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Nine years on: Reviewing DLSU College of Law

Amid the fiery election season last May, the DLSU College of Law (COL) received good news: a Lasallian emerged as a topnotcher in the 2018 Bar Exams results that was released in May 3. COL graduate Kathrine Ting (JDCTR, ‘18) landed in eighth place out of 1,800 passers, scoring 84.857 percent. Over 8,000 examinees took the bar exam last November 2018, but only 22.07 percent made the cut.

Ting and her fellow Bar passers belong to the fifth batch of test takers since the college first opened its doors in 2010. In light of the University’s recent achievement, The LaSallian looks back at COL’s brief yet vibrant history.

DLSU COL Founding Dean Chel Diokno believes that instilling ethical values should be the foremost consideration in training lawyers.

Assessing Bar performance

DLSU’s pioneer law batch, which was composed of just 46 graduate students, took the bar exam in 2014 and gave the University a 56.5 percent passing rate on its first attempt—the highest among private institutions at the time and second only to the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Law overall.

Among the first round of passers was Atty. Justin Sucgang (JDCTR, ‘14), who was recognized as a member of the Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines in 2014 and had recently completed his Masters of Laws in the University of Michigan Law School as a DeWitt Fellow and Fulbright Awardee.

The college’s accomplishments did not stop there as it made waves once again in the 2016 Bar Exams when it achieved an 82 percent passing rate, the highest on record for any institution in the past 30 years. That year, a total of 88 COL graduates became lawyers.

However, the trend went down after. In the 2017 Bar Exams, COL achieved a 55.84 percent passing rate against the 25.5 national passing rate. Furthermore, despite having a topnotcher in the 2018 Bar Exams for the first time, the college’s passing rate slipped to 46.15 percent, according to figures provided by the Lasallian Commission on Bar Operations. The college also failed to make the cut among the top 10 performing schools based on passing rates.

In contrast, top law schools Ateneo de Manila University and UP, who ranked first and second place, achieved 86.76 percent and 84.39 percent, respectively.

Clearing hurdles

Since its inception, COL has had its fair share of challenges. In 2015, the college shifted to a semestral calendar from a trimestral one, citing practical problems in maintaining a comprehensive study of law in a short time frame.

In the same year, the college’s move to its P400-million Rufino Campus in Bonifacio Global City was also put on hold for several months due to construction delays. Before the transfer, the college resided in Br. Andrew Gonzalez Hall.

In a previous interview with The LaSallian in 2017, Sucgang stated that the screening process of the University’s Institutional Testing and Evaluation Office did not match the needs of the college. He also raised concerns over a possible shortage of law professors and suggested incentives and benefits to attract additional faculty.

Nevertheless, COL Founding Dean Atty. Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno believes that the college has made strides to improve the quality of education being provided. “I’m very happy that we made it to the Top 10 with only our fifth batch who took the Bar. I think that’s quite an achievement because other schools have to wait a long time to get a Bar topnotcher,” he proclaims.

Diokno shares that COL has made reforms to address issues in college admissions. “Basically, when in law school, there [are] two skills that are really important, both as a law student and as a lawyer: the ability to write well and [the ability] to communicate orally in a good way,” he explains. 

Writing skills, he adds, have since been made part of their admission criteria, emphasizing that being fluent in the medium gives applicants a better chance of getting in. “When you take the Bar, it’s in writing [because] a lot of work you do as a lawyer is written,”
he elaborates.

He also reveals that they have enlisted the help of other DLSU colleges in their effort to improve admission quality, citing support from the Br. Andrew Gonzalez FSC College of Education and the Department of English and Applied Linguistics. “This is not just purely the College of Law’s [effort],” he remarks.

‘Not just passing the Bar’

While COL remains keen on producing distinguished graduates, Diokno views Bar exam passing rates as only one part of the formula. He remarks that grades can be “quite subjective” and dependent on how strict or liberal the grading process is. Instead, he maintains that performance as actual lawyers is a better benchmark, and cites, “So far, the feedback that we’re getting [from employers] is very good.”

According to Diokno, the challenge for them is not producing Bar topnotchers, but instilling good morals to its students. “If you’re a good lawyer but you don’t have the right ethical values, you could do so much damage to the country. So for us, it’s not just passing the Bar, it’s also making sure that law students who graduate from La Salle have the proper ideals and the right values to be good lawyers,” he elaborates.

For Diokno, however, supervising COL will be outside of his main priorities for a while as he is currently on sabbatical leave. In the meantime, he says that he will go back to work handling human rights cases and expects to return to teaching law by January 2020.

By Gershon De La Cruz

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