Reinventing the bar exams

MANILA, Philippines — Last Sunday, I extolled the gifted bar examinees who placed among the top 10 passers. Now, I shall discuss a more delicate topic: how the various law schools fared during the bar tests.

Performance of law schools. In the exams held from 1946 to 2006, the University of the Philippines (UP) produced 25 numero unos; Ateneo de Manila (AdM), 17; San Beda, six; Far Eastern University (FEU), four; University of Manila (UM) and University of the Cordilleras (UCor), two each; University of Santo Tomas (UST), University of the East (UE), MLQ University (MLQU), Divine Word College in Bohol and the Philippine Law School (PLS), one each.

Based on the data published in the Supreme Court website, I also computed the number of top 10 placers of the leading schools during the same period. Again, UP topped with 205 placers; followed by AdM, 186; San Beda, 75; FEU, 42; MLQU, 31; UST, 23; UE, 17; University of San Carlos (USC), 15; Lyceum of the Philippines (LP), nine; University of San Agustin (USA), eight; Ateneo de Davao (AdD), Silliman University (SU) and University of Negros Occidental-Recoletos, seven each; PLS, six; and UCor, five.

In a recent but shorter period, 1991-2006, UP produced eight number ones; AdM, five; UCor, two, and UST, one. For the same period, AdM had 61 top 10 placers; followed by UP, 55; SBC, 24; AdD, five; UST and USC, four each; FEU and UCor, three each; and MLQU, two.

Based on data culled from the Office of the Bar Confidant, I computed the passing percentages of the top 10 schools for the period 1991-2005 (those for 2006 are still unavailable). AdM topped with 87.57 percent; San Beda, 80.38; UP, 76.4; AdD, 55.35; UST, 49.49; USC, 45.71; Arellano University, 39.75; Xavier University, 33.24; St. Louis University, 30.18; and LP, 27.92.

The national passing percentage for the same period is 25.09. In 1991, there were only 59 law schools, while there were 95 in 2005. The law colleges that did not participate in 1991 were thus not included in this computation. Nonetheless, it is obvious that too many schools rated below the national passing average for the period.

Reforms in the bar tests. Over the years, the Court has tried to upgrade, even reinvent, the bar examinations. Extensive reforms were suggested a few years ago by Justice Vicente V. Mendoza, now retired, and various law associations, as well as by study groups headed by retired Justices Ameurfina Melencio-Herrera and Jose C. Vitug. In response, the Court issued a comprehensive resolution (Bar Matter 1161) dated June 8, 2004, approving the following:

1. Those who have failed five or more times shall be allowed to take only one more exam but only after finishing a one year “refresher course.”

2. The disqualifications of the bar committee chair and examiner have been made more explicit; the non-disclosure of kinship between the chairman and an examinee during the 1999 test provoked this reform.

3. To prevent a repetition of a problem in 2002 when an examiner’s computer was hacked, resulting in the invalidation of the test in Mercantile Law, examiners have been barred from using computers in preparing their questions.

4. Candidates who obtain a grade below 50 percent in any subject are disqualified.

5. Multiple choice questions have been adopted.

6. The cut-off date for the inclusion in the tests of laws and Supreme Court decisions has been set at June 30 of the previous year.

Up for implementation are the appointment of tenured, in lieu of ad hoc, examiners; the introduction of “performance testing”; the organization of “readership panels”; the adoption of the “calibration method” of correcting test papers; and the computerization of the exams. Abangan.

Reforms in legal education. The Supreme Court did not act on four proposals to improve legal education: (1) the accreditation and supervision of law schools; (2) the inclusion of clinical education (apprenticeship) in the law curriculum; (3) the imposition of sanctions on substandard law schools; and (4) the taking of a national admission test by those entering a law school.

Even though the Constitution empowers the Supreme Court to regulate “admission to the practice of law,” the Court has no authority to supervise law schools directly. Hence, these four items were referred to the Legal Education Board (LEB). Created by Republic Act 7662 on Dec. 23, 1993, the LEB is the agency authorized to “uplift the standards of legal education.”

Sadly however, the LEB has not been operationalized; neither has its chair and members been appointed and its budget allocated. Until these are done by the President of the Philippines, reforms in legal education will remain in limbo.

As a final note, may I say that more than competence, legal ethics should be emphasized both in basic legal education and in the bar exams. Right now, ethics is given only a 5 percent share in the tests. More than merely increasing its percentage share, ethics should permeate and be asked in all bar subjects.

Lawyers must always adhere to an ethical compass. Nothing is more demeaning to the legal profession than scheming attorneys who obsessively use every trick and technicality to delay or obstruct what is fairly due the opposite parties.

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Eugeniano Perez III sent an e-mail clarifying that Eugenio Perez, the 1923 topnotcher, was not the former House speaker but a Cebuano lawyer who died during World War II. Also, retired Supreme Court Justice Ramon Fernandez (2nd place, 1939) was inadvertently omitted in my bar honor roll last week.

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