29 September 2008

Passing the Bar and Winning Cases

Many lawyers still remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the results of their bar examinations, pass or fail. Many bar takers still remember with eerie detail every single thing they did (or were doing) at a particular Sunday of the bar examinations. That is how big a deal the bar exam is to a lawyer--it can, forever, change your life--literally.

It is four (for some five or six) years of studying law, five (for some its more) months of intense review (for some, learning for the first time)--cramming as much information about a given subject, all the possible permutations of questions, all the relevant case law, all the challenges that could possibly arise--into one day. When that day is done, the process repeats itself again for a second week, a third and then the fourth.

Reflecting on this, these questions inevitably arise--why do I go through this (other than that I have to pass the bar to become a lawyer) and what do i get out of this?

The obvious answer, of course, is you have to pass the bar to become a lawyer and to practice law. But on deeper reflection, preparing to take the bar and actually taking the bar prepares you also for lawyering, particularly trial lawyering in many ways.

1. Preparation is everything. Native intelligence can only get you so far. For many, the preparations for the bar start from the very first day of law school--adjusting to a new environment, acquiring or adjusting study habits, keeping personal order and managing time well. All these complement native intelligence to ensure a successful bar exam, and also a successful trial practice.

Many trial lawyers prepare for a case weeks and months on end. The good ones make it look so easy and effortless, but that is only because they have already spent a good deal of time preparing. You can always spot those who are unprepared (note: there is no such thing as "not completely prepared", one is either prepared or not)--they will ramble on and on, use technical language to hide lack of meaning in their words; on the other hand, the prepared trial lawyers are those who can communicate easily, using comfortable words to convey exactly what they want to say--and, to do this, preparation is key.

In the same way that you cannot hope to cram for the bar and hope to pass; you can also not cram for a trial and hope to win.

2. Anticipating challenges is key. How many bar candidates have walked down taft avenue, clutching mountains of tips and reviewers, reached the gate and discovered that their building was at the other end and that it would have been much easier to go through the other side? How many have walked up to the gate only to realize that their permit or identification card or fountain/sign pens were left behind? Or that the first day of the Bar (at least in the Philippines) is always a circus and that lead time is always at least one hour ahead?

Many of these things lead to stress and tension which are avoidable if challenges are anticipated early enough. One obstacle to successfully taking the bar is anticipating what might possibly arise (of course a good balance must be struck between anticipating what may reasonably arise and worrying needlessly about a far too remote contingency) and, sounding like a defective cd, preparing for it ahead of time.

Like the bar, anticipating challenges is key in a successful trial. Is it the first time you're appearing before this court? Do you even know where it is? Do you know how far the parking area is? Do you know how long it takes to get there? What's the judge like? Does s/he start on time? Do you know where the rest room is?

Many a trial has been won (or lost) simply on a favorable first impression created by a counsel who is ready for anything the judge throws his way. And, while it may seem trivial, knowing where the parking area is or even where the rest room is, spells the difference between a less stress hearing/trial and one where you are rushing around, trying vainly to find a place to park your car or, in the event of stomach upset, your butt.

3. You can't do it alone. The first thing a bar candidate realizes when he takes the bar is the enormity of the entire task. No one, no matter how good, will ever be able to take on the bar completely by him/herself. There will always be a need for support, in whatever form that will be.

Schools now have fully-functional, well-organized (and for some law schools, well-funded) bar operations; an annual exercise in school spirit that is intended to make the bar exam experience as easy as possible on the one taking it. The essence of bar operations is simply to help the examinee get through the examinations by eliminating or minimizing some of the things s/he needs to do so that s/he can have more time to prepare to take the exam. So, you will have gophers (the human, not the animal kind; for those unfamiliar, it is slang for one who is asked to "go-pher this" and "go-pher that") running around getting breakfast and lunch for the examinees, getting "tips", organizing religious services (A Jesuit priest never tires of reminding people that during the bar, there are no atheists) or simply being present.

4. Put everything into it. You can't take the bar half-heartedly as this will only assure that you will fail it wholeheartedly. Whether or not you feel you are confident, you have to summon the heart, the will to take it.

The same thing with trying a case. You've got to put everything into it--all the preparations, cramming, memorizing for one whole week into one day; and then do it all over again, and again, and again, over and over.

One word sums up what you need to be able to do that: Passion. You've got to be able to summon the passion to take the bar confidently and to try cases the same way. Stand up and say, passionately, "this is going to happen."

One last thing and this applies only to taking the bar. You don't want to go that way again. And that needs no explanation.


rosa said...

i wish i read this before taking the bar examinations for the first time. i know what you mean when you say personal order is key. the second time i took it, i prepared a schedule which drove me crazy but forced me to study like there was no tomorrow.

e.n.r.a. said...

I just took the bar exams... I know I did my best in it and you affirmed things for me. Thanks!