The night was serene: its black sky dotted with stars above and sweaty faces below. My right hand ached. My wrist screamed as I flexed my hand to relieve the pain. You do not deserve this, I told my hand. There was a sea of people marching out of the examination buildings. There was the black sky and, in front of me, the backs of a thousand heads like a rolling wave spilling out of UST. I had forgotten I had only a sandwich and half a lasagna for lunch. I should be hungry by now, but I do not feel anything. They all said to hope and be confident on the first Sunday, but I do not feel anything. I had to find the gate. The restless roar of those who took the exam was still dulled by the post-exam daze, but I knew it would explode after a few minutes. I had to find the gate, and night was descending. The first day.
I found little comfort in remembering the exam. Don’t think about it, I told myself, as I thought about it. Don’t think about it! Give away questions some say. I hardly doubt that years later we could all say those questions were give aways. But I would wager that those who were actually taking the test would tell another story. I wondered how much of dumb luck is involved in taking the exam. One could study a hundred cases or two thousand provisions, and yet the exam could pick out the hundred-and-first case or the two thousand and first provision. How much of it hangs in the balance — to be decided on the mere whims of one man?
Yet that is the least of what bothers me. The more disturbing character is the almost magical quality attaching to these exams. The top ten are the most coveted in schools and the media — only to disappear after a few days of appearances in the major news channels. Law school deans appropriate them as personal trophies, and discard the rest of the batch. Those who take it study endlessly for nearly six or seven months, not counting the four years of law school. And at the end of it all, an examinee is asked to regurgitate provisions. Enumerate this, explain that, define this, distinguish that. To draw from Eliot, the culmination of my years of study did not end in a bang, but a whimper. In a supreme irony, the whole exercise, which society had sacredly imbued with so much meaning, seemed utterly meaningless to one actually taking it.
It is with a sigh, more of resignation than relief, that I tell myself: “Alas, my boy, you must go on. March.” What else can we do but play our part in this drama of fools. The show must go on. Next week the sun rises on Sunday once again, and Sisyphus must roll up his rock anew.
[after Van Helsing and Jonathan have returned from driving a stake through Lucy’s heart]
Dr. Steward: I don’t understand it! he’s covered in blood and there’s not a drop on you!
Van Helsing: I have been to many stakings – you have to know where to stand! You know, everything in life is location, location, location..
-from Dracula, Dead and Loving It (1995)
Where to study? This is one of the many FAQs that bar reviewees fling to each other during the season. Oftentimes it comes down to some remote and barren Starbucks branch in a secluded or upscale mall not readily accessible by public transportation that charges fixed rate parking and opens late in the morning. I have often mulled over the thought of studying in Starbucks. In reality, however, all the times I found myself studying in Starbucks was just to kill time. I was always there in between events – sometimes during the time between when I would drop off Urie and pick her up after her OLA moot sessions, or simply to wait for the traffic to subside, or just to pass time off in the mall while Urie goes shopping. Rarely did I find myself going to Starbucks per se to study.
Those times I spent there, however, have changed my views on that strange establishment lately. Since as far back as I could remember, I have always looked with a certain disdain at Starbucks for charging exorbitant prices for mediocre coffee full of calories in outrages sizes. A few years ago I mulled over a joke I shared with Urie that the only drink I would order in Starbucks is a tall, black coffee (P105) and for food: a toasty bagel (P55). I did not take it seriously then, since the coffee tasted terrible. It was only years later that I found out that what I abhorred were really the blended drinks. As for the coffee, Starbucks changes its coffee blends regularly and some blends really do taste like shit. On the other hand, there are also some heavenly blends: Verona, House Blend, Guatemala Antigua, Pike Place, Ethiopia, and recently Africa Kitamu. It is always a delight to see them on the menu. What surprised me is that the description on that blend found in the bag is rather accurate. However, I have blacklisted some blends as well: Komodo Dragon, Sumatra, Kati-kati, Willow, Breakfast Blend. The worst! The only remedy is to ask for a french press because that’s money down the drain.
Recently I found out that black coffee is the only reason why I would consider spending some time at Starbucks. I also considered Bo’s but when the barista told me that they use some kind of arabica-robusta mix for their black coffees and charged me almost the same as Starbucks, I just walked out. I also discovered that my disdain for Starbucks is primarily directed to its overpriced blended drinks that are hardly coffee but (in the words of my bar lecturers when they refer to their books) “sell like hotcakes.” I will not be surprised, however, if those items are the ones that keep the establishment afloat. It’s a great business model: great enough to shield those cheapskates like me who spend 2-3 hours in the store with the cheapest product (actually the short brewed coffee is 95, but come on). I won’t be surprised if people like me are the reason why coffee shops go out of business. Think about it: I buy a cup of coffee for P105 and stay there for around three hours. For Starbucks, I’m a NPC (non-performing customer) – I’m always negative. Personally, however, I book it as P20 per hour and a coffee for P45. Considering that the air conditioning is quite good, with a large table, a view, comfortable chairs, and a restroom, P20 per hour is very reasonable. The P55 for the bagel is only when I get hungry.
So that’s the story for the times I’m waiting.
