty much the same.

So much so, that it is no longer normal to graduate in four years and the average is around five to six years while most will not make it at all.

The point is that studying law is stressful, grueling and very unforgiving. As Dean Iñigo was also fond of saying, you need the THREE “L’s” to be successful, Law, Language and Logic. The LAW, you are supposed to learn in law school, LANGUAGE, you should have learned in elementary and high school but LOGIC, it’s either you have it or you don’t.

Assuming that you have the basic mental aptitude necessary, how will you successfully survive law school?

I half-jokingly tell my students that the secret to the study of law is ASS POWER which translates to how long you can sit on your ass to go through the mountains of reading materials that you will be required to read. Just recently, a friend from high school told me that her son had just enrolled and asked me what advice I could give him. Well, I told her to tell him to READ, READ, AND READ……… AND THEN READ SOME MORE.

For those who have the determination and are truly interested in pursuing the study of law, I do have a few tidbits that I found to be effective when I was still in law school.

First, do not believe in “GROUP STUDY”, read ALONE. Human beings are social creatures and, whenever gathered in a group, the tendency will be to talk with each other so most “GROUP STUDY” sessions, in posh coffee shops, will end up as “GROUP CHISMIS” and you will just be wasting your parents’ money on cups of coffee with complicated names.

What does work, after having gone through the study materials alone, is GROUP DISCUSSION. This time, human nature will work in your benefit as you discuss bar problems or Supreme Court decisions because the group members will be learning from each other while taking a break from the strain of reading. This would be useless without having studied beforehand because it will just be the blind leading the blind and you will all still end up in a group collectively grieving your failing grades.

Second, you should realize that the first time you meet a law subject is also your best opportunity to master it. Do not deceive yourself into thinking that you will still have time to understand the subject better later. For example, while Criminal Procedure is a separate subject in the second year of law school, it will just be a part of Remedial Law Review in fourth year giving the student less time to study it and there will be even less time for it during the prebar review. So, as the saying goes, do not put off for tomorrow what you can do today.

Third, practice answering questions. When you take the bar examinations, the physical toll on your body is mostly from writing for around seven hours for each Bar Sunday. You must learn to frame your answers fast so you can answer questions concisely while managing the limited time you have and this can only be achieved through practice. Just writing everything that comes to mind usually ends with very long and confusing answers that seem to go nowhere and your teacher, or the bar examiner, will be thinking “What the hell is he talking about?” or, in the words of the late Judge Roberto Q. Cañete “PL” for “Pataka Lang”.

Finally, as with anything in life, there must always be BALANCE. The human brain has a finite capacity for absorbing lessons and it needs reasonable, emphasis on REASONABLE, breaks to reset. So, after doing the work and hurdling a difficult exam, it will also do you good to have a few bottles of BALANCE.

To my fellow students of the law, I hope that these tidbits can be of help in your journey to a noble profession. Just remember not to have too much BALANCE!

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