Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Bridging law school and practice | Inquirer Opinion

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By: Ricardo J. Romulo, December 19th, 2015 12:38 AM

By now, the over 6,000 takers of the 2015 bar examinations held last month must be all done with their resting. Anxious waiting for the results is a rite of passage that every bar taker undergoes. And though the holidays can somehow provide some distraction, the worry remains in the background and is sure to take center stage come January.

I suggest that in the meantime, bar takers take a preview of what lies ahead. The world of law practice, it is universally acknowledged, is altogether different from life in law school.

The world’s leading law schools are, fortunately for their students, not oblivious to this inadequacy. Harvard Law School is itself taking steps to bridge the gap between what its students experience in the classroom and what its graduates will find out there in the real world.

One step is the institution of a new role: professor of practice. The function is to bring in law teachers who have extensive expertise in the various aspects of law practice to actively participate in the formulation and execution of policy, and in the observance of good governance in both public service and the private sector.

Without expressly intending to, our local law schools have been doing approximately the same thing with their engagement of mostly part-time faculty. That approach, however, needs fine-tuning. Judges are permitted to teach only in the evenings; good lawyers in the bigger law firms are swamped with assignments from their more senior partners; compensation for full-time teaching in the law school pales in comparison with income from private practice, etc.

What is needed is a complement of full-time law instructors. The most likely candidates for these positions are the passers of the bar exams held in the last three years; they are young, hopefully still idealistic, and still on search mode for the field of law in which they would finally settle.

Harvard Law School, in addition to its Professor of Practice, also tries to incorporate into its undergraduate curriculum required units in international or comparative law; a new problem-solving workshop where the problems are of the kind that practitioners meet daily; and greater exposure to legal clinics, research on cutting-edge issues, interdisciplinary collaborations, and public service initiatives. Some local law schools are into that already.

The catalogue of Ateneo de Manila Law School, for instance, offers electives to junior and senior students such as admiralty, advanced seminar on lease arrangements, agrarian law and social legislation, appellate practice and brief making, clinical legal education, and conflict resolution in family dispute, to name only a few, to fill up the 22 that they are required to take.

Clinical legal education, which has two portions making up a total of four units, complies with Rule 135-A of the Rules of Court. Supervised students work on attending conferences with clients, preparation of pleadings and motions, appearances in courts, handling of trial, and preparation of memoranda. Video clips of direct and cross-examination in court (not of the TV kind) enhance the students’ learning.

But, more than piecemeal adaptations and enhancements, what is needed in all local law schools is a drastic change in the mindset of both faculty and management, from the currently consuming objective of enabling the students to pass the bar to equipping them with knowledge and skill for legal practice.

Very significant is the need for physical space for practical learning. Local law schools may wish to pattern their programs after the way Harvard Law School doggedly devotes time, money and manpower to build an impressive array of innovations in support of clinical education. Its newest building, the Wasserstein Hall, with the Caspersen Student Center and Clinical Wing Complex was “designed and built to accommodate small classes, innovative learning and problem-solving at Harvard Law School.”

The capital outlay may be huge and, at first glance, out of reach of our local law schools, but nothing ought to stop starting, albeit slow and small, at the beginning. What was that said in the movie “Field of Dreams”? “Build it, and they will come.” And the bar exams must be pruned to basic subjects.

Also needed is the cooperation of public institutions and private entities. Not only should they set aside a small but sufficient budget to answer for the stipend needed by the interns working for them, but, more important, they should craft work programs designed to enable the interns to get a feel of the legal practice that awaits them.

Perhaps the Supreme Court can promulgate standards and a catalogue of activities geared to get the students’ feet wet in legal practice, such as writing memoranda, briefs and position papers, accompanying lawyers who attend court and administrative bodies’ hearings, and role-playing under the supervision of senior lawyers.

In the meantime, I recommend to the takers of the 2015 bar exams to volunteer their services to the legal aid offices of their schools, barangays and communities, and the legal staff of legislators and other election candidates. There is, I am almost sure, some work that they can do for the tireless Persida Acosta of the Public Attorney’s Office. Her contact numbers are in the government directory.

Ricardo J. Romulo is a senior partner of Romulo Mabanta Buenaventura Sayoc & De Los Angeles.

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