Do you want to become a lawyer?
You are certainly not alone.
Thousands of hopeful barristers regularly flock the annual Bar Examinations that the Supreme Court of the Philippines offers every November. In 2018, a total of 8,158 candidates took the Bar Examinations and out of these, only 22.07% successfully hurled the challenge.
What makes the law career so lucrative that people are willing to spend four, five, or even six years of their life studying to be one? What does a lawyer exactly do? What skills do prospective law students need to cultivate in order to survive law school?
Really, how does one become a lawyer?
This article will hopefully answer all of these questions and more.
What Is a Lawyer?
You have watched Suits, Law and Order, and How to Get Away with Murder. You also have seen on the big screen To Kill a Mockingbird, The Firm and My Cousin Vinny.
But what, exactly, is a lawyer and what does he do?
A lawyer, or attorney, is simply a person who is licensed to practice law.
The practice of law is varied. According to our very own Supreme Court, “the practice of law means any activity, in or out of court, which requires the application of the law, legal procedure, knowledge, training, and experience.”
This means that a lawyer can be a professor, a writer, a politician, a CEO, a Data Protection Officer, or a notary public. There are in fact a lot more lawyers working out of court rather than those practicing litigation in front of judges as popularized in TV.
One professor from a prominent law school in Manila said that the practice of law is like a key that allows members of the Bar high-ranking access to almost any office in the job market.
“Our life,” he said, “is a patchwork of laws, rules, and guidelines. From a person giving birth to the probate of your last will and testament, we are constantly surrounded by statutes. People will always need a lawyer to understand this always-changing mess.”
How To Become a Lawyer in the Philippines: 6 Steps
1. Cultivate the important skills and qualities required to study law
Let’s say that you’re in high school and you want to become a lawyer. You want to cultivate skills that will help you in law school and the Bar Examinations.
The following are the skills and mindset you need to have to survive law school:
a. You need to be committed
Law school is not for the faint of heart.
The study of law is unlike your high school and college education. Most, if not all, law professors practice the Socratic Method in their teaching which means that the law students had to have read the assigned materials ahead of time and the professor will ask questions through recitation.
Don’t expect them to discuss the material in front of the class, with a marker and visual aids.
The questions may range from the simple like “What is property?” to the downright absurd like “Let’s say that you are standing in a piece of cardboard in the middle of a puddle. A thief walked by and stole your wallet. Is the piece of cardboard considered a boat? Did the thief commit piracy?”
Practicals: Make sure that you are ready to study law! If you are not committed, gauge your interest by at least enrolling in the first year of law school. If it’s not for you, at least you have tried.
b. You need to learn how to read and read fast
You will spend 90% of your time reading laws, cases, notes, books, and articles.
Our laws are codified in more than a thousand statutes, with most of these laws having children on their own in the form of implementing rules and guidelines. Aside from these, we have a wealth of cases since 1901 that the Supreme Court has rendered decisions and resolutions.
You have your notes, or your friend’s notes, or the notes made by your law school’s Bar Operations. You have your hardbound textbooks, each almost two-inch-thick. Finally, you have articles from law journals, from newspapers, and from online.
Practicals: Start reading NOW! It does not have to be a law book but it should be more than reading your Facebook or Twitter feed. Make a habit out of reading books, newspapers, and magazines.
c. You need to know basic sentence construction
From recitations to quizzes and finally the Bar Examinations, you need to practice and review your English. Go over your grammar and basic style. In law school and even after passing the Bar Examinations, you need to readily and briefly state the facts, the issues, and the application of the law.
Practicals: Grab your old English textbook, practice online, or get Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style.”
d. You need a proper study habit
Some geniuses can pass law school with minimum reading and a lopsided study schedule. Unfortunately, more likely than not, we are not these geniuses.
You need a proper study habit. Like Stephen King and his writing, you need to treat the study of law as work. Work can be fun, but unless you are sick or otherwise predisposed, you need to work every day, you need to work hard, and you need to work for a length of time.
Practicals: Set a time for study or reading and a different time for leisure. Do not confuse the two. Do not study while you are taking a break, but do not check Facebook while you are studying. Check the Pomodoro style of studying and make it work for you.
e. You need to practice your handwriting ASAP
As of writing, 100% of the Bar Examinations is essay-type. This means that there is no machine that will check if your answer is correct, no scanner that an intern will pass your exam sheet to.
All of the booklets used during the Bar Examinations are read and checked by persons like you and me. If they cannot read your answer because of your handwriting, even if you are correct, you will lose points in an exam where one point means the difference between passing and failing.
Make sure that your handwriting is neat, follows the margins of the page, and most importantly, readable.
Practicals: Write! Take notes and prepare reviewers. Have a friend read your handwriting and get some critique.
2. Obtain a bachelor’s degree from a recognized college or university
According to the Rules of Court, you need to take a bachelor’s degree in arts or sciences with any of the following subjects as major or field of concentration:
- Political science
The above Rule, however, does not mean that only those who possess a bachelor’s degree in Political Science, English, History, or Economics can enter law school or take the Bar Examinations.
The Rule is construed to mean by the legal profession that you took the specific number of units in the subjects above. This means that a person holding a bachelor’s degree in Nursing, Applied Mathematics, Chemistry, or Physics may enter law school so long as they have accumulated the required number of units in the subjects above.
Law schools have different criteria for accepting law students. For example, San Beda University – College of Law requires that students earned 18 units of English, 18 units of Social Sciences and 6 units of Mathematics.
