Justin Sucgang is the concurrent Officer-in-Charge and Regular Member representing the law students’ sector of the Legal Education Board (LEB) of the Philippines. He is part of the first graduating batch of the College of Law and recently, was named one of the Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines – NCR. Juggling Bar Exams review and his duties as the head of the (LEB), Justin is the youngest person to ever head a government agency.
Justin, with the rest of the first batch of DLSU Law graduates, hopes to pass, if not top this year’s Bar Exams.
TLS: What made law school easy?
Sucgang: Well, to start, I believe that the question begs for a qualification. Law school is hard and to my belief, it is the hardest.
First, the law program is unique, so unique is it that it was isolated from the rest. It is the only program that is not under the Commission on Higher Education. The law program is under the Legal Education Board. It is the only profession that is not regulated by the Professional Regulation Commission. All other professions – engineering, nursing, even master plumbers – are regulated by the PRC. That’s why in other courses, they call their respective licensure exams as board exams. In law, we call it the Bar exam. The legal profession is regulated by the Supreme Court, and this is a constitutional mandate – Par. 5, Sec. 5, Art. VIII of the 1987 Constitution! The regulation of other professions is but merely statutory, by virtue of R.A. No. 8981.
Now, some would claim that this is but mere hubris. But, unfortunately [or fortunately], this is a fact. Although some laywers or even law students act with arrogance, this is another matter. Lawyers play an important role in the Filipino society.
Second, legal education does not only entail memorization or route memory, it requires analysis. Now, let us try to break this down, through comparisons. Natural and physical sciences are exact, but law is not, it will never because of the changing dynamics in human society.
Even the Supreme Court changes because the justices composing it change, too. That is why, some doctrines change, and in fact, many have changed. Case in point, laws on online libel already exist, because laws need to adapt to the current needs. This is the reason why in law, there is a general rule and an exception – law is dynamic.
Third, our education system is very traditional and discretionary. We use the Socratic method and case method. Seldom will you see law professors requiring film viewing, field trips or laboratory work. Moreover, the Bar Examination itself changes, that is why we need to know everything because we don’t know what can and will be asked in the exams.
Fourth, the classroom dynamics in law simulates the trial court. The law professor acts as judges, we, law students, are the lawyers. In short, why is it difficult to be in law school? Because nothing is constant, everything changes. What we know now will not exactly be accurate for tomorrow.
Now, to answer the question – what made it easy for me? It’s the De La Salle way. Call me a fanatic, but it is true. The tradition of excellence and an innovative character made it easy for me to learn and understand law. Only in this law school will you see the doors of the Dean and Vice Dean open not only for suggestions from students and faculty but also for complaints. They listen to everyone. I believe that it is only in La Salle where law students are considered partners, not pawns in a cruel chess game called the Bar Exam.
TLS: What made law school difficult?
Sucgang: I’ve answered this question in great length and detail, but I just want to add some more before I give my ultimate answer.
To add to the list, student politics made it difficult, too. It’s Tapat versus Santugon in the undergraduate level, but things are different in law school.
Another thing is having lawyers as your professors. Of course, many lawyers – I am very proud that we don’t have this kind of lawyers in DLSU Law – are afflicted with arrogance. Well, to some extent, they have a right to be so. Imagine, they passed the Bar Exam and have appeared not only before trial courts but before the Supreme Court. That is why, it is not rare to hear students being humiliated or they feel degraded because of the relatively harsh environment in law school.
Now, to answer the question what is that one thing that made law school difficult, it’s the demanding environment coupled with a relatively harsh teaching style that made it difficult for me to survive law school. It is demanding because we are required to read tons of cases, law books explaining the law, and codals containing the laws themselves. But more than reading those things, we are required to understand, master and synthesize [and most of the time, memorize] everything.
Legal problems do not come to us in isolation. To illustrate, seldom do clients have only one problem when they ask for a lawyer’s services. Most of the time, even if the client presented only one problem, other issues and complications could sprout out from the main problem. You can have a case that involves labor law and lo and behold, there are also criminal law, civil law, and taxation law issues within the primary problem.
TLS: How did you survive law school?
Sucgang: Contrary to popular notions, many law schools do not have fraternities. When I say such, it means that they do not recognize fraternities. What makes La Salle different from other law schools is the environment. Well, I would be honest to say that there are fraternities in DLSU Law, but these fraternities are not home-grown. Despite the existence of such, more than 95% of students in DLSU Law do not have fraternities or sororities. There’s really no need for such at DLSU.
The Law Student Government serves as the bridge of law students to the COL administration and the LSG, no matter how small, is powerful, especially if you compare it to other forms of student representation.
