The summer just ended in Manila was a busy time. People were writing, messaging and asking about law school. Some gave me updates that they made it (Yay!), while some, unfortunately, didn’t land their dream school. I kept repeating over and over again that not landing the school you dreamt of doesn’t mean the end of the dream. It just means you need to adjust and adapt and just steer things a bit differently. It doesn’t mean having to abandon your passion. In fact, if the dream is etched deep enough in your heart, it should be what matters more than which school you land to make that dream come true.
The same goes for the young teens who are now making their way through their college classes as Freshmen. It’s a totally different world with more pressure and more responsibility. And it can be frightening while it is, at the same time, exhilarating.
So how goes it once you’re there?
Keep your focus, keep your composure. It is so easy to get lost in this new world of law books and case lists and hundred-page readings. You find yourself doubting your choice. You are thrilled pink but terrified. It’s the real world.
My first bit of advice: mean it when you do the prayers before class. I don’t mean to scare you, but you’re going to need it. I used to have a nervous stomach before the first class everyday– and forget that I had a crush on our professor, something which my male classmates were so critical of because they couldn’t understand why. (Let me leave it at that.. Lol). It will take time for your nerves to adjust if it ever does. The thing is to be able to function despite it.
Do not be intimidated. Someone wrote me about surviving in that presumed to be sosyal and elitist world — which, all things considered, should be the least of your worries.
First, there’s the dress code. You don’t have to wear the latest fashion because really, your professors won’t care. Just dress decently. What they do care about is that your tie is neatly tied, and that you are not dressed as if you were going to attend a party. Yes, some will mark you absent even as you’re pulling the tie to a knot during the roll call or if you’re not wearing your baring– or if you are not otherwise dressed appropriately. They will not, however, care to distinguish if your tie is Burberry or Landmark.
Secondly, you have more to worry about cramming 18 hours worth of reading into a mere 12 hours, and that will include what little sleep you will afford yourself as a luxury. Now, if you were working or are a mom or a dad, make that 18 hours in 6. Good luck! I wouldn’t let the twangs and the familiarity among those who grew up in the same circles get to you. They are not trying to rub their social pedigree on your face — that is the world as it is and this is not a social ball– this is law school. It doesn’t matter!
Third, forget about accents, too. The number 2 topnotcher of my original batch spoke with such a heavy accent yet she answered on point (always!) and was just plain brilliant. She was one of the humblest in class– had gone to college somewhere in the provinces — yet her simplicity belied the behemoth of a brain in that tiny head of hers. What matters is what you spit back in answer to your professors, or that you are able to argue your answer coherently during the tests.
Fourth, remember that you made it past all the screenings– whether it was without a hitch or on a waiting list. It doesn’t matter how — you’re in law school — that means you must have even just an iota of legalese in your coconut. You didn’t win the lottery, so do not belittle the fact that you got yourself here. Stop feeling small, or belittling yourself, because you have a bigger challenge up ahead: staying in.
Be creative. Law school — in any arena– is an expensive undertaking. You have to learn how to make ends meet– literally. There’s always that urge to get your cases “in the original” and your books all new and spiffy, engraved with your name in front. If you can afford to go that route, why not? But learn how to spend your book allowance wisely by borrowing, if you can, or in finding a cheaper photocopying alternative to the library. My classmates and I used to have one set done in the original, and someone would get the cheaper copies made outside.
I always underlined and highlighted my books cover to cover so borrowing was not an option for me, but I found ways to get copies made– again, by being creative.
Brotherhood or sisterhood? It took me a while to land an answer to this, because I knew that no one answer was right or wrong. And yet it was asked and I cannot gloss over it because I know that this is a nagging question for some. The good things is that I know that most universities ban freshman recruitment, although that ban never stopped anyone from approaching a possible recruit.
To join or not to join a fraternity or sorority is a very personal choice. I didn’t. For one, the only sorority in law school back then had practically died out while I was there. The boys, though, had two very distinguished fraternities to choose between, but I am not going to afford either one a mention here. I have nothing against joining fraternities– I admire their camaraderie. The connections seem to work for most. I just don’t operate that way. And neither did most of my classmates. Two of my dearest and closest friends from college, though, had joined one, and I see how that had brought them closer and how their bond with their brods transcended their having had to leave Ateneo Law before they could finish the course. (One had to take a leave of absence due to work and never came back — until last year or the year before, but in a different school. The other fell victim to the QPI purge and ended up in the other law school that accepts transferees, and had enjoyed a very progressive career in the HR field with various multinational companies.).
Joining a fraternity or a sorority is a lifetime commitment. It isn’t an easy task to join one. If you feel the need and believe you have the stomach to go through the rigorous initiation rites of any of these groups, for as long as it parallels or equals your commitment to your dream, then go. (My pain threshold is extremely low, and I am of the belief that that shouldn’t be the basis for my acceptance in any group. Unfortunately, there will always be some form of physical pain involved, and I am NOT THAT brave.) And to those not so inclined like I was not way back when, you aren’t giving up anything that you can’t have even sans that pledge of brotherhood. It helps, maybe. But it is not the be all and end all of succeeding in the world out there. At the end of the journey, it is what you make of yourself that really counts. It is how you choose to conduct yourself as an officer of the law in whatever field that would matter.
