MANILA – A 12-day visit to several law schools in the United States last year has helped spur changes in legal education in the country, Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin acknowledged Wednesday as he welcomed US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim to the halls of the Supreme Court.
Kim was the special guest as the high court held a special ceremony at the SC en banc session hall to turn over a copy of the Revised Law Student Practice Rule or Rule 138-A to the United States government.
Also present during the ceremony were Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta, Andres Reyes, Jr., Alexander Gesmundo, Ramon Paul Hernando, and Henri Jean Paul Inting.
Bersamin and Gesmundo were part of a small delegation that visited 3 universities in the United States from October 1 to 12 last year, upon the invitation of the US government. They were accompanied by 5 law school deans and 3 lawyers from the Supreme Court.
“Being given the privilege to choose the law schools to spend our learning visit, our delegation instinctively focused on Harvard University, Suffolk University and Georgetown University. We hoped to see closely for ourselves how such famed institutions of legal learning had been forming and training their students to become competent and effective lawyers,” Bersamin shared recently during the start of the Legal Education Summit on July 31.
While there, the top magistrate shared the delegation saw that the long-standing legal clinics in these universities gave law students the opportunity not just to serve the underserved sectors but also focused on skills-based instead of knowledge-based training.
“[T]he students underwent experiential legal education and training while still in law school on and off-campus and in the process also served the needy communities. That the legal clinics have already been undertaken for many decades signified the success, effectiveness and usefulness of the experiential approach in legal education adopted in the US,” he observed.
“Along the way, we noted that the students and their law schools were hardly fixated on the results of the bar examinations, unlike here,” he added.
The learning visit, Bersamin said, convinced the team that current approaches to Philippine legal education were “possibly inadequate, or were even outdated” and needed to be “enhanced.”
“We understood that it was high time that the Philippines’ directions in the education and training of future lawyers should now shift from the knowledge-based or purely Socratic approach long in vogue with us to the experiential process of learning the law,” he said.
The Socratic method adopted in law schools uses a question-and-answer arrangement between the professor and the students to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presuppositions.
Upon his selection as Chief Justice in November last year, Bersamin chose changes in Philippine legal education as among his priorities. He appointed Gesmundo to head the recently-concluded Legal Education Summit and a technical working group to propose changes to the Rule 138-A of the Rules of Court or the law student practice rule.
Among the changes recently adopted – allowing third-year law students to represent clients in quasi-judicial and administrative bodies starting in school year 2020-2021, subject to certain certification requirements.
And beginning in 2023, Filipino students who graduated from foreign schools may qualify to take the bar examinations, subject to some certifications that must be complied with.
All these changes to the law student practice rule “will enable us to quicken the shift to experiential legal education to be adopted by our law schools,” Bersamin said during Wednesday’s brief turnover ceremony.
But he was also the first to acknowledge that these changes will not take effect immediately – at the minimum, 2 years before the effects could be felt – long after he is gone from the Court.
Bersamin will retire in October, after more than 10 years in the high court and 33 years in the judiciary.