A law degree can be a passport to becoming a public defender, an opinion writer, a politician or a judge. But whatever kind of work one decides to pursue, the challenge is in keeping one’s ideals, integrity, honor and reputation intact.
WHAT IS THE LAW?
Laws are generally passed by the legislature. However, proclamations and executive orders issued by the President; rules and regulations implementing certain laws promulgated by the government agencies concerned, and Jurisprudence, otherwise known as decisions of the Philippine Supreme Court, are likewise considered as part of the laws of the land. Sometimes, we also have to look at the Supreme Court decisions of the United States of America to address certain issues which may arise before the Courts, when no law or Philippine jurisprudence is squarely in point, and these U.S. decisions may then be quoted as part of our jurisprudence. Notably, in libel cases. Of course the basic law of all is the Constitution.
WHAT DOES A LAWYER DO?
A lawyer can do anything he/she wants. He/She can work in a law-firm: And there are small, medium-sized and large-firms here. He/She can work immediately on his/her own as a lawyer. He/She can take a Master’s Degree from a foreign university to expand her knowledge. He/She can work in a bank or in a corporation. He/She can act as an “Ombudsman” of a newspaper or a T.V. station. He/She can work directly from law school for the Government: either as a prosecutor, or a public attorney (who is known as the public defender in the U.S.), or as an assistant solicitor in the office of the Solicitor General, or as a clerk of court. After a few years, he/she can become a judge or eventually a Supreme Court Justice. He/She can be the Ombudsman. He/She can be the chairperson of the Commission on Elections or the Commission on Human Rights. He/She can be a councilor, a provincial board member, a Mayor, a Congressman, a Senator, and even the President of the Republic of the Philippines. A lawyer can also be an opinion writer; a publisher of a newspaper, an editor-in-chief; a disc jockey; and even a T.V. host.
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO BECOME A LAWYER?
Facility in the writing, comprehension, and speaking of English. “English! English! English!” as one renowned lawyer once said when asked what was the most important attribute of being a lawyer. Understandably, since all laws are passed in English. I understand, however, that the Rules of Procedure have been translated into Pilipino and will soon be sold around the country. But the translators have no Pilipino translation to the Latin terms used! So what the heck?
A college degree: preferably in History, Philosophy, English or other language, Psychology — anything except Political Science or Legal Management! Four (4) years in law school: preferably the University of the Philippines — but you can also go to the Ateneo, San Beda, U.S.T., San Carlo of Cebu or Baguio. After graduating from law school, you have to take the Bar examinations which are held on the four (4) Sundays of September every year.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM LAW SCHOOL
Two thousand people take the U.P. Law Aptitude Exam (LAE) every November: Only 120 are accepted. Once you are in U.P. however, it is very difficult to be kicked out! Most people who take the Ateneo law exams are accepted, as it is a very simple I.Q. test. However, while there may be 400 of you in first year, by the time you graduate; only 100 or 120 will be left. I must confess I do now know about the other schools.
Taking the BAR will be the most stressful and frightening event of your life. I promise you — after the fourth Sunday, you won’t care whether you’re No. 1 or not — you just hope you passed! There are eight (8) areas of law which comprise the Bar exams: Political Law, Criminal Law, Civil Law, Taxation, Remedial or Procedural Law, Labor Law, Commercial Law and (believe it or not) ETHICS. (You may scoff, but we lawyers are under quite strict regulations by the Supreme Court.) Lawyers are not regulated by the Professional Regulatory Commission.
You can take the Bar three (3) times, but after the third failure, you have to go back to fourth year law school to take review classes before you will be allowed to take Bar again.
You have to be a natural born Filipino citizen to be a lawyer: i.e. either your father or mother must have been a Filipino at the time that you were born. You can only practice law in the Philippines. But, if you go to the U.S.A. and take a law course, you can take one of the States’ Bar exams and practice law there. Most Filipinos practicing in the U.S.A. are dealing with immigration and real estate matters.
NOW YOU’RE A LAWYER…
You must expect to work at least ten (10) hours a day.
In a large law-firm, you may find yourself working eighteen (18) hours sometimes. You may find yourself with a miserable social and love life in the beginning — but, hey, you may meet the woman/man of your dreams in the course of your practice! You won’t really know what it is you enjoy in the practice of law until you’ve been in it. It is then that you will discover what you can be skilled in.
And I strongly recommend that you go join a large firm if you graduate in the top ten of your class. You will start from the bottom, but you will get the best training for whatever it is you may later want to do. You will be mentored. You will be absorbing the wisdom of lawyers experienced in particular fields. You will learn how to accept mistakes you make and even how to correct them.
To be a litigator, you must have a sense of humor, patience with delays and postponements, and a quick mind, as you will be constantly having to think on your feet. There is very little money in litigation, unless you are corrupt and pay off police and other government officials to defend druglords.
Corporate law is boring to me. But if you like drafting contracts, reviewing contracts, negotiating business deals, and you are terrified of speaking in public and in the courtroom, this may be the field for you. You will remain anonymous and you are not faced with too many stressful deadlines as the litigator is. There is money in big-time corporate law and, if you work for a corporation rather than a law firm, you are sure to have a stable steadily increasing income.
THE GREATEST CHALLENGE IN THE LAW PROFESSION IS TO MAINTAIN YOU IDEALS, YOUR INTEGRITY, YOUR HONOR AND YOUR REPUTATION.
KATRINA LEGARDA graduated from the University of Bristol, England in 1975 and obtained her degree in law from the University of the Philippines. She joined the Angara Abello Concepcion Regala and Cruz Law offices (ACCRALAW) in 1981 and left as a partner in 1992. She has handled a number of interesting litigation, including the defense of The Philippine Star publisher Max Soliven in the libel suit filed by then president Corazon C. Aquino, the Manila Filmfest Scam and the prosecution of former Zamboanga del Norte (western Mindanao) Rep. Romeo G. Jalosjos for statutory rape. She now uses the law to help women and children in need. She chairs the Child Justice League and is founding president of Abanse! Pinay, a women’s party list organization that won a seat in Congress in the 1998 national elections. She currently hosts a news and public affairs program called “By Demand” every Thursday, 9 p.m. at the ABS-CBN News Channel, and co-hosts another show called “Off the Record” with Prof. Randy David every Sunday, 11:30 p.m. at ABS-CBN.