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Things I should have known in law school

Micah Stefan Dagaerag | Coram Deo

I was a terrible law student. I might have stayed in the College of Law the longest, and, as in most things, there are good and bad reasons why. But now, I soak in the afterglow of finishing the Bar exam, that hideous beast of an adversary law students must eventually face.
I believe in what others say that the Bar is the most difficult professional licensure exam in the country. The results are not out yet until another four or five months. So while I am writing this from not exactly a victor’s perspective, these dispatches of a survivor from the battlefield might just prove useful for some future takers.

1. You are the only person in the world who can truly know what you will need to prepare well. Since the new millennium, the national passing rate per year has stayed within the range of 18-32 percent. No matter how you want to look at it, cold statistics suggests that generally you will fail the Bar. Recognize—and accept wholeheartedly—that you are swimming against the current, that you are fighting to be the exception. You cannot look at other Bar candidates to know if you are on the right track. You must determine and note what learning methods and practices will help you the best, with the understanding that it will not be the same for everyone.
Ask yourself ahead of time. Establish an effective learning method where you could either learn by reading more, writing more, watching, or listening to lectures more, moving to Manila, moving back home, enroll in a review center, self-study, this year, next year, or some other strategic combinations thereof, and commit to it. Don’t mind too much if no one else is preparing for the Bar the way you are. Your performance is ultimately your responsibility, not theirs.
Craft a good, humane plan. But anticipate that you will not be able to follow it perfectly. Every now and then, it gets changed and adjusted. And that’s okay. What is not okay is not having a plan at all. The more time you spend planning ahead, the less time you waste recovering afterwards. There will be times when the pressure will threaten
to overwhelm and to incapacitate, yet having a workable plan in place will help give you a sense of assurance and
confidence when you need some. It can even enable you to turn down on other things that might be tempting but would otherwise not be beneficial anymore.
2. The quality of your Bar reviewing can only be as good as the quality of your law schooling. Law school and the eventual Bar review after graduation are not two different realities. There is no difference between the two. Rather, they are parts of an unexpectedly monist system. You prepare for the Bar from the moment you enter law school.
Unfortunately, we were generally not geniuses when we enrolled in law school. We didn’t expect many to have the ability to self-navigate and self-discipline after years of previous training and experience, which might be more common in elite law schools such as UP, Ateneo, and San Beda Law. This is where hard work truly makes a difference. It always outweighs “brilliance” or “intelligence.”
We need teachers to give us a map to keep us in track throughout the cities and forests of legal knowledge necessary to pass the subject and, by extension, the Bar. So, we should attend classes dutifully. We should read books written by distinguished practitioners and experts of the law, before resorting to reviewers compiled by mere fellow law students, if necessary. You will still be a student during the Bar review and even when you already become a lawyer. Resolve to be a good student as early as possible.
By the time the first Sunday of the Bar came, I realized that I had not even done half of what I had sought out to do in order to prepare. (Your real enemy in the Bar review is time.) There were more materials to study, but just did not have the time to do so anymore. This is where all your mental investments in law school can pay off. Inevitably, there
will be concepts in the Bar exam that you had not been able to review, but which you had read or heard about way back in law school. Treat your classes well, and they could return the favor when you most need it.
One small afterthought. There is life after the Bar exam. You don’t need to sacrifice your health and conscience on its altar. Know that your family and friends will not think any less of you if you fail the Bar. And if they do, then they are not true friends, and you can go find yourself some new ones. You plan and you work hard to maximize luck and minimize risk, and still there are just too many factors beyond your control, so you must fight the urge to see the Bar as an indication of one’s intelligence, diligence, or worth. The Bar is a big thing, but it’s not Jesus. It’s not everything. So, fight from a position of strength, not self-destruction. As in all things.

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