15 things before going to law school (Part 3)


In Part 1, we focused on things you should expect when you enter law school. In Part 2, the discussion involved specific and general subjects in law school. Please read Parts 1 and 2 before proceeding with the content below.

This is Part 3. This time, we focus on textbooks, codals and cases. In the next parts, we will look into recitations, exams and quizzes.

[1] Do not immediately buy textbooks. You may buy the wrong author or the wrong version. An example of this would be an experience by my classmate in law school. She heard that our labor law professor's favorite book was Azucena so she immediately bought one online. Unfortunately, she bought Azucena's Everyone's Labor Code, same author but different target audience (undergraduate students).

It is best to wait for the professor's prescribed book or recommendation. If he does not have any, wait until he starts asking questions during recitation or watch out for whatever book he carries around with him or reads in the library. Better yet, you can ask your upperclassmen who have had the same professor. They can give you tips not only regarding what textbook to buy but also regarding which parts to focus on.

[2] Never go to law school without codals. As already mentioned in previous parts of this series, codals are texts of the law without comments or discussions. They are very handy during classroom discussions and in times when you have no chance to read the textbook.

It always happens in law school that students attend classes without having read enough. In situations like this, codals can bring you a long way.

[3] A disadvantage of using code books (codals) is that they do not have explanations of what the provision means. Very often, legal provisions use too much legalese.

For example, in labor law, wage distortion is defined as a severe contraction or elimination of quantitative differences in wages based on reasonable bases of differentiation such as length of service. In simple English, this means superior and inferior employees receive the same or almost the same wage.

Without textbooks, codal provisions can sometimes be impossible to decipher.

[4] Discussions in textbooks are based on expert opinion (by the author) and/or decisions by the Supreme Court.

The first basis is understandable since, for example, jurists in the field of property law are presumed to have acquired a certain level of familiarity and expertise on the subject matter so much so that they are entitled to respect and attention in academic intercourse. The second basis is because of the well-established rule that judicial decisions form part of the legal system of the Philippines.

[5] In law school, you are required to read cases (court decisions). These are based on actual controversies that normally start from the lower courts and reach the Supreme Court through proper procedures. There are three things you should focus on in a case you are reading: the important facts; the issues raised; and the ruling of the Supreme Court.

[6] Cases can be very long. If you are lucky, you get assigned very few of them which are only five to ten pages long. On average, though, expect around 20 pages.

[7] There are cases which are extremely long due to the number of issues raised and the importance of the question involved. At times, the Supreme Court takes the opportunity to write textbook-length decisions in order to guide the bench (judges) and the bar (lawyers). Examples of such decisions are that regarding the citizenship of Grace Poe (Poe-Llamanzares v. Comelec) and that regarding impeachment (Francisco v. House).

[8] The facts of the case are very important because our courts apply the law in different ways, depending on the factual backdrop of each controversy. One decision may be different from another, although involving the same law, if the factual antecedents are different.

It is not uncommon for law professors to ask students to recite the facts of the case during recitation.[9] The issues raised in a case are the ones brought to the attention of the court for resolution. In a way, the parties are telling the court: "May the court please answer these questions because they are the main issues that, if answered, will put an end to this lawsuit."

Issues are phrased in two popular ways. The first way is a whether-or-not form. The second way is the question form. For example, assume that the issue is the ownership over a certain parcel of land. This issue can be phrased thus:

[a] Whether or not X is the owner of the parcel of land; or
[b] Is X the owner of the parcel of land?

[10] One case may have multiple issues. There are two categories of issues you have to watch out for: procedural issues and substantive issues. Procedural issues are those referring to the technicalities or steps in bring the case to court. Substantive issues are those relating to what the facts are and how the law should be applied.

[11] Typical procedural issues are locus standi, period of appeal, manner of appeal and many others. These are issues that refer to technicalities and not to the meat of the litigation. Take note, however, that some cases do reach the Supreme Court and the questions raised therein are only about technicalities or procedures. This seldom happens but, nevertheless, it does happen.

[12] If you are assigned a case in criminal law, focus only on the criminal law aspect of the case. Even if the case mentions something about civil law or labor law, for example, your criminal law professor wants you to zero in on the criminal law facts, issues and rulings.

[13] An example of a case with multiple issues is St. Martin's Funeral Homes v. NLRC. This is mainly a labor case but it is also studied in civil procedure (a remedial law subject) because it touches on a provision of the Rules of Court.

[14] Case digests are capsule forms of full-text decisions. In other words, they are summaries. They can be helpful when you are short on reading time but it is highly recommended that you read the original form of the jurisprudence.

[15] When looking for digests on the web, be careful. Some cases have multiple issues and the digest you chance upon may only be focusing on one aspect of the case. Aside from this, it is also possible that a case has been decided one way but, later, another decision is rendered, registered under the same case title and number but had the previous ruling completely reversed.

An example of this is the case of La Bugal B'laan v. Ramos. In its January decision, the Supreme Court decided one way. In the same year, in its December decision, the Honorable Court did a complete 180 degrees.

The lesson here is to be careful with the case digests you encounter online. In case of doubt, do the full-text version instead.

PART 1: https://www.projectjurisprudence.com/2019/09/15-things-before-going-to-law-school-part-1.htmlPART 2: https://www.projectjurisprudence.com/2019/09/15-things-before-going-to-law-school-part-2.htmlPART 3: https://www.projectjurisprudence.com/2019/09/15-things-before-going-to-law-school-part-3.html.

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