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Becoming Goliath: Atty. David’s Harvard Law Journey

Updated: Aug 25, 2021

By: Archiebald Faller Capila

Often do we hear stories of men conquering the world with all their might—overcoming different narratives of struggles along the way. They are commonly a part of a success story everyone wants to experience. They give hope to those who look up to them. They give a glimpse of what the future may bring if and when everything falls according to plan.

There will always be one success story in your life that will eventually stay with you forever. One, that is in fact, of biblical proportions that the direction of the same will lead you clinging to what happens next—to what is up in-store in the future. Atty. David’s journey may just be that narrative for you.

Growing up in the concrete jungle that is the Metro, Atty. Jose Angelo A. David was exposed to how life works at an early age. He was sent to a public school by his father who was a local government employee because “it was the only way he could have saved enough money to afford a college education.” However, the challenge was upped a notch when Atty. David’s father was diagnosed with leukemia. His mother then braved the call center world to support all three of her children.

Nonetheless, Atty. David kept moving forward. He obtained his bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of the Philippines – Diliman where he finished Cum Laude in 2010. After this, he braved the mighty red school in Mendiola and obtained his law degree from San Beda College. He graduated Class Valedictorian in 2014 and landed in sixth place in the Bar examinations.

After achieving the multitude of accolades under his belt, Atty. David continued to push through with his legal journey. Along the way, Atty. David then dreamed of pursuing further studies in law abroad. He dreamed big once again and vied for accomplishing a Harvard LL.M. degree. And without a doubt, Atty. David indeed claimed and received his Harvard law degree.

In an exclusive interview with Barrista Solutions, Atty. David shares with us his struggles in pursuing further studies abroad, a shared perspective in the legal profession, and a message to all law students hoping to be a part of the legal profession.

Barrista Solutions: What was running through your mind when you received the message that you were accepted at Harvard University for your LL.M?

Atty. David: I couldn’t believe it at first. HLS was the last school I applied to because I thought then that it was next to impossible to get into the school. Besides, even if I got admitted, I knew that I wouldn’t have enough money to fund my studies. I had heard from HLS alumni that the school was not the most generous with their financial aid offers. So, when I got the admission results, I had to check several times whether I had actually been admitted. I then wasted no time in reaching out to people who could help with additional funding for my tuition and living costs.

Barrista Solutions: Knowing that you already have an established legal career here in the Philippines, what made you grab the opportunity to study abroad?

Atty. David: I wouldn’t say that I already have an established legal career. And that’s one of the reasons why I considered doing further studies abroad in the first place. I practice and teach constitutional litigation and domestic and international arbitration in the Philippines. I owe it to my clients and my students to improve my knowledge and skills in these fields, and obtaining a master’s degree in a diverse academic environment was a way to do that.

Notably, when I left for the U.S., the Legal Education Board was still requiring an LL.M. degree for law professors to retain their teaching positions. That was, for sure, one of the more concrete reasons why I decided to pursue further studies. Although that requirement was eventually lifted while I was pursuing my LL.M., I wouldn’t have it any other way. Doing further studies abroad isn’t just about the courses one can take. I had the chance to learn from and interact firsthand with sitting Justices of the U.S. and California Supreme Courts, an adviser to the World Trade Organization, the former Vice President of the World Bank, and constitutional experts and historians. I also got the chance to meet and establish connections with lawyers and legal scholars from more than eighty countries and jurisdictions who have greatly enriched my view of the world.

Barrista Solutions: What kinds of pressure or obstacles did you surpass in order to push through with your LL.M?

Atty. David: Financial pressures, mostly, and network, partly. As I mentioned, I didn’t have enough funds to do further studies abroad. I had applied for financial aid from Harvard, and while the school generously extended financial grants and loans enough to cover the tuition and required school fees, the living costs were still too high. My colleagues at San Beda and some Harvard alumni I had only met then pitched in to reduce the loan aspect of my financial aid from Harvard and to cover some of my living expenses.