For the times I have to really study (read: dig in the trenches and study), nothing beats the quiet and comfort of a well-ordered table at home. Of course I have a bag of coffee beans as well on standby for those cravings. I bought a hand-grinder a few months ago and I find there is a therapeutic, if not metaphoric, sensation of grinding coffee for a minute or two while pondering bar questions. With some bar review lectures being purely online now, having a self-sustaining bar review environment at home is not only possible, but entirely feasible. Not only does it save me three hours of traffic and around P500 of expenses a day, but I get to spend time with my family. Win-win.
BRL: Bar Review Log – the series of journal entries I will be writing as I study for the 2017 bar exam. Call it catharsis or just the need to reflect and recollect – a respite from the laborious studying of the same subjects I have been studying for the past four years.
The other day, 26 June 2017, was my college graduation. The day before that was the university graduation. I had always been cautious about graduation ceremonies in law school. The reason is that it all seems so conditional. The bar exam would be in around four months and that decides in the end whether I will be a lawyer. Yet that cold shroud of indifference had not fully enveloped me then. As the speaker asked the graduates to turn around and face the audience, I caught the smiles of my parents and those were enough reasons for me to be happy.
After the whole ceremony, I could still feel the tenacious clutch of law school on my sleeves. Four years is quite some time and no one leaves Malcolm unscathed. Triumphs, defeats, betrayals, displays of loyalty, integrity, baseness — I have seen all that there. My four years was as much a study of the law as it was a study of human nature and its frailty. Several times I found myself mildly scandalized by the opinions and values I encountered in law school. I eventually realized that it pays to espouse the fashionable opinions of the day which usually consist in abolishing old ways for new ones. That being the case, it follows that references to classical education and philosophy often yielded to rehashed formulations from the activist authors of the day. Cicero, Madison, Plato, anyone?
The image of the desert just dawned on me — how the Israelites wandered around the desert for 40 years looking for the promised land. For me it was the other way around: I left the promised land and was now wandering the desert for 40 years in search of slavery. Ah bon, c’est la vie, n’est-ce pas?
And while I sit here typing a blog that no one will probably read. While I sit, haunted by the phantom of Malcolm Hall, I prepare to begin the long road to the 2017 bar. To begin.
The words of T.S Eliot continue to haunt these last moments of my law school sojourn. Time and again I ask: will these four years of toil end with a bang, or whimper? For now, at least, it most likely seems to be a shrug. My classes this last semester mostly fall and end late at night, which fortunately means the drive back home is easier due to the light traffic. The classes are all review classes and, consequently, all ineluctably boring. Only at the end of these four years did I realize, however, that skepticism is a virtue when it comes to a prof’s lessons. An example: for three years we have been discouraged to answer questions with: “It depends.” Now, in one class that is the answer in several questions on recitation. So what’s the deal? For what it’s worth, this pivot did result to an insight in the profession that I will soon be joining: that it is in many ways still an art. Many professors these past three years have indulged in their teaching the law as a science that seems to lend it an aura of precision and mathematical certainty. For a large part of the past three years, studying law was mainly finding answers to questions, which, to be fair, is probably the most expedient way to formulate and check exams. But what about that skill of producing answers to questions? The writing of pleadings in itself is a craft – something that I hardly had any experience in – and something that I expect to be immersed in soon. In undergrad this production of answers was derogatorily referred to as bola, but whatever we call it – that was precisely what won Grace Poe’s case on citizenship. During those hour-long drives to school, I go through recordings of the oral arguments in Poe-Llamanzares v. COMELEC just to observe how these counsels made and delivered their argument (with, of course, the benefit of hindsight). It was truly a treasure to go through the interpellations once again.
Perhaps it is this act of production that draws the cloud of suspicion on lawyers, and perhaps justifiably so. Persuasion, after all, is a powerful skill and more so if the effects of such persuasion can contribute to the formulation of law. But the brute fact remains that some people just have a propensity to lie. Hell, even in law school people lie all the time. But I suppose nothing of that is new or even scandalous these days.
In light of the monotonous and dreadfully boring classes and hours spent on bar review this semester, I was fortunately referred by a friend to a book on Christian philosophy. With the abrogation of true electives such as Roman Law, it is hardly a surprise that law schools these days have turned into veritable factories that produce docile bar-takers. Whatever grandeur, culture, or grace that the law had was probably lost ages ago no matter what that damned signed says in the entrance to Malcolm Hall. Sure we’ve heard Manresa and Sanchez Roman mostly in passing (whether jokingly or not) by the older professors. But what about Homer, Cicero, Aristotle, or Aquinas? Those names were probably all relegated to some weeks of recitations in Legal Theory and then lost right after the semester ended. It was largely due to the discontent with the monotonies of classroom study and the lack of any interesting electives that I decided to read up on other subjects.
So can one self-study metaphysics? I laughed the first time I thought about it. It seemed ridiculous. But the ridiculous ideas are usually the most entertaining ones: so I tried it. Owing to perhaps G.K. Chesterton’s biography on St. Thomas and a few chapters of the book in the picture above – I can say that I won’t be putting it down anytime soon. It is quite a relief to wrestle with ideas like this on a Sunday – call it a break from the day-to-day pressures of being “productive” or “useful”. In that sense I can savor what is left of weekends before I re-enter the workforce next year. Ciao!