"Bar exams are NOT entirely fair." Reform or abolish?

Due to allegations of unfairness and leakage in the 2004 Bar examination, many people in 2005 called for either an abolition or a reform of the system of admission to the practice of law in the Philippines. Below is an article written on this matter by Jose C. Sison (2005). Reform, not abolish the Bar exams. April 22, 2005 - 12:00am. https://www.philstar.com/opinion/2005/04/22/274849/reform-not-abolish-bar-exams.

The proposal to abolish the bar exams drew some negative reactions but not as fiery and impetuous as I expected. Let me cite one of them which I think is the most constructive as it contains suggestions. It is from a relatively young lady lawyer, Atty. Tanya Lat who graduated from UP in 2001 and now lectures at the FEU Institute of Law. Atty. Lat has been deeply involved in bar operations since 1998 both in UP and FEU and she is convinced that the "bar exams are not entirely fair, and they do not really measure whether an examinee has the competence and moral fiber to be admitted to the legal profession". She found the bar exam questions for the past two decades to be "arbitrary and unfair, going beyond the announced exam coverage (in blatant violation of the right to due process), or perhaps dealing with esoteric legal concepts that can never conceivably be applied in actual practice (e.g. what is the writ of amparo?)".

Atty. Tanya thus concurs with my observation that the bar exams conducted the past years "have become more of a test of memory and fluency in English language than the ability to apply principles of law to factual situations", and that therefore passing or topping the bar does not serve as an accurate yardstick for measuring how good a lawyer is, or how knowledgeable and skilled he is in law.

But Atty. Tanya believes that abolishing the bar exams is not an option as it will only create more problems. It is just like "throwing out the baby with the bath water". My alternative aptitude or entrance test under the Supreme Court (SC) supervision, according to Atty. Lat, presupposes (1) that the SC will take responsibility for the test; (2) that the law schools will ensure that their students acquire the necessary skills, training and moral foundation necessary for the practice of law; (3) that the law schools only graduate such students as are worthy to be admitted to the profession; and (4) that there will be a government agency to supervise and regulate law schools. Given the present situation, none of the above factors are present. The SC is hard put in terms of personnel and is not supervising or regulating law schools, Atty Lat said. The task has been left to the Legal Education Board (LEB) created by RA 7662 in 1993 but up to now, it has yet to be convened. In the absence of such a central regulatory body (LEB), the matter, manner, methods and quality of instructions of law schools will vary widely and they will just continue with their present courses offered and training methods used which are designed to train the students to pass the bar exams but not necessarily to practice law, the young lady lawyer continued.

Atty. Lat therefore proposes the reformation not the abolition of the bar exams. These reforms can provide law schools the needed impetus to revise their curricula to produce law practitioners not just bar passers. In fact the SC has recognized the need for reforms of the bar exams in Bar Matter 1161 when it adopted many of Justice (ret.) Vicente V. Mendoza’s recommendation to make the exams a more standard, transparent and accurate gauge of an examinee’s fitness to be admitted to the practice of law. Among the reforms now implemented is the five strike rule, forever barring examinees from taking the bar after flunking it five times.

Then, there is the "performance testing" where the examinees are given a set of documents containing a set of hypothetical facts, laws, and jurisprudence that will test what they will do when they handle the case simulating what lawyers actually do. With this "performance testing", Atty. Lat said that rote memory will not be as important and students or examinees will be forced to think analytically and critically. Then Atty. Lat also suggests that only those with two-year work experience should be admitted to law schools, making the law course some sort of a post graduate course. She observes that students who are working or had work experience tend to be more analytical, more discerning and better able to learn.

The suggestions look good. But apparently, not much headway has been achieved. The Bar exams still has so many defects. Reform or abolish it? Whichever, the more important consideration is to just take the urgent and effective steps right away.

SOURCE: Jose C. Sison (2005). Reform, not abolish the Bar exams. April 22, 2005 - 12:00am. https://www.philstar.com/opinion/2005/04/22/274849/reform-not-abolish-bar-exams