In terms of network, I found it challenging to prepare my application materials because, before me, only two other Bedans had been to HLS and they got their degrees fifty years ago. My friends’ and mentors’ inputs and advice on my application were no doubt invaluable and I wouldn’t have gotten in without their help. However, the application process would have been a lot more convenient if I had advice from people who had recent experience being in HLS, were familiar with the courses I could take, and knew of people I’d soon interact with.

Barrista Solutions: Who or what motivated you to pursue further studies?

Atty. David: I didn’t have any one thing or person in particular as my motivation. My family, of course, has always played an instrumental role in inspiring me to achieve my goals. My clients and students, like I said, are also a huge influence. In all, I think pursuing further studies abroad makes one realize how different legal systems are across the world—what laws work, what do not, and why. I am motivated to share what I know and I hope to be given the platform to do so.

Barrista Solutions: What are the most memorable lessons you learned studying in Harvard?

Atty. David: I learned to be more confident about my achievements and more accepting of my shortcomings. Being surrounded by legal experts from across the globe, conversing with native English speakers on a daily basis, interacting with people from different cultures, and living in a foreign environment could get overwhelming sometimes and there were days when I questioned my capabilities. But studying in Harvard isn’t about knowing everything. Rather, it’s about sharing your knowledge with your professors and classmates, and learning from them in the process. I remember on the last day of our class with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, I said that Philippine constitutional law still has a lot to learn from its American counterpart. She said, in response, that it was perhaps time for the U.S. Supreme Court to listen to its Philippine progeny.

Barrista Solutions: Being a professor of law here in the Philippines, how do you compare the current educational scheme we have here in the Philippines and that of the United States when it comes to the process of teaching and the methods of learning?

Atty. David: The Philippine legal education pedagogy is too formalistic and places too much emphasis on what the law is, rather than what it can or should be. Lawyers, of course must know the existing law and law schools should not dispense with that kind of education. However, the dominant mode of legal instruction in the country forces students to engage in note memorization and to look at laws in a vacuum. Not all lawyers know and challenge the reason behind and the foundation for existing laws and jurisprudence, choosing instead to be at the receiving end of simply applying laws and jurisprudence as they are written. This leaves the power and influence to create and change laws in the hands of the few lawyers who, by no coincidence, represent the interests of the rich and the powerful individuals and corporations.

Barrista Solutions: What are your suggestions in order to improve the current setting of the legal education here in the Philippines?

Atty. David: For starters, change the bar exam. The Philippine bar examinations are an archaic system of measuring aptitude for the legal profession. Much has been written about this by legal education experts and there are many approaches to it that I need not repeat, but my take on it is that the Supreme Court should consider reverting to a mixed multiple choice and essay exam. MCQs are much easier to correct, less subjective, and are not any less effective in measuring a person’s aptitude for practice of law. MCQs can be fashioned as hypothetical questions requiring the same amount of legal analysis as essay questions.

More emphasis should also be given to legal research and writing. This subject, if taught properly, can give students the tools to engage in deeper reflection about the law and help them become better writers and advocates.

Professors should also be willing and open to evaluation by their students. That way, professors and law school administrators know how effective they are as educators.

Barrista Solutions: What is your message to all the students of the law out there trying to be a part of the legal profession someday?

Atty. David: Take your legal studies seriously. Do it not simply for the sake of becoming a lawyer, because frankly, there are far nobler or more lucrative professions out there. Instead, think of your future clients. Every day, remind yourself that your future clients’ problems and woes will be yours too and you need to be able to effectively and ethically represent their cause. Are you ready for that challenge?

· Atty. Jose Angelo A. David is an Associate Solicitor at the Office of the Solicitor General. He was formerly an associate at the Angara Abello Concepcion Regala and Cruz Law Offices (ACCRALAW) before entering government service. He is also a professor of law in San Beda University and Far Eastern University.


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