I don’t know why but I’ve struggled with writing about this for the last three weeks. (So my apologies for the delay, Carmela.) Considering it’s a topic very close to my heart, it should’ve been easier, but perhaps the fact that I’ve written about it a couple of times before didn’t quite make it as spontaneous as the previous efforts This time, I wanted to give it a different perspective. Instead of just writing about myself, I thought I’d bring in a few other voices to share their own experience about their choice to become lawyers.
“What advice can you give as I decide on whether or not to go to law school?” It’s a question I never tire of answering because although it has been years since I asked the same question of friends who had made the same decision, I still remember how that thought weighed heavily on me.
It is different for each one of us who have gone into the pursuit of law. Even the career paths we ended up choosing after leaving the august halls of the Ateneo were diverse. Instead of providing my own point of view, I’ve asked a favor of three former classmates and schoolmate from a batch ahead (but who I practically grew up with from elementary to high school) from the Ateneo School of Law. I have asked them to help me answer the questions posted in Carmela’s feedback by sharing with us when they decided to go to law school, why they wanted to take up law, and why they chose to go to Ateneo.
Of the four, two are formerly from the University of the Philippines(like the Pinay New Yorker), and like Carmela, the sole lady lawyer came from one of the more prominent family of legal eagles.
Atty. Reggie Nolido, currently connected with Corporate Counsels Philippine Law Offices, came from the University of the Philippines where he finished a degree in Economics. He chose to go to the Ateneo “(b)ecause Ateneo delivers quality education.” Unlike me who had come into the decision to go into law as a future career on my own, Reggie was practically programmed by his parents to pursue law as a profession from an early age. That didn’t mean, though, that he had his heart set on it as early as his parents were, as he admits that the idea of actually pursuing law didn’t quite grow into him until he was in college.
When I asked him what it was that drew him to making that decision to go into law school, he says “It’s a very interesting discipline. Knowing what you can and cannot do. Understanding the logic of relationships, transactions, deals. the thrill of combat in a regulated arena. Parang sports din.”
Meanwhile, for Atty. Noli Tibayan, the lure of law school came while he was already working with the NEDA (National Economic Development Authority) after college. I have come across many classmates who had decided to go into law school after entering the work force and even when I sat for the Bar Exams, I found examinees who were old enough to be my Mom or Dad, sitting in on the same exam I was taking. This, I think, goes to show that the realization or the decision to go to law school does not always come automatically for all of us. Perhaps then, for those truly undecided, it bears some thinking to take pause literally and postpone law school for after some time in the real world as part of the workforce. Some of us, like Noli, feel the call so to speak, at a later time.
“I thought people would listen to my thought more readily if I had more educational qualification. Feeling then I had enough economics which I had taken up in college, I thought of law studies — something which my mother really wanted me to do but which I rejected so much when she was hounding me to take it..,” Noli continues. (There again figures some parental influence in the matter.) And why Ateneo? “(b)ecause of the Jesuits — believe it or not.” Then again, having taken up Economics with the Jesuits, it seems an automatic choice for him to continue to pursue his legal education in the same university.
Nowadays, Noli is part of the corporate world as HR Director for Roche in Manila. That’s a long way from his days at the NEDA before law school, and while he isn’t actively practicing, his legal education has given him solid footing in this career path.
And there are those of us who are influenced by those moments in history which makes us stop to think about where our lives are going. For Atty. Reagan De Guzman of the Tavidell Law Offices, this came during the EDSA Revolution. “I was probably in my 1st or 2nd year of college, and I realized that there was a need to study law and find out how it was used and abused by the Marcos regime and how best to help the country as it was going through a rebirth. Sad to say, after EDSA, things remained the same. The law was and until now is being used to oppress the people. Instead of strengthening the rights of the people, the laws as they are enacted, applied, and even interpreted by the Supreme Court, still favor those who are rich and in power.”
Reagan continues “Law school was supposed to hone my skills on finding solutions to problems besetting every person every day. Law school was not simply to memorize the law but to immerse oneself on how a law is crafted and how it is to be interpreted and how it should be applied on certain situations. Law is a dynamic process. It evolves as society evolves. But sometimes, its evolution is stunted with self-interest rather than the interest of society as a whole and this is where one’s skills honed in law school will come into play.”
And why Ateneo? That’s almost a silly question to ask of this true blue Atenean: “… because it’s the only school…… the others are just law schools…. not the Ateneo Law School…. I am biased towards Jesuit teachings and trainings… to always question everything… to have doubts… and yet to still have faith…”
Finally, this lady attorney and I practically grew up together, having gone to the same elementary and high school. From the very start, her pursuing a law career seemed to be preordained as people saw her famous lawyer dad attend Parent-teacher conferences. It was a face you couldn’t miss. The famous lawyer dad and a law career for the daughter were synonymous in people’s minds.
She confided that she knew as early as Grade 1 or 2 (age 6 or 7!) that she wanted to be a lawyer. “It was when I started hanging around my father’s law office a lot — playing and believe or not, smelling the old musty books. I liked the quiet peaceful feel of the place. It was very formal and the leather/cloth bound books looked so impressive. I liked the steady hum of the aircon, watching him work etc. I’d copy him by reading and writing whatever.”
They travelled the world over, and she tells me now that while she always wanted to be a lawyer, that decision somehow changed after one trip to Europe where she found herself thinking of going another route. “It seems that all through my life I was destined to go to law school. Then, after high school we went on a trip to Europe. Everything changed and I suddenly wanted to take Hotel & Restaurant Management in Paris. Not going to happen. My parents, being very old fashioned, gave me 2 choices: law or medicine. So back to law.”
Like me, she went to college at the University of the Philippines to get to law school. It seemed but a step closer to law school with the decision to pursue a legal education already firm in her mind. “I just took up Poli Sci in college because I wanted to take it easy in my pre-law course since I knew for sure there’s no way I’m not going to take up law.” She continues on, “Deep inside I knew if I took up law there will be more doors open to me. Private practice, politics, business, foreign service, corporate and the like.”
Her choice to go to Ateneo was partly motivated, though, by the very factors that led her to choose a career in law in the beginning — her father’s stature. “I was in UP College during the EDSA revolution. You can imagine my student life in UP Poli Sci – with my father’s position, political ties etc etc. One professor would require us to join rallies. So of course I joined – he liked that a lot and I got a good grade. I thought Ateneo would be more peaceful, reasonable, less politicized. Wrong. It does not matter where you go. Its all crazy reading, studying everyday. You have to like it or else you will not see the point of studying all that. If its money you’re after – go into business!”
They chose the paths that have led them to where they are right now, each molded by circumstances peculiar to each one. In the end, the answer lies within — it’s a choice you have to make not for anyone or anything else but yourself. The challenge of pursuing one’s dream is to see it through. And when your journey is ended, you can always choose to take another path. Going to law school does not mean entering the litigation arena. There are those of us who use what we have learned in other ways, or choose not to use it at all.
I’d like to think like Reggie, Noli, Reagan and my former classmate did: that it opened doors, that there were better opportunities, and in the end, that we realized we really did it for ourselves after all. And that’s a good rule of thumb — do it because you want it for yourself, and no matter where you end up, you’ll be able to live with your choice. Whether you successfully finish the course, pass the Bar Examinations or just decide in the middle of it all that it wasn’t your cup of tea, you can live with the decision and reap the success or face your failure head on knowing you did it because you wanted to.
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