The business of a law school

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    ‘Ultimately, I think the best test of a law school is how many of its graduates consciously debase the very Constitution they studied for four or more years and they swore to uphold and defend.’

    ANY and every young man or woman who walks through the UP College of Law’s Malcolm Hall as a student (or sometimes even when still dreaming to be one) never fails to behold the inscription on the wall facing the main entrance. It is a quote from Justice Oliver

    Wendell Holmes, and it speaks of teaching in the grand manner and making great lawyers.

    Long before I was even a student at the College I would find myself staring at that quote.

    Eventually, I would find out for myself what “teaching in the grand manner” meant – especially when I found myself in first year face-to-face with professors such as Chief Justice Enrique Fernando and Haydee Yorac, to name just two.

    It was, I often thought then, a euphemism for classroom terrorism.

    But “making great lawyers?”

    If by this Justice Holmes meant producing lawyers who would proceed to join or establish big and influential law firms and in the process make good money for their partners in the firm and partners in life, then UP Law clearly has done that.

    If he meant lawyers who would make a mark in their profession for their keen minds that help shape the course of the law in the Philippines (for better or worse) then yes, UP Law has done that too.

    If it meant producing graduates who bring honor to their families or frats (or sororities) by topping the Bar (“Top One!”) then, yes, UP Law has done that too. (Though, of late, the “grand manner” has not been as grand as before.)

    And that’s why when, a month or so ago I was asked by a friend what my reaction was to the fact that, again, there was no graduate of UP Law among the top 10 successful examinees. I thought he was being mean (or at least naughty). Not because he was stressing the obvious, but because I have never taken the Bar exams myself and am always sensitive when the results come out – as my name is not on the list again! But that’s not why I didn’t respond. I didn’t respond because something was bugging me and it was only the other day that I finally put my finger on it – and on how I wanted to respond to his question.

    Of course, every Law School aspires for the honor of producing the year’s Bar topnotcher – or at least one among the Top Ten. For some schools it is an important advertisement, a means to draw enrolees for the next school year among the thousands of young men and women who dream of a career as a lawyer and who may prefer to go to other schools for this. For others, it’s an affirmation of one’s place of honor, earned over decades of producing such graduates, proof that its standards of teaching in whatever manner remains as high as before.

    But is that the test? Or is the passing rate of those taking the exams for the first or second time the better one? Or maybe it is how many of its graduates are NOT behind bars?

    Ultimately, I think the best test of a law school is how many of its graduates consciously debase the very Constitution they studied for four or more years and they swore to uphold and defend. When an alumnus reasons that the invasion by a virus is enough justification for Martial Law, I flinch – on behalf of all our law professors alive or dead, all alumni who have devoted and even sacrificed their lives in defense of the everything the Constitution stands for, on behalf even of all those who did not make it to UP Law but who have a much clearer understanding of and a greater respect for the Rule of Law. When an alumnus reasons like that, I realize that some people sleep walk through the grand manner of teaching but could be smart enough to get away with it and pass the Bar.

    It is thus with great interest that I will follow the Philippine Senate when it deliberates on the proposed Anti-Terror Bill. The Senate President, who is no lawyer, may be forgiven for saying it is as “good as passed” because the President of the Philippines has certified it as urgent; but I am not so sure if I will personally be as forgiving of the members of the Senate who are supposed to be products of the “grand manner” if they take a similarly cavalier attitude towards this significant piece of legislation.

    Significant because at a time when we are confronting a virus which has killed millions around the world here we are focused more on a piece of legislation that could eventually kill our Constitution itself.

    There is no way you can be a great product of a grand manner if your priorities are screwed.