Last May 27, the Ateneo Law Student Council held the Bar Preparation Dialogue 2015 for the benefit of the incoming batch of seniors. With speakers such as Dean Sedfrey Candelaria, Chairman Cesar Villanueva, Atty. Dianna Louise Wilwayco, and Atty. Christian Drilon, Batch 2016 was given the opportunity to get a head start on preparing for their bar exams in the following year.
Decline in passing rates
Dean Candelaria presented statistics on the various passing rates form the inception of the J.D. program in 1992 to the most recent results in the 2014 Bar Exam. From 1992 to 2011, the rates had consistently been above 80%, but the period from 2012 to 2014 saw a steady decline, ending with a 57.95% passing rate in 2014. Results per subject did not fare any better. In the latest results, the lowest rates were for Political Law, Civil Law, and Remedial Law at 46.22%, 31.56%, and 30.22% respectively. The mortality rate also increased beginning 2012, culminating at 71 in 2014.
Across the various top law schools in the country, the passing rate saw a drastic decrease in the 2014 Bar Exams, with the results at little over 50% for Ateneo, San Beda College of Law, and University of Sto. Tomas (UST). The sole exception was the University of the Philippines (UP), which had a passing rate of 75.18%. The consistent performance of UP in the bar exam since 2011 has been attributed to the administrative decision to remove non-bar electives, giving students the opportunity to focus on subjects which would be included in the exams.
In the Ateneo Law School, Tax and Labor Law review classes shall be mandatory for all seniors this incoming school year. Batch 2016 will be the largest batch to enter their fourth year in recent history, totaling at 190 students. However, the administration has also given marching orders to professors to be tighter and stricter in their assessment of students.
Former Dean Cesar Villanueva explained that there was always a peculiar situation for each person who failed the bar in the past, many of which were extraordinary or life-altering events that may have affected the person’s physical, emotional, or mental state. However, Villanueva stressed that although the Bar Exams may not necessarily be the most important thing in your whole life, it should be the main priority now of students of the law. “Dedicate it to your parents, to your future spouse, to your future children – that preparing for the bar exam will be transformative,” he said. “The bar exam will dictate the quality of the rest of your life.”
Villanueva also underscored the purpose of the Atenean law student, saying, “Why would you be here in the Ateneo if your only purpose is to survive?” He added, “You have an obligation to the Ateneo Law School, to yourself, to your future, and to your family, to do great.” He narrated how, in the past, each graduate with a JD degree appeared to have the capacity to change the world. He emphasized the importance of working hard, and deciding on making topping the bar as a goal. “Each of you have the capacity to change your direction. Decide to be excellent,” he said. “There is nothing to fear but fear itself. To conquer your fear of the bar exam, you must conquer yourself.”
Preparation begins on the first day
2013 Bar Topnotcher Atty. Wilwayco (J.D., 2013) said that she had a personal mantra ever since she started law school. “My mother said, ‘start preparing for the bar when you start law school,’” she said. “Preparation begins on your first day.” She explained that law school and actual practice in real life are very different from one another, and that grades are not everything.
Wilwayco also shared her own study habits throughout law school and during bar review. She advised that students read all the originals of the cases assigned and to avoid using reviewers as main resource materials, as well as to always prepare for class even when not on deck. She emphasized the need to study everyday, and to train the brain to always be on study mode. She encouraged exercising during breaks and to fix one’s sleeping habits, and finally, to finish working on thesis as early as possible.
Moreover, Wilwayco imparted advice on how to prepare for bar review, giving a holistic approach on the subject. She explained that senior year should be the best time to sample the materials students are considering to use for their bar reviews, and that they should take the opportunity to consult with professors while they have the time. It is important to fix body clocks, to get rid of bad study habits, and to improve penmanship. Moreover, she added, “Passing the bar is just a stepping stone. You should hold on to your values, stay humble, do good, and be good.”
Stick to a plan
Lastly, Atty. Christian Drilon (J.D., 2014), who recently topped the 2014 bar, gave his own insight and advice on how to handle senior year and preparation for the bar exams. He suggested using the same materials in fourth year as those to be used for bar review, and to write as many notes as possible in the margins. He also stated that students should choose electives that were bar-related. As for preparation for the bar, he recommended consolidating everything into one material per subject.
Drilon added that each student must plan for unexpected interruptions, citing as an example his experience of being unable to focus for one week due to the shooting of his blockmate. He said that it was imperative that students be at their physical and mental peak, particularly by establishing a routine in order to build endurance for the mind and body, and he stressed the importance of sleep and exercise.
As for reviewing for the bar, he suggested that students should follow what worked for them in law school, and not to feel pressured by the progress their batchmates were making in their own reviews. “Have a plan, stick to it, and be confident,” he said. Drilon added, “Don’t listen to rumors about bar examiners. Most of the time, they’re false.” He advised that students attend the updates to jurisprudence lectures, but to pick the rest of the bar review lectures carefully. P