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A Modern Bar for the Modern Times

Updated: Feb 28, 2021

Archiebald F. Capila

Barrista Solutions gives a digest of the recently issued Philippine Bar Bulletins. Bar Candidates are now gearing for the first digital bar exams.
A Modern Bar for the Modern Times

Recently, the Court En Banc has issued a resolution approving a digitalized, localized, and proctored modality for this year’s Bar examinations which will be held on the four Sundays of November. Upon valid deliberations and a small-scale simulation of the mock Bar exams, the Supreme Court has finally decided to keep up with the modern times and find some alternative solutions because of the current health crisis the world is experiencing today.

According to Bar Bulletin No. 18, S. 2021, examinees should bring their own WiFi-enabled laptops, which must have an integrated display screen, keyboard, and trackpad or pointer device, with sufficient internal battery power. The laptops must run on Mac or Windows operating systems. In addition, the minimum requirements are provided for in the said Bar Bulletin as well.

The Supreme Court also clarified that although the computer software to be used is designed to prohibit examinees from exiting the application and accessing another application during the test proper, examinees are still advised not to store in their laptops several files that may be related to the substance and procedure of the examinations.

On the other hand, while the modality of the Bar examinations has been digitalized, it shall not be taken remotely. Clarified by the same Bar Bulletin, examinees will still walk into test rooms and will be proctored while taking the said exams. For security measures, surveillance cameras will also be installed in all testing rooms. The examinees qualified to take the Bar exams will be assigned to testing centers in a locality closest to their residence or the school they graduated from, or for any other consideration. This determination shall depend on the final list of schools that would qualify as local testing sites.

Above all these new requirements, hygiene protocols are emphasized as well that COVID-19 testing and proper physical distancing in the exam rooms will be observed as well.

Taken into a simpler context, this year’s Bar examination marks the dawn of a new age for the legal profession in general. Because of various circumstances spearheaded by the crisis of a pandemic we are in right now, the legal profession is forced to find means in order to continue its duty to serve and promote justice.

Projected to be the biggest Bar ever, the 2020/21 Bar Exams is in fact a game-changer in today’s time. Aside from being the biggest Bar, next year’s exams will definitely be remembered as one of the most challenging in recent memory. Indeed, modern problems require modern solutions. And modern times call for a modern mode of conducting licensure examinations, including our very own Bar exams.

For the first time in our country’s history, we will be adopting digital means of taking the Bar examinations. For a system that is very much used to traditional means such as using test booklets and pens in answering the questions per subject, our current situation begs the question—is the current set of reforms more of an advantage or a disadvantage?

On the bright side of things, the aforementioned modality of a digitalized Bar exams will help step up our status as a profession that adapts with the times. It has been said throughout the pages of history that the profession of law is one that anchors itself on tradition, culture, and established systems lawyers of the past have relied on heavily. Because of the current health crisis, various professions, the practice of law included, have used and utilized the ever-growing means of digital and online platforms. By dwelling on such, the legal profession not only speeds up some legal transactions, it makes them efficient and effective as well, lessening the human factor and fingerprints for lesser errors to be committed.

Accordingly, because of the digitalized Bar exams, handwriting would not be a problem anymore. It is a no-brainer in law school that if and when an examiner does not have the patience to read through a booklet containing head-scratching handwriting, he or she won’t bother to finish reading the same. Because answers will be typewritten, everyone who will take the Bar will be given a fair chance in legibly answering respective questions. In such a system, they would not be having any problems pertaining to legibility.

Because of the said modality, it would also be easy to change and erase answers if and when you have another thought that comes to mind. In written examinations, erasures are considered as cardinal sins in the Bar. Accordingly, the same could even be considered as markings by other examiners. Because of the digitalized format, a Bar taker would no longer have the problem of erasing an answer and smudging the booklet in the process. Hence, the digitalized Bar exam will result in a cleaner exam sheet in the form of digital answers.

Lastly, because of the said shift, we could in fact experience a faster checking and a faster release of the results. Compared to the traditional bulk-by-bulk checking, the examiners who will be chosen will now have a more efficient system in checking the booklets and a more effective method in seeing to it that those who took the exams followed the proper instructions. It will all eventually lead to faster processing of grades which could eventually contribute to an earlier release of results. Instead of waiting for five to six months, we could in fact have less time to wait for the same.

In short, the digitalization of the Bar, per its possible positive outcomes, revolves around modernization. However, while there are a lot of positive insights as to the possible advantages of the modern Bar, there are still some disadvantages or cons that can be seen in implementing this modern modality of the aforesaid examinations.

First off, law students who will be taking this year’s Bar grew up in the traditional set-up. All their lives, they were trained to write legibly, write fast, and write with a certain structure. From several hand-written case digests to hand-written assignments and the like—these law students were trained for the Bar everyone grew up with. The abrupt reform and change in the modality of the Bar could be a shocker to most law students who do not even know how to type fast. Familiarity with what has been trained to do and what has been taught could kick in. Considering that the official announcement pertaining to the modality was made only months before the schedule of the exams, it will be hard to keep up with familiarizing yourself with another method of answering questions. Yes, some are gifted or skilled with proficiency in using laptops and the like. However, we cannot eliminate the fact that there are still some who have a hard time using specific devices. They remain average or even at a beginner’s stage with respect to the use of laptops or computers.

Accordingly, while the Court en banc has set minimum standards for the devices that will be used for the said examination, it is a given that not everyone is technologically-adept or even well-off to afford such devices. Not all law students are gifted with the means to afford devices that are necessary for their pursuit of the legal title they have always dreamed of. Accordingly, while the option to borrow is available, the same is still not an assurance that a candidate’s friends, relatives, or colleagues will allow the former to borrow a personal gadget. Considering that the same still needs time for familiarity and the like, the said option may be more problematic than helpful.

In addition to this, we must also consider that because this would be the first time in the history of the country to shift towards digital means, we still are not sure of the proper safeguards that will ensure a fool-proof software and system. Because the digital aspect of the Bar is relatively new, some wrongdoers who know or who can access or hack into the system and alter results remain a possible scenario. Although the chance of such happening is kept to a minimum, we are still not sure on what problems could be encountered once there is a concrete system for the same. Related to the same are the possible problems concerning hardware and software.

We may also factor in geographical situations wherein internet connectivity is a factor. Because the Supreme Court is planning to conduct the Bar examination in multiple areas, there arises the problem on whether or not that place is suitable for a digitalized exam. It is common knowledge that not every town or municipality has the same access to fast and reliable internet.

Whether the results would be for better or for worse, it is still a matter of time before we can fully comment on how things will eventually turn out. The health crisis has affected us all, but certain authorities continue to find ways and implement rules so that we will be able to adapt and become better versions of ourselves. We are assured that proper authorities are doing everything in their power to ensure a proper, peaceful, and effective transition to the new and modern mode of the Bar exams.

We could only hope and pray for the best. As properly addressed by Justice Leonen in one of his speeches, we must not put so much effort on the things we cannot control. All we could do now is do our part and study better. What we need to do now is to remain calm, continue the process we are working on, and believe that good things will come together. Basic provisions of law, updated jurisprudence, and revised rules and regulations should be dealt with proper focus. In the end, what will matter most is the fact that we are prepared. Whatever happens, the Bar will always be the starting point in our journey to become a full-fledged lawyer.

What we could do now is accept the fact that in these modern times, we will be having a modern Bar. And if you are or you know someone who is eligible to take the #BestBarEver2020_21, we wish you all the best. It will only be a matter of time before we call you panero and panera. It will only be a matter of time before you become the modern lawyer of the modern generation.

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