Lawyering for the rule of law

On May 22 about 3,747 individuals who passed the 2016 Bar exams took their oaths as new lawyers. A total of 6,924 applied for the examinations, but after vetting by the Supreme Court, only 6,831 were allowed to take it. The passing rate last year was actually the second highest at 59.06 percent, compared to the 1954 exams, which delivered 75.17 percent.

But what is the relevance of these figures? First, it is obvious that many choose to pursue the legal profession. The seeming fascination with the study and practice of law, especially in the Philippines, is an interesting subject matter. As we are all aware, the law shapes politics, economics and societal culture in many ways, and is generally perceived to be a refuge, a rock of support for anyone who feels unempowered, abused, disenfranchised or oppressed. The sheer drama of the practice of law is a potent magnet for people to take it up.

Opportunities for lawyers

On a practical level, the legal profession opens us countless opportunities. First, there is huge earning capability. Lawyers are one of the most highly paid professionals in the country. Typically, if they belong to good and reputable law firms, or act as in-house counsels in big businesses and companies or join the judiciary, income stability and growth are ensured.

Second, there is immense intellectual rigor and challenge. From formulating a litigation or dispute strategy to leading a merger or acquisition, protecting a trademark or registering a patent or giving advice on a difficult question of law, the variety of issues is simply exciting.

Third, even if one does not practice law, a lawyer can enter into other fields, like business, academe, management and government. This is because core skills associated with the legal profession straddles from analytical reasoning, logic and critical thinking. There are other possibilities, but there is one very significant role that they can play—the chance to help others. Armed with the knowledge of the law, lawyers can contribute to societal transformation by taking up public-interest causes, reaching out to the marginalized sectors, providing affordable legal advice and promoting the greater good of the country.

National role for development

For a country that needs to harness all its talents to energize investment and stimulate economic growth, the legal profession’s involvement in the propagation of the rule of law is extremely important. This is because foreign investors choose jurisdictions with a good rule of law index. This rule of law framework includes the Constitution, a clear and consistent legal framework and implementation, strong institutions of justice, governance, security and human rights, among others.

Definitely, lawyers have a big role to play in maintaining, promoting and living the rule of law. Ethics, independence and competence should be the standards to live by. Integrity and strength of character are paramount if our judicial and legal system are to be reformed. Purely personal, political or financial interests should not be the fundamental drivers in a legal career if one is to review the lawyer’s oath, which, in a nutshell, requires allegiance to the country, support for the constitution, avoidance of falsehood, not to promote unlawful suits and not to delay processes for money or malice, among others.

So never mind if the top Manila law schools did not top the bar. Never mind if the provinces eclipsed imperial Manila, or if the passing rate is higher now than past years. The obsession with these figures and statistics only confuses the discussion on what our country truly expects and needs from this honorable profession. This is breathing, living and acting consistent with the Oath that they have taken.


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