MANILA – No less than Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin on Monday acknowledged the “dismal” performance of law graduates who took the Bar examinations in recent years, as he announced the holding of a national legal education summit on July 31 to August 1 this year.
Speaking before a gathering of legal education stakeholders from the National Capital Region and CALABARZON at the University of Sto. Tomas (UST) in Manila, the top magistrate took note of criticisms about the quality of legal education in the country.
“Objective observers concluded that the standards of legal education in the country might have gone down. They have cited some compelling data in support of such conclusion,” he said.
While he did not cite statistics, the top magistrate specifically mentioned the results of the Bar Exams in the past few years.
“Of late however, the quality of legal training has come under much criticism, following the dismal performance in recent years of our law graduates in the Bar Examinations the Supreme Court has administered annually,” he said.
Based on data from the Office of the Bar Confidant, only 22.07 percent or 1,800 out of 8,158 Bar candidates made the passing mark in the 2018 Bar Exams.
This figure is lower compared to the 2017 Bar Exams’ passing rate of 25.5 percent and is the fourth lowest passing rate in the past 10 years.
With the exception of the 2016 and 2011 Bar Exams that had 59.06 percent and 31.95 percent passing rates respectively, the passing rates never went higher than 27 percent.
To be sure, the passing rates in the previous decade ranged between 19 percent to 33 percent.
“That is not for us to judge right now, however. Although I strongly feel as Chief Justice that concrete steps must have to be taken towards raising the standards of legal education. The enhancement of the legal education of our future lawyers and our incumbent judges should always be high priorities,” he said.
Upon assumption into office in November last year, Bersamin had tasked SC Associate Justice Alexander Gesmundo to lead efforts in “identifying the problems and concerns affecting legal education,” insisting that such solutions should come from across the country.
Monday’s regional consultative meeting at UST was the last among a series that included visits to the cities of Angeles, Baguio, Cagayan de Oro, Davao, Pasay, and Cebu.
Consultations involved breaking down participants into smaller groups to discuss experiences and proposed solutions.
On Monday’s session, deans from different law schools in the country led discussions on the Bar Exams, the law curriculum, law instruction, law school administration, and the Legal Education Board (LEB) charter.
Bersamin went as far as encouraging law students to voice their concerns.
“The students among you should not feel deterred with the presence of your teachers and deans from fully exercising your freedom to speak out,” he said.
In a previous speaking engagement, Bersamin advocated for a shift to an experiential approach in legal education.
He however acknowledged that while the SC regulates the admission to the Bar of qualified law graduates, it is the LEB, a body created under Republic Act 7662 or the Legal Education Act of 1993, which defines and regulates law curriculum implemented by law schools.
“There seems to be a disconnect somewhere. Yet, the Supreme Court cannot dictate on the LEB to make the paradigm shift to the experiential approach,” he told the joint meeting of the Management Association of the Philippines and the Judicial Reform Initiative in Makati last month.
Several groups have raised the issue of the LEB’s powers and jurisdiction before the SC in petitions questioning the LEB’s imposition of a Philippine Law School Admission Test (PhiLSAT) as a requirement before enrolling in a law school.
The SC had temporarily allowed non-PhiLSAT passers to conditionally enroll in the law school of their choice, pending passage in the next exam.
On Monday, Bersamin stressed the need for the high court itself to spearhead efforts to improve legal education.
“Legal education is really important. The impact of legal education on the lives of our people is far reaching and cannot be taken for granted. The law itself pervades so much of public policy and human affairs,” he said.
“There is no doubt at all indeed that legal education is essential to the maintenance of the rule of law, a regime that for former UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, is crucial for promoting economic growth, sustainable development, human rights and access to justice,” he added.
The high court has yet to announce the venue for the summit.
Bersamin said the project is supported by The Asia Foundation and the United States Embassy.