By Atty. Gilberto Lauengco, J.D.

Bar exams post mortem and musings

“The bar exam does not define you” - Anonymous

Last Friday, the 2022 Bar results were finally released much to the relief of many who took it. Like all those who came before them, the bar was the culmination of a long exhausting journey. Each and every one of the taker probably had their own tales of hardships and obstacles. When the dust settled, 3,992 of the 9,183 or 43.47 percent of those who took it were whooping it up or crying in joy.

I remember my own experience of having to go through anxious months of waiting and going to Sta. Clara almost every day to pray (for truly there are no atheists in a foxhole) while waiting for our bar results. I can also vividly recall the exact moment I received a page (most of us did not have cellphones yet in the day) from my friend who told me I passed. As I was on a street walking that time, I stopped and sat on the curb stunned and grinning like an idiot.

After this year’s results came out, newspapers featured the names and pictures of the top 10 and the usual post mortems of passing percentage and law school performance. There were also many human interest stories surrounding the bar results. There is this story of the first blind bar passer from the University of Baguio whose travails would be a good story for an episode of “Maalala Mo Kaya”. There is also the former beauty queen and registered nurse who also passed the bar.

I am especially proud of my former students who were among the bar passer. I received personal messages from some of them which I will always treasure as a perk of being a teacher too.

Unfortunately, in the midst of this unbridled joy of the bar passers almost unnoticed by many there is the pain of those who did not make it this time. While their batchmates or classmates rejoice they went home dejected. Many of them will take the next bar exams and succeed. I know many practitioners who had to take the exams a second time and fare better in practice than most other lawyers. Many however will never pass the exams no matter how they try.There are many reasons why some never pass the exams. Not all of them are due to competence. I know of many law graduates who never passed the bar but who could analyze and apply the law better than most lawyers. However, as the Office of the Bar Confidant in 2019 once put it “incorrect English is a more serious problem than the lack of precise knowledge of the law and has been the cause of high failure rates.”  Failure to communicate in English in a precise and concise way is essentially what many Bar Examiners cite as a large cause of many who failed to pass the exams.

There are many who cite the foregoing as reasons why they want the bar exam removed or radically changed as the mode of licensure for lawyers. They argue that the bar exams cannot measure adequately the skills one needs to be a good lawyer. Some even claim it is an elitist exam designed for English speakers.

Proponents of the exams have always stressed that the bar exams in general are designed to test if the takers have attained the minimum competency needed to practice law. It is essentially a minimum qualifying exam for practice. I remember one of my old professors telling us that law school and the bar were set up to ensure the safety of the public upon whom we were about to be unleashed.

Until a viable alternate mode of exam is put forth however the bar exams are here to stay.

Whether you believe in the bar exams or not, one thing is clear. The bar exam is just the beginning and not the end all and be all of a law career. In fact unless the new lawyer is a topnotcher, prospective employers often concentrate on law school performance. Passing the bar is not a guarantee of success, happiness or even wealth (none of the richest Filipinos are practicing lawyers).

What happens after the bar depends on what the new lawyer will do next.

This is my oblique observation.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in the foregoing article are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the Philippine News Agency (PNA) or any other office under the Presidential Communications Office.


About the Columnist

Image of Atty. Gilberto Lauengco, J.D.

ATTY. GILBERTO LAUENGCO, J.D. is a lawyer, educator, political strategist, government consultant, Lego enthusiast, and the director of CAER Think Tank. He is a Former Vice Chairman of MECO, Special Assistant of NFA and City Administrator among others. His broad experience has molded his unique approach to issues analysis which he calls the oblique observation.