We have a strong mechanism for lobbying for needs of law students. The 2nd LSG successfully lobbied for more study areas available only to law students. We currently have a graduate students’ area in the 15th Floor Study Hall and we have an entire room as reading area, Bar Operations (BarOps), and LSG offices in the Andrew lobby. The 2nd LSG was also instrumental in the formation of the Bar Operations. The LSG also maintains a notes bank and they give out sample exams for reviewers.
The BarOps is an important component in any law school. Through the lobbying by the LSG, DLSU has agreed to fund the BarOps. The most important function of the BarOps is to coordinate the logistical needs during the Bar Exam (e.g., hotel, transportation to the exam site, food, etc.) But beyond that, the BarOps also produces reviewers for the Bar Exam hopefuls. Also, they coordinate with the Bar Exam hopefuls for the document requirements of the Supreme Court.
DLSU Law has one of the most active student organizations, accredited or in the process of accreditation by SLIFE. It has a publication of its own, a moot and debate society, a leadership organization, a bible study group, a performing arts group, different sports group, a paralegal and outreach organization, and many more. These make the stay of law students in DLSU Law more holistic.
TLS: How are you preparing for the Bar Exams?
Sucgang: To be honest, it has been very difficult for me to prepare for the Bar Exam. To help me prepare for the Bar Exam, I pray and I ask for prayers. Second, I designed a study plan so I can be more systematic in studying for the Bar Exams. Third, I enrolled in a review center – UST. Fourth, I try not to tire myself too much. So I usually watch movies, almost every week.
I am constantly challenged to manage my time between Bar Exams preparations and my duty as the Officer-in-Charge (OIC) of LEB. The LEB accredits, supervises, and administers all law schools in the Philippines. We also advocate for legal reforms. On top of all these, I ensure the efficiency of the LEB. Sometimes, I would even hear some remarks questioning my ability as LEB’s OIC, but I shrug them all off. I am committed to my responsibilities with the end-goal of bringing pride to my law school and to the country.
TLS: How does it feel to be part of the DLSU Law pioneer batch?
Sucgang: Let me start by saying that I don’t like to answer this question. I’d like to emphasize that the pioneer batch is not only first batch, but the first five to ten batches of the law school. You can only check how consistently good [or bad] a law school is if you have a good sample. One batch alone is not a good sample, it is never representative. Furthermore, it becomes a source of false pride and, also, pressure.
But just to indulge, being part of the first batch of COL graduates means being a part of the history books of La Salle. You know, the first batch of University of the Philippines Law has produced a Philippine president and chief justice. So, I am very much excited to see what our batch can offer not only to La Salle but to the entire nation as well.
TLS: In your opinion, how well would the first DLSU Law batch do in the Bar Exam?
Sucgang: For the love of La Salle, I hope all bar-takers will pass.
TLS: If given the chance to redo your law school experience, would you still choose DLSU?
Sucgang: Yes, I will still choose DLSU Law. In La Salle, law students are not trained just for the sake of passing the Bar Exam. Beyond being bar-oriented, DLSU Law, as part of the vision of Dean Diokno, aims to equip us with the skills for a future practice of law. Indeed, beyond the techniques, Dean Diokno and the entire law school wanted us to have the ideals, the moral and upright character, the genuine love for country, and the concern for human rights and the environment that will ultimately guide us as we tread upon our future careers in the legal profession.
Furthermore, DLSU is, to my knowledge, the only law school with institutional international linkages. In 2012, the COL administration signed a memorandum of agreement with the University of Hong Kong. We were able to send students, myself included, in an internship program in the High Court of Hong Kong. For two weeks, we were marshals under the supervision of a Court Master or Judge.
In 2013, we started accepting visiting students from Universidad La Salle in Bolivia and from Oxford University in United Kingdom. Just this year, we started offering an Introduction to Philippine Law and Legal Profession to law students of Meiji University.
We are the only law school that regularly has a visiting foreign professor every term. DLSU Law also has invited notable law professors from Hong Kong and Japan to teach specific elective classes.
Again, the COL administrators are good listeners. They treat students as partners. In general, the law school has a nurturing environment. Now, it remains to be seen if all of these will translate in the Bar Exam.
TLS: What are your plans after law school?
Sucgang: I intend to continue my advocacy for legal education reform and of course, practice law for 10 to 15 years.
Aside from practicing law, I’m bent to teach law. I want to introduce innovative ways of teaching law. I also want to explore other options in government, like become an elected official.
When I turn 50 or 60 years old, I intend, or I wish I could be affliated with the Supreme Court. I wish I could accomplish all these not only for my own gain, but for DLSU law and for the country.”