Tuesday, March 5, 2024

SC chief leads launch of legal educ website, laments fixation on Bar exam

Supreme Court (SC) chief justice Alexander G. Gesmundo has criticized the excessive emphasis of law schools and the public in general on the Bar examinations, which he said is taking the focus away from competent legal practice.

SC chief justice Alexander Gesmundo speaking during the virtual launch of the Revised Model Law Curriculum (RMLC) and its Clinical Legal Education Program (CLEP) website

Gesmundo made the statement as he discussed the future of legal education during the online launch of the Legal Education Board (LEB) of its Revised Model Law Curriculum (RMLC) and its Clinical Legal Education Program (CLEP) website on Thursday, Oct. 14.

Gesmundo said “Bar-centricity” or the focus on passing the Bar instead of on practice-readiness has been the root of problem of “the terrible attrition rates in the Philippine Bar Examinations.” Such was because of the plain logic that “unless a student passes the bar, he or she cannot practice,” he said.

“Today we break this cycle,” said Gesmundo. “The Revised Model Curriculum that we are formally launching today is a decisive step away from Bar-centricity… I hope that everyone in the legal education community understands the significance of the adoption of the Revised Model Curriculum: this is the Philippine legal education community taking a stand and sending an unequivocal message that, henceforth, legal education will be primarily student- and society-centered, as it should be. Passing the bar examination will be THE RESULT of implementing the Revised Model Curriculum, rather than THE OBJECT,” he said.

The SC chief added: “Thus, we see the tremendous effort of the Curriculum Revision Committee to re-think the best possible formulation, combination and sequencing of courses and credits, as well as the introduction of new subjects to reflect the developments in society, locally and internationally. I am particularly elated to note that a course entitled ‘Judicial Mind’ has been included in the list of suggested electives in the Model Curriculum, hopefully as a first step to the introduction of a full Judiciary Track in law schools.”

Optimistic of the adoption of the RMLC, Gesmundo revealed that he has already committed to push for the revision of Rule 138, particularly Section 5, which prescribes the completion of certain mandatory courses for applicants to the Bar examination.

He said the courses need to be revisited in view of the ever-changing needs and the evolving definition of law practice, for which the law curriculum is the vehicle for preparedness. Citing an example, Gesmundo said that “we must finally address the question of whether Taxation should be a mandatory course and a stand-alone bar subject.”

He also commended the launch of the CLEP website, a portal for all relevant information and resource materials on CLEP and the Revised Rule 138-A or the Revised Law Student Practice Rule.

He underscored: “Our duty is not only to graduate law students, not just to ensure they pass the Bar examination, certainly not just to populate the courts with more lawyers. Our duty is to foster an environment during law studies which will spawn the next generation of lawyers who are not only practice-ready, but who are equally prepared to assume the role of servant leaders in our country.”

Since the adoption of CLEP, 49 Legal Clinics have been established nationwide. Moreover, a total of 25 law schools have received their respective certifications, while 10 law schools have pending applications for certification.

Gesmundo said that with the launch of the CLEP website, the country will “see these numbers growing even further as information related to CLEP and the process of certification for law student practitioners is mainstreamed.”

“Legal education is a pillar that, together with judicial education, holds up the very firmament of the Philippine legal system. Needless to say, the Supreme Court is highly invested in elevating the standards of legal education in our country. The Revised Model Curriculum and the Clinical Legal Education Program are just the beginning,” he said

Among the key changes in the RMLC are:

  1. The reduction of the total minimum academic load required of law students,
  2. The rationalization of mandated courses, which removes the emphasis on Bar review and focuses instead on ensuring that Bar candidates are given updates and ample amount of coaching;
  3. Introduction of procedural law subjects in the first-year law curriculum; and
  4. Full integration of clinical legal education in the curriculum.

LEB chairperson Anna Marie Melanie B. Trinidad said the country owes present and future law students a “program of study responsive to rapidly changing times and adaptable to their ever-increasing curiosity.”

Sam Chittick, country representative of The Asia Foundation, said the RMLC will “help push the modernization of legal education” as it “attempts to achieve that balance which is so essential between academic freedom and government supervision of the legal education for the public interest so that we have quality education in developing excellent, ethical, and innovative legal professionals committed to the Rule of Law.”

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