(Article published in the Nov 24, 2003
issue of TODAY, Business Section)
Last Wednesday (19 Nov.),
I participated in a round-table discussion, organized by the Supreme
Court, of suggested reforms of the bar examinations.
The focus of the gathering was the paper written by Justice Vicente
V. Mendoza entitled “Towards Meaningful Reforms in the Bar
Examinations” which the Justice Jose C. Vitug, chairman of the Committee
on Legal Education and Bar Matters, intends to take on a nationwide
consultation to seek the views of various stakeholders on the subject.
Our present system of
conducting written examinations was adopted from the Americans in the
early 1900s. Prior to that,
under the Spaniards, our attorneys were licensed when they had attained
the degree and title of Licenciado
de Juridicos and usually after they had undergone a period of legal
apprenticeship. Changes in
the scope and structure of the bar examinations were made over the years,
but the substance and method remained the same.
Now, some serious thought is being given to instituting a major
overhaul on the century-old system.
My guiding principle, in
assessing suggestions for reforms, is, of course, “if it ain’t broke,
don’t fix it”. For this
reason, I am still using the same Palm Pilot M-150 despite the
accessibility of newer models that, their owners like you to believe,
could do almost everything except make love.
Interesting therefore was what Justice Mendoza, who started the
ball rolling right after the ceremonials from the charming facilitators
and the welcome remarks of Justice Vitug, had to say about what was
“broke” in the system. After
all, it was because of the system that I am now broke.
Among the current concerns
on the present method of accepting new entrants into the law profession,
identified by Justice Mendoza, were (1) the questionable reliability of
essay-type questions as the instrument for testing the examinees’
competence; (b) the inconsistency apparent in the grading procedures of
the examiners; (c) the subjectivity, if not outright bias, on the part of
the corrector, who supposedly is exclusively the examiner himself or
herself, both in framing questions and grading the answers; (d) the
undeniable significant variance in the over-all level of difficulty of the
questions from year to year; (e) the amount of time spent (wasted?) from
the time the examinations are administered to the time the results are
announced; the (f) the emerging need for computerization or automation due
to the almost inevitable increasing number of examinees; (g) the
unquestioned inability of the tests to probe into an examinee’s
character and fitness and (h) the lack of a permanent bar examination
authority with tenured membership.
The changes advocated by
Justice Mendoza to address these concerns were grouped under three
headings, namely, structural and policy reforms, changes in the design and
construction of questions, and improvements in grading methodology.
Instead of being
administered by ad hoc
Committees on Bar Examinations appointed yearly, Justice Mendoza suggests
a Board of Bar Examiners whose members, like the members of the examining
boards under the Professional Regulation Commission, are tenured and whose
identities are known to the public.
To help the members of the
Board of Bar Examiners, prepare
the questions, conduct examinations and mark the answers are “readership
panels” for each subject area. The
readers are expected to be most useful in the calibration of essay test
answers and marking the test booklets.
At the very least, readers relieve the bar examiner of the tedium
of going through the examination booklets all by his lonesome self.
An advisory committee is
also suggested to assist the Board and the Supreme Court in tackling the
broader issues in legal education, particularly in preparing the law
school graduate take the examinations.
The job of advisers is not very demanding and an almost honorific
task for members of the judiciary who retire from the service but who
refuse to keep quiet.
A major task of the Board
of Bar Examiners is to look into the fitness and character of those
seeking admission to the bar. The burden of proof is on the examinee-applicant.
He or she must show “good moral character” including mental and
emotional suitability to practice law.
We who are already members of the Bar need not be worried because
this rigorous requirement is expected to be applied prospectively.
The design of the tests
will be changed from the current pure essay type into a combination of
multiple-choice questions and essay questions.
This is patterned after the system in almost all of the states in
the United States but this is not to say that the resulting combination
will not be pure.
Finally, Justice Mendoza
advocates more scientific methods of assessing the responses to the
questions, batting as he does for the “calibration method” and a
process of “scoring” which is a bit more complex that the present way
allocating points, out of a
maximum of 100, to each one the answers.
I do not have space to detail these advances in evaluating an
examination booklet. But, the
general idea is that, in order to score, the examinee must be like
Lothario who calibrated his advances to the responses of his amours.
Respectful silence –
like that of shepherds and magi before the child in a manger-- is
ordinarily my reaction to such a well-thought out proposal.
But Bar Confidant Tina Layusa told me it was Justice’s Vitug’s
pleasure that I speak out and give my assessment in the light of my
experience as the examiner for Taxation in the bar examinations for 2001.
Thus, although I had written on that on three previous occasions
(still available from my website www.thetrustguru.com), I took to
the rostrum with some remarks hurriedly scribbled while previous speakers
thought I was taking notes from what they were saying.
More than twenty years of schooling ensured I had mastered that
I sought to remind the
participants that the bar examinations ought not be considered as the only
method of screening those who want to be lawyers.
The law schools are a major part of that too, and, to a large
extent responsible for the problems we are now having.
The bar examinations is simply like the last check just before you
board your plane at the airport. And
a system is not necessarily to be discarded simply because a highjacker
occasionally is able to do his thing.
I registered exception to
the seemingly widespread opinion that Taxation should not be made a
separate subject. I taught
Taxation at the Ateneo Law School for more then twenty years.
In this day and age where almost everything is subject to tax, I do
not see how making it part of the scope of the examination Political Law
or any other subject would properly equip a young lawyer with the instinct
to determine the correctness of what the tax authorities are collecting
from his client. Relegate
Taxation to a non-bar subject and we will have new lawyers like young
priests from seminaries where the curriculum does not include sex
education, ministers of the sacrament of holy matrimony but themselves
unable to cope with the ways and wiles of the birds and the bees.
Citing the time I could
possibly allow for correcting papers without losing my means of livelihood
or sanity, or both, the very limited opportunity to probe into the
examinees mind (not to mention her heart), since the only contact is a
nameless and bloodless examination booklet often just half-filled with
illegible hieroglyphics, the changes in both my mood and physical
well-being significantly influenced as they are by my wife’s own
make-up, and the inescapable reduction
on my socialization, prompting not a few to ask what I was doing in the
closet, I submitted that being a bar examiner was not an experience which
one would want to repeat.
The demands of the task
were simply not commensurate to what was expected to be achieved.
Actually, I was more inclined to agree with Justice Irene Cortes’
suggestion, made many years ago, that the bar examinations be abolished.
But then, it was not easy for an Atenean to admit he had nothing
more to add to what a UP Law alumna, no matter how brillant, had to say.
Various other persons and
institutions also made their comments and since the Mendoza magnum
opus would be exposed to more consultations, it is best for me to
refrain from further remarks, until at least all the votes are in.
We are in a more serious process here than electing officials, you