Find your own study mojo. Everyone has their own style of studying, and you will have to adjust to the course load as you go along. You will always find case digests aplenty and reviewers handed on from year to year. You will eventually find yourselves organized enough to work systematically by assigning groups to do certain cases or reviewers. All good– and yes, it helps — but at the end of the day, you have to be able to stand on your own two feet.
Not all case digests will be as good as the next, because it depends on (1) the writer’s ability to grasp the facts, issue(s) and ratio decidendi of the case– so you are relying on someone else to sift through that for you. If the writer misses out on salient facts the professor asks about, you will get stumped. (2). Although you would expect everyone has some writing skills tucked under their belt, not everyone will write with an eloquence or crispness that would make for easy reading. Yes, you will come across classmates who can’t seem to write coherently enough for others to understand what they’re saying. (3). There is always the temptation to copy an older digest already available without checking if it is on point with the original. Again, you end up with a dud.
When time permits, read the case in the original. It will train your minds to look at the forest and then see the trees and the nests tucked high up in those branches. You will also find the different styles of ponencia that will sometimes just sweep you off your feet for their sheer elegance, or the straightforward yet very detailed point-by-point dissection of a case. It may not strike you at the time you first read them (mainly because you’re too busy worrying about how much more you need to read), but the writing skills of these great minds will shape your own thinking and writing in the real world. And even when there is no time, there are simply cases that you WILL HAVE TO READ IN THE ORIGINAL, come what may, so you need to put in the extra effort to get that done.
Do not make the mistake of dismissing a dissenting opinion for lack of time. There will be times when a dissenting opinion will become case law and be more relevant than the majority opinion that closed the case. In certain opinions, it is here that you will find a clearer explanation of what the majority based their decision on. A dissenting opinion, though, does not make the majority opinion wrong. It just provides us another perspective strong enough for the dissenter to have taken pen and paper (figuratively) to make his or her point. It is a contrary opinion which can help us see the other side of the coin.
I was a full time student during my first year but worked through my second year onwards. There were times I was called and I actually stood up and told my professor I didn’t read the case. One time, my professor was kind enough to go to the next case on the list, and the next (which is rare, because the first one would’ve merited a 5)– and still I had to sit down because I came unprepared. I would often be stumped by my inability to weave provisions together — and later I realized it was because my brain was trained to read and memorize them individually. But I persisted.
I learned to stay up late and find study guides. I drank vitamins to keep myself on my toes and hopefully to make my brain work better. I don’t know if those things did their job, but it had a placebo effect of reassuring my brain that I was trying to keep it healthy. In that respect, they did work because I survived.
When your name is called and a question is asked, keep things simple. Anyone would hate having to listen to a roundabout explanation of something which could have been stated in a straightforward manner.
Say yes or no. State the law. Give your reason.
When asked to recite a case, state the facts, state the issue, give the ruling.
When you don’t know the answer to the question, just say so. There is no use pretending to know when you don’t because your professor has a lifetime of experience that will make him catch on even before you end your recitation.
With all that said, you have to prepare yourself for the worst by being your best. I am not going to say here that it’s something you will enjoy, because that comes much later, when you get your groove going. And the enjoyment really might not come until after you get the “Atty.” attached to your name. And that’s a long ways to go. But I will say it’s not impossible, and it IS doable — for as long as you want it badly enough.
Any half-hearted effort will land you someplace you wouldn’t want to be. So ask yourself now if you’re up to it, because if there is even an iota of doubt in your mind or deep in your heart, you should seriously think of changing paths. It is never too late to back out of a dream or a pursuit or a journey — whatever you may want to call it, for as long as you do it out of your own choice. Do not put yourself in a position where your circumstances force you to change direction. Put your heart and soul into it, give it 110% (everyday!), and pray, pray, pray!
I would love to hear from anyone who has something to chime in with — I’m at pinaynewyorker at gmail dot com… even if only to tell me you passed by my corner of the web and read this post. And maybe I might even be persuaded to do a digest or two, as long as the original is accessible online. (Ha!)
Back then, I was excited, I was terrified, I was often “lost” — but I always regained my footing in knowing I wanted this for me so bad that I would take any humiliation, any challenge, to make it through to the end. I prayed very hard. I struggled to make ends meet — and while I’m not a practicing lawyer now, I know I achieved that big dream I had always pinned my hopes on eversince I realized I couldn’t be a doctor. (My gut reaction to touching my mom’s extracted tonsils in a specimen bag was the big reveal.) Once a lawyer, always a lawyer. I’m good with that.
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