It’s the first Sunday of the Bar Exam tomorrow. During this gruelling season for the Bar Examinees, it’s a four-week fiesta-like celebration every Sunday for the non-barristers as they come together as an academic community to cheer on and support their own bets.
Called the Bar Operations or “Bar Ops” by most, the schools and major organizations such as fraternities and sorrorities corner choice eateries as headquarters each Sunday. This is where the Barristers go to get a much needed last minute refresher, lunch, or just a moral boost at the end of the day. For the non-barristers, it’s one of those rare occasions where they can joke around and sit down for casual banter with their professors.
I plunged into the Bar Operations with much gusto during my freshman year, and it helped that the then girlfriend of one of my closest friends in college was heading up the “neutral” Bar Ops of Ateneo, being a senior at the time. They coordinated a hotel stay each Saturday evening, got the tips via runners from the law school to the hotel, took charge of lunch, had books and researchers handy for any last minute questions, and then transported the barristers to the exam venue.
The faculty of each school would always congregate the day before to give last minute lectures and refreshers, and then at night, brainstorm on possible questions that will come up based on trends, the area of expertise of a likely examiner, what question has yet to be asked and which is relevant to current events, etc. In Ateneo, we have our own think tank which has assured the Ateneo barristers a good set of reviewers the morning of the exam.
These tips are much sought after because they are available only to Ateneo barristers. Even if you paid to take your pre-bar review at the Ateneo, you don’t buy the privilege of getting that reviewer.
During my time in 1995, you could see others looking longingly at those blue sheets, reproduced as such so they could not be photocopied clearly. I remember my first Sunday as a Sunday of grave anxiety. I managed to “hitch” onto the Aquila Legis Bar Ops in Century Park but paid my own way. It only meant that I got my tips on time, and then I took care of getting myself to DLSU which was just a block away anyway. I had my own reviewers, friends like Elen who stopped by to refresh my memory — Elvie who brought me food, and inside, there were the familiar faces of fellow-Ateneans taking the exams with me.
I took my seat in a classroom where the barristers were younger and much older than me. Some of them looked like they were my Mom’s age.. others were obviously taking it a second or third time. Over lunch, I would overhear them talking about how much more difficult or easier this exam was than the last. I didn’t bother to leave the DLSU premises because I thought it was wasted minutes walking to wherever and back– I simply grabbed lunch from friends who were assigned to take care of me each particular Sunday, then I headed back and found a spot and went over my notes.
You get a sense of dread once you get your first exam, but amongst the thousands taking the exam with you, you cannot help but find a newfound appreciation for all the flak and seemingly undeserved difficulty your professors had given you. Because when you grab your pen and start to write your answers, you do so knowing you were trained by the best of the best.
I remember one clerk administering the exam who asked me from what school I was as I handed her my bluebook.. when I said Ateneo, she smiled and told me “I’m sure you’re going to pass.” An elderly lady who must’ve been someone’s grandma but who acted very young at heart came all dressed and smiling overheard this and she superstitiously rubbed a finger on my forehand and said “pahingi ng swerte”. Others would’ve found that irritating but it actually stunned me into silence. Not because she touched me, but you could hear her sense of desperation in her voice. She was nice, but she was also talking earlier about how this was her 3rd time to give the Bar Examination a try.
I had my pen in hand, remembering the admonition of our beloved Justive Escolin who gave us such simple rules to follow — write legibly, erase with one straight line. Answer with your choice — yes or no, the letter if it was a multiple choice, then argue by citing the law or principle and defend why you think that is the right answer. He told us that if we are able to justify our answer and say it in a coherent and intelligent manner, we may not get full points for the wrong answer, but we will get points.
The teachers suddenly turn into guardian angels once you start on this long journey to taking THE exam of your life. You get the sense that they would answer the questions for you if they could and they send us off with the best wishes and pat on the shoulder you continue to feel long after you put your pen down for the last exam on the fourth Sunday.
I never knew chest pains until the first Sunday of the Bar. I actually thought I was going to pass out as I walked out to have lunch, and then I saw my brother’s bestfriend, German, a fellow barrister and now a Judge of the Municipal Trial Court in Manila, whom I sat next to so that just in case I fell, someone I knew would be there to call for help. It was the first of four Sundays — I made it, and I passed.
The study of law is an arduous task. With so many provisions of the law to study, and even more laws to inter-relate and link together, the key, as I have discovered when I went out into the real world after passing the Bar, is to see the big picture.
I toast the over 6,000 bar hopefuls who will sit down to take this challenge again. Whether it is their first, second or third, (a recent development now bars retaking the bar after the fifth or is it the fourth attempt?), I salute you for the effort to conquer the test of your legal knowledge. Although only around 20% will succeed, much less if the exam proves to be more difficult than the usual degree of difficulty, the mere attempt to pass deserves recognition.
I don’t know how difficult it is to flunk the bar because I was fortunate enough to have done it in one take. I do have very dear friends who were not as lucky, but they eventually made it. As they said, try and try until you die — or at least until the Supreme Court will let you. To the 2006 Barristers — the best of luck!