To those in their Freshman Year in Law School in Ateneo

I always say I went to college because I wanted to go to law school. Not that I think I would’ve made it to an accelerated program like U.P.’s Intarmed Program if there was one — but it was really because even in high school, I knew deep in my heart that I wanted to be a lawyer. To begin with, the sciences never agreed with me. Pragmatism found me at an early age, so I wasn’t one to challenge fate. While fate may be undefinable and beyond anyone’s control, I have always believed that there are things that define one’s destiny, and my struggling through numbers and tables told me I just wasn’t cut out to have “M.D.” after my name. U.P. decided they had no use for my talents but the Ateneo School of Law saw something in me and decided to give me a chance. I didn’t even appeal my rejection from U.P. even if I went there for college. I figured I’d stick it out with the Jesuits and hope that their high batting average in the Bar Exams would do me well as it turned out it did.

It has been more than a decade since I was a freshman in Ateneo, but I always find myself going back to those days with a sense of pride at having made it through.  One part of me is thankful I did it then, way before the advent of personal laptops and the cellphone rage.  It was a financial struggle at the time as we suffered a major reversal of fortunes after my first year in law school, but I made it.  The dress code was difficult enough but I had to keep up with it when I started working, so the drain on my finances was well worth it.

I keep getting feedback on the law student related posts I have written so far and I keep promising to write more.  It’s just that it’s one topic I need to sit down and clear my mind for, instead of the usual posts where I just shoot off whatever comes to mind.

How do you prepare for the onslaught of case loads, major readings and terror professors?  I used to envy a classmate who had her own condo unit across the Sen. Gil Puyat Avenue (we were then at HV De La Costa Street) and how she had her own copier and SCRA (Supreme Court Reports Annotated) in that unit.  I was having a problem coping with getting the books myself — I couldn’t even go as far as dream of those luxuries.

Many students ask if you should invest in books that keep getting updated or just borrow.  Some of the older law students advised to just borrow in the undergraduate years and invest in reviewers.  That works if you don’t need to underline and highlight as you read the text, and I had to do that, so it was either I bought the book or I had it photocopied.  I usually bought the book and annotated it with my own notes.

To read the cases in the original or depend on the digests?  That would be easy if the case load were confined to say, 10 cases, assigned well in advance.  I always say, read the original.  But what do you do when you get to the Bill of Rights and you are given 20 cases to read two days ahead?  Relying on digests is a double edged sword because you’re gambling on the writer’s reliability in terms of providing the salient points of the case, and of hitting the ratio decidendi on the nail.  If you get a good digest, then you’re good.  On the otherhand, if you end up with a halfbaked and cryptic and highly abbreviated version, then your recitation grade will likewise be wanting of satisfaction.

Memorize the codal provisions but understand the words you are committing to memory.  I am an oral memorizer — I have to hear myself enunciate the text I’m memorizing, and I work best memorizing just hours before recitation.  Others do it way ahead — but a good memory doesn’t always mean a clear comprehension of the law — more so when the professor starts weaving several provisions of the law from different chapters, some of which may have been assigned weeks ago.  This, I have come to realize, is a common weakness of the young law student.  There is a struggle to integrate the provisions of the law — so much so that you become literal in learning it instead of being able to see a cohesive body of law that should be interpreted together.  Despair not because you will eventually learn it.  There is no hard and fast rule to get to that point, though, so you have to focus and concentrate when you memorize instead of just mouthing the words.

Read, read, read — the lengthy texts are there to explain to you the rationale behind the law, and you will have a better chance of seeing the so called bigger picture if you comprehend the longer explanation.  Without mentioning specific subjects and authors here, the law school freshman will discover there are the lengthy textbooks which dwell on history and comparisons and not just the law as it is today with a summary of pertinent cases.  Both are good to read, but the better read is the one that is longer and harder to comprehend because at the end of the day, you will be able to answer not just the “What?” but more importantly, the “Why?”.

Those professors can be downright nasty, but they have every right to be.  My favorite anecdote about the Bar Exams is how I realized when I sat for my first exam that all that bull—t I got from my professors had a reason, and they had in fact prepared me better than many of the other hopefuls who sat with me taking the Bar then.  Don’t take their strictness as plain arrogance.  They are that way for a reason — there is an expectation you are measured by, and if you cannot measure up to theirs while you are still an undergraduate, you will miserably fail not just them but yourself when you take the Bar exams.  Don’t take it personally either, although they may seem to be hitting just you — believe me, they have done this for years and years and years — you are not the only one who has felt like crying after a particularly dismal recitation.

So you get called to recite and the Professor asks a question, get to the point with the answer — if it’s the law, recite it.  If it’s a case, start with the facts, the issue and then give the ruling of the court pertinent to the subject at hand.  If it’s a yes or no, state your answer, and then, the most important part of that dialogue is for you to be able to defend your answer with a statute or case or some coherent explanation.

Work on your chicken scratch of a penmanship early.  Does this really matter?  Let me put it this way — if you were the examiner or the checker of a subject given in the Bar Exam and you asked around 15 or 20 questions, each of which was answered by a definite declaration and then defended in longhand by the 4,000 or 5,000 hopefuls, your patience wears thin when you have to struggle reading one particular answer.

Temper your social life with your commitment to make it through law school.  We did have our parties, we had our drinking sprees, but they were nothing compared to how things went when we were in college.  We had our study groups — and when we faced each other to study, we all came prepared.  If you were a party animal before law school, no one says you cannot go to parties anymore — but if you are to survive law school, you cannot party anymore as if there was no tomorrow.  This is serious studying that cannot be redone at the end of four years with a take two.  While you can take the bar exam again if you fail, you cannot take back that failure and there goes your chance to be a judge in our judicial system.  It’s a commitment you have to make to yourself, otherwise, you will not make it.

I am tempted to write about being booted from the program here but I will save that for another post.  It’s a totally different slant because then, and I have to reflect on how I can handle that post without going off tangent.. and there is that post about working while studying.  That will take a few posts to complete, but let me think about it first.

To the freshmen of Class of 2011, good luck and welcome to the world of serious studying!  I have always missed studying that’s why I read with a thirst to learn everyday.  If anyone needs help with their digests and if those cases are available online, send me the case list, then let’s see what I can churn out.  I used to turn out good digests because I wrote them as a concise reviewer for myself — but I made sure everything I needed to remember was there.  And I made a business of producing those digests.. it was my way of trying to cope with the financial burden of law school.

Those digests also helped hone my writing skills although I wrote well already even before law school.  There is always room for improvement, and I always give credit where credit is due.  So get down to those books!  Read those cases!  And pray to the heavens for all the help they can send down to you.

My Constitutional Law book as I originally underlined them in my Freshman year.  I left them behind when I originally left but took them back to New York with me after the trip home in May 2006.

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2 thoughts on “To those in their Freshman Year in Law School in Ateneo

  1. Peter

    I’m an incoming law freshman at the UST, and I must say this article is very informative and has served to answer many questions that I have regarding law school life. Hope you could write more related articles. 🙂


  2. Ly

    I’m almost finish reading your blog and I must say that it helps a lot of Future Lawyers out there (just like me). Thank you for inspiring more people to become a legal eagle. To more informative blogs. God bless!


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