If you do not have the required number of units, you may be conditionally accepted but must satisfy the requirements before admission to second-year law. This means that you may have to take summer classes during law school to reach the number of units required.
3. Take the Philippine Law School Admission Test (PhiLSAT)
PhiLSAT, or the Philippine Law School Test, is an entrance exam separate and distinct from the entrance exam of the law school itself.
It is conducted by the Legal Education Board (LEB) and is a prerequisite for admission to the basic law courses leading to either a Bachelor of Laws or Juris Doctor degree.
PhiLSAT is an aptitude exam – similar to an IQ exam – composed of four subjects: Communications and Language Proficiency, Critical Thinking, Verbal Reasoning, and Quantitative Reasoning.
Update: In a 108-page decision released on December 3, 2019, the Supreme Court has officially declared as unconstitutional the orders and memorandums of the Legal Education Board (LEB) that require aspiring law students to take up the Philippine Law School Admission Test (PhilSAT), making permanent the temporary restraining order it issued in March of the same year. Although PhilSAT will no longer be mandatory, the court en banc through Associate Justice Jose C. Reyes Jr. said in a statement that it’s still open to approve a more “standardized and acceptable law admission examinations” that may be developed in the future.
4. Study law for four years in a recognized law school
As explained earlier, the study of law normally incorporates the Socratic Method. The typical law student studies on his own and by the time is called by the professor to answer, already knows the material.
Your choice of law school, therefore, is important but not a necessity in passing the Bar Examinations. If you have persistence, a good study habit, and courage, together with some luck, you will pass the Bar Examinations no matter what law school you come from.
5. Take and pass the Bar Examinations
The Bar Examinations is a grueling four-day exam conducted by the Supreme Court.
It is normally given on all four Sundays every November in the City of Manila (particularly the University of Sto. Tomas).
Bar Exam Requirements
As per the Rules, you have to be a resident of the Philippines, at least twenty-one years of age, and of good moral character to qualify for the Bar Examinations.
According to the Office of the Bar Confidant of the Supreme Court, applicants for the Bar Examinations must file:
- A verified (signed) and notarized petition, a form of which is available at the Office of the Bar Confidant;
- A copy of the applicant’s birth certificate;
- A copy of the marriage certificate for married female applicants;
- Two (2) testimonials of good moral character executed by a lawyer;
- The original or certified true copy of the applicant’s pre-law degree transcript;
- The original or certified true copy of the applicant’s law degree transcript;
- Certificate of no derogatory record;
- Certification by the school registrar executed under oath and noted by the Law Dean that the applicant graduated a four (4) year law course and that his/her name is included in the LEB Certification;
- Three (3) copies of latest un-retouched photos with name imprinted thereon; and
- A self-addressed stamped envelope.
There is a filing fee of Php 3,750.00. Normally, your law school will help you in accomplishing the petition and its attachments. You need to consult with your school’s registrar.
Bar Exam Subjects
The Bar Exam is composed of eight subjects:
- Political and International Law
- Labor and Social Legislation.
- Civil Law.
- Mercantile Law.
- Criminal Law.
- Remedial Law.
- Legal Ethics.
Bar Exam Passing Rate
To pass, you need to obtain a general average of 75% in all subjects, without falling below 50% in any subject. The Supreme Court, however, has the discretion to change this passing average.
6. Take your oath and start practicing law
You still have to take your oath in a ceremony before the Supreme Court Justices and afterward sign your name in the Roll of Attorneys. Once you have signed your name and obtained your Roll Number, you may be officially called a lawyer.
Then, you can already practice law! There are, however, some continuing requirements that you have to accomplish as a member of the Philippine Bar in good standing:
- Pay your annual membership fee (Php 2,000) with the Integrated Bar of the Philippines;
- Attend a Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) every three years; and
- Pay your professional tax with the City Hall.
Frequently Asked Questions
BM850 – Mandatory Continuing Legal Education. (2001). Retrieved from http://mcle.judiciary.gov.ph/bm850
Buan, L. (2019). Bar Exam results 2018: 22.07% passing rate. Retrieved from https://www.rappler.com/nation/229571-bar-exams-passing-rate-2018
Diaz, R. (2019). G.R. No. 100113 September 3, 1991 – RENATO L. CAYETANO v. CHRISTIAN MONSOD, ET AL. : SEPTEMBER 1991 – PHILIPPINE SUPREME COURT JURISPRUDENCE – CHANROBLES VIRTUAL LAW LIBRARY. Retrieved from http://www.chanrobles.com/cralaw/1991septemberdecisions.php?id=665
Divina, N. (2019). Payment of professional tax. Retrieved from https://tribune.net.ph/index.php/2019/01/28/payment-of-professional-tax/
Integrated Bar of the Philippines. (2018). GUIDELINES IMPLEMENTING A.M. NO. 16-06-03-SC, REGARDING INCREASE OF IBP MEMBERSHIP DUES AND OTHER MATTERS[Ebook]. Retrieved from http://www.ibp.ph/pdf/announcement/MD%20GUIDELINES.pdf
Office of the Bar Confidant of the Supreme Court. (2019). Requirements for the Bar Examinations for New Applicants [Ebook]. Retrieved from http://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/files/bar-2019/new-applicants.pdf
Rules of Court. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.lawphil.net/courts/rules/rc_138_bar.html