Founding dean of DLSU College of Law seeks new young lawyers

In Photo: Dean Jose Manuel Diokno.

AFTER developing a strong niche in business, engineering, science, technology, arts, agriculture and other major fields, the Brothers of the Christian Schools (FSC) of the De La Salle University (DLSU) decided to open a law school in 2010, because they believed Filipinos, particularly millennials, need to have a profound appreciation of the concepts of human rights, good governance, rule of law and transparency.

When he was offered to become the dean of the College of Law (COL), lawyer Jose Manuel Diokno, asked the FSC Brothers why they still want to put up a law school considering the country has over 130 law schools.

“When they told me that the COL will be oriented in human rights, I accepted their offer,” Diokno said in a recent interview with the BusinessMirror. “Given my background, I was willing to take the plunge.

It also helped a lot that the father of the COL founding dean is also a DLSU alumnus. 

Indeed, the late Senator Jose W. Diokno is one of the distinguished alumni of De La Salle College. He was class high school valedictorian in 1937. He finished his commerce degree with a summa cum laude at the age of 17. The late nationalist and human-rights advocate had to get a special permit to take the Certified Public Accountant board examinations because he was a minor.

Although it is a new kid on the block, the COL has proven its mettle in the 2014 Bar Examinations by being at par with the older, more prominent law schools in the country.

The COL’s first batch of examinees garnered a passing rate of 56.52 percent against the 18-percent national passing rate. DLSU placed ahead of San Beda, performed almost the same as Ateneo de Manila University and ran closely with first-ranked University of the Philippines. DLSU ranks second overall, based on data on law schools that fielded 40 or more examinees.

Green building

THE COL also champions sustainable development. Diokno said the campus aims to get a five-star rating from the Philippine Green Building Council’s Building for Ecologically Responsible Design Excellence (Berde) Rating System. The 1,395-square-meter building has 18 classrooms, an auditorium, a moot court and a library.

The P350-million campus, in the University Parkway of the Bonifacio Global City (BGC), is also the home of other continuing education programs of the DLSU. It is part of the university’s mission to make Lasallian education more accessible to young professionals in the burgeoning financial district.

“The location is convenient and very accessible and it is very easy to get from one part to another in the area,” Diokno said. “We’re very happy with our location and we’re very happy here.”

The mission

DIOKNO said the COL’s mission is to provide a well-rounded training to the students so that when they graduate and start working, they are not going to need additional training when they start working in law firms and government offices.

“We want to be sure they are already capable of writing well, arguing well and doing proper legal research,” he said.

Diokno noted that the COL’s moot court encourages students to develop their competitive skills for local and international competitions, such as in Hong Kong and Japan. To get different exposures, the COL also sends some of their students to several exchange programs to broaden their horizon as far as the different legal systems are concerned.

He said they encourage students in their junior year to take an internship program in private and government law offices to experience on-the-job training.

“In their senior year, the students will do legal aid.”

Bars, skills

DIOKNO also wants COL students not only to excel in the bar examinations but acquire the skills they can use when they practice law.

“In our view, in other law schools, those skills are not emphasized.”

Passing the bar is important but so is excelling in the legal profession, he said. He hopes DLSU COL students would excel in both fields.

“We understand that, to become a lawyer, you have to pass the bar,” Diokno said. “But we think that that is the minimum that must be attained.”

He told the BusinessMirror he personally believes “it is not enough to have law graduates who pass the bar. What we need for the country are lawyers who are well-grounded not only in the law but also proper values”. “That’s why I think human rights is the best vehicle establishing the right ideals for lawyers.”

Diokno and the COL are quite aware that not all students will go into the fields of human rights lawyering, which the late Senator Diokno was known for.

But his son remains unfazed and said he is serious in emphasizing the values of human rights and the dignity of the individual while they are students.

“For us, the best time to ingrain these values [in students] is when they are in law school.”

Skills growth

IN terms of developing the skills of law students, Diokno said the COL will focus on legal writing, oral advocacy and legal research. He noted many law graduates have very low legal writing skills, oral advocacy and legal research.

Oral advocacy, the ability to argue in court and speak publicly, also needs improvement, according to Diokno.

“They might know the law but they have to argue persuasively to win,” Diokno said. “If they fail to argue convincingly, chances are they are not going to win.”

In addition, the COL is also keen on developing the legal research skills of students. Diokno said the three skills are very basic to be a good lawyer.

Being the son of one of the brilliant minds in Philippine law, Dean Diokno learned how it is to be brilliant lawyer from Senator Diokno.

Diokno shared the skills of his father by publishing Diokno on Trial, a book of his father’s trial techniques and defense strategies. He said the book was quite well received in the legal profession. Furthermore, the Diokno family is in the process of also compiling the senator’s pleadings that he filed in the Supreme Court during the martial-law period, as well as other important court papers he has written.

“We find out that it is not only an inspiration but a model for young lawyers who need some guidance on proper pleadings,” he said.

Aside from its regular courses in the environment, the COL offer electives on the environment, as well as paralegal training and related activities. The COL has a competent faculty with the best environmental lawyers as professors such as Dean Antonio La Viña, barrister Antonio A. Opposa Jr.3 and other seasoned lawyers on environmental laws.

The COL also tries to recruit teachers who have a wide experience teaching in various schools. Moreover, it was not a problem for the COL, as there are only few lawyers who teach law in the country.

“Many professors were applying to teach here,” Diokno explained. “Sadly, we have to turn away because of the number of students and, as much as possible, we look not only with the best credentials but with long experience in teaching law.”