I’ve been hoping to have the chance to sit down and write all these thoughts running through my head in response to a comment from Prince in reference to what has to be my most visited blog post here, Back when I was in Law School. (Link provided below)
It has been ages since I was in his shoes, but I can still remember the disappointment, the shame, the nervous stomach I had to deal with during my first semester in the Ateneo School of Law and all the heartaches of pursuing my dream. To us and to most of the freshmen who found themselves on the receiving end of the ire and seeming arrogance of our professors during recitation, these men and women behind the teacher’s desk were mean monsters who didn’t know how to treat students as human beings. That was a misguided thought, and sadly, sometimes it took us years to realize that despite all the horror stories that we heard and went through ourselves, there was a reason for the way things were.
For me, my epiphany came when I took the bar exams. But that’s another story.. so let’s go back to being a freshman in law school.
Even in pre-law in UP Manila, there were horror stories about teachers who flunked students with such heartlessness you made sure you avoided them when choosing your subjects. In law school, some such professors are simply unavoidable. Failure in law school, though, is more often than not caused by one’s inability to cope with the demands of the course for whatever reason or another. This is one place where you will not flunk just because you belong to the wrong fraternity, or because the professor doesn’t like your face. If you suddenly become the teacher’s pet or pet peeve, it is your undoing that will result in a 5. He can keep calling you every meeting, but if you know the law and you read your cases and understood it, you will make it through.
If they seem arrogant and pompous as they ask their questions, it’s because out in the real world, those who practice the legal profession are subjected to the same if not worse interrogation by the officers of the judicial system, as they are expected to adhere to the highest standards in providing their services and knowledge in support of their client. And if you get down tothe nitty gritty of it, they know the law — while you’re still learning it. So yes, they have earned the right to conduct themselves that way, that is why they are part of the roster of professors of the Ateneo School of Law.
I remember when I was a freshman, there were days when I wanted to crawl under the desk when I stood up to recite a case that now appears I had misappreciated because the professor was grilling me to death. There were days when I looked at a case list of 20 readings, and I had only managed to read through half in the original, and I had digests of only 3 of the remaining ten. And what about those days when I memorized the legal provisions, and when I was called to recite, I failed to connect the law into one cohesive whole so I missed the point, meriting a wistful shaking of the head from my befuddled professor. (He was probably asking “What the hell is this student trying to say?”) Yet there were days when I came to class well-prepared, I aced the question and I sat down with a smile and big sigh of relief.
Your weakest moment is when you feel so small that you think that you are probably in the wrong place. That perhaps that investment in time and money was a total waste, and maybe your professor is right when he suggests you shift to another career. (Atty. Alimurong who did our orientation was very blunt in saying “No English? Shift to music.”) But dreams have a way of making us learn from such encounters. It is up to us to find a means of coping. I came to law school with very bad study habits but was soon honing my skills at reading cases and writing digests I made a small living off of it by photocopying my digests and selling them at cost. I learned to calm my nerves so I could speak with confidence if not with clarity so that at least the professor didn’t get irritated by roundabout recitations that didn’t quite hit the nail on the head.
The law is not all about eloquence but it does require a sense of being able to express one’s self clearly and succintly. You have to be able to make your point, give the rationale behind your answer, cite the law if you must. It bears keeping in mind, though, that sometimes, one’s nerves gets the better of us and we are unable to say what we mean to because our knees start shaking before our wit grabs a hold of our tongue.
I went by a simple rule that took me a semester or two to master — Answer the professor in the positive or the negative, state the law, then the reason why that law applies. Or when asked about a case, give the facts, the issue, and the ruling.
But at the end of the day, what kept me going was this dream in my heart. And it meant so much to me that I vowed to stay in Ateneo until they booted me out — and they never did. Even when a reversal of fortunes required me to find a job and another and eventually another. I was working full time by my sophomore year, and yet that was never an excuse to give up on my dream. No matter how hard it became, I held on to that dream in my heart.
I had my share of flunking subjects. I had to repeat a few subjects in the course of my studies. One semester, I actually took a leave of absence midway through because I felt my chances of surviving the semester were dangerously low — then I took the Bar exams with more prayers than preparation — and I made it.
I went through the so-called terror teachers in Persons & Family Relations, Criminal Law, ObliCon, Succession, Political Law Review, Transportation, Taxation, etc. (And I am not risking a law suit naming names here, but feel free to write me and we can share stories..) I was glared at, insulted, and two or three of them flunked me. At the same time there were those whose subject I managed to pass — sometimes, even I surprised myself.
But I always held on to my dream. Even when I had to support myself through law school by working and sometimes needing to borrow money to tide me through and doing promissory notes just so I could pay my tuition in installments, I persevered and I held on tight.
I wish I could tell you those horror stories are untrue and are but a rumor but they are not. Oftentimes they are exaggerated for effect, but those stories should help you better prepare yourself rather than intimidate you.
The case list is not long because the professors want to test your speed reading skills but because they are a necessity. (I’m sure by now Springer has sown terror in you heart just by the thickness of the photocopied original). A lengthy case list should not, by itself, be an excuse not to be ready. I know you will find little if no comfort in this, but that is a reality in law school that you will have to learn to accept early on. Your having been accepted to one of the most prestigious legal learning institutions in the country comes with responsibilities, part of which is that much is expected of you. The mere fact that you managed to go past the entrance exams means they saw something in you, and it’s now up to you to stand up to the challenge.
When you sit for the bar exams as an Ateneo barrister, you will appreciate all the aggravation these professors gave you, and you will see what makes you different from the rest. I cannot hope to fully describe that here because it will take your sitting down for that exam among the sea of other legal hopefuls to fully comprehend what I’m trying to say.
At the end of the day, it all boils down to what you really want, and to borrow one of Atty. Cynthia Del Castillo’s favorite phrases, what you want “deep in your heart of hearts.”. The challenges will continue, and the case lists will grow. If you think your roster of professors are mostly evil, have you heard of the professor who was a congressman at one point in time, a senator, and then a cabinet secretary who used to have a student recite while standing on a chair? Or how the same professor reportedly had two students hold hands during recitation and those two eventually fell in love? Rumor or fiction, don’t ask me. I took them all with a grain of salt.
The job offers will come, but the opportunity to pursue your dream to become a lawyer is in the “here and now.” Again, ask yourself what you truly want. If the answer continues to be to fulfill that dream to be a true blue legal eagle, then do not allow yourself to be deterred this early in your journey. You should consider yourself lucky that you are facing this challenge without the burden of having to support yourself through it. But that is my story — I urge you to focus on your dream. As I tell those who ask me about law school when they find themselves at the threshhold of making that decison to pursue that dream or not, I tell them they must want it THAT badly in order for them to survive — be it at the Ateneo, in UP, in San Beda or at Arellano.
Would you be able to live with yourself if ten years from now you find yourself wondering how it would’ve been if you had stuck it out? The long and short of it is, you’ll never really know if you give up too soon. I say stay where you are until the Jesuits decide they’ve had enough of you — and even when you get the boot, who’s to stop you from pursuing your dream elsewhere? It is, after all, your dream.