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Becoming Practical and Limitless: Tips on Studying from Atty. Manila

Updated: Oct 7, 2022

By: Archiebald Faller- Capila

The study and eventual practice of law remain to be a puzzle only a few understand. These are but processes that we need to experience first-hand in order to fully grasp the idea on how things work inside and outside the legal profession.

Known to many as branches that are hard to intertwine, the study and practice are somewhat limited to the articles we read, the movies we see, and the stories we hear. In addition to which, there remain several versions which we try to understand so that we can wrap our minds around them.

One of the many aspects of the profession is the studying part—the law school proper wherein students are obliged to acquire legal knowledge in order to prepare for the bar. Taxing as it is in every aspect, the study of law is indeed in a league of its own. Those who enroll in law school are expected to memorize, understand, and even apply certain legal knowledge in situations that need to be solved.

However, as simple as it may seem, the study requires its students several factors. Life in law school is a tiring yet fruitful venture that calls for discipline, respect, and knowledge of the law. But while we already have a lot of stories from several lawyers on how to study, we still need proper inspiration in order to be successful in our chosen fields.

Accordingly, information and lessons from various legal minds are not harmful for as long as we filter them out and see to it that we apply in our daily lives what’s best for us. In addition, the study of law does not only call for activities within the sacred halls of law school. The study requires from its students additional effort in activities that go beyond textbooks and codals. Law school requires from its enrollees an understanding that real life situations are in need of legal application—and a student can only resolve the same by engaging in activities outside their classrooms.

How can we study and eventually prepare for the Bar while pushing for advocacies through a multitude of activities? In an exclusive interview with Barrista Solutions, Atty. Antonio Ceasar Manila shares his insights on the matter beforehand.

Currently a Court Attorney for the Office of Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo and the Director of the Office of the Legal Aid of Centro Escolar University – School of Law and Jurisprudence, Atty. Manila has under his belt ample experience in various fields of the legal profession. Take a look at his life in law school, his experience as a student of the profession, and his tips and message to all law students hoping to pass the Bar soon.

Barrista Solutions: Who and what inspired you to pursue further studies in law? Looking back, how do you describe your journey as a lawyer today?

Atty. Manila: My inclination towards the study of law culminated when I was still an undergraduate student at the University of the Philippines Los Banos. I took up Economics and there, I realized that I am fond of human behavior on how things work in general. During such time, I was seeking something more. I wanted to do more in life. There was this desire in me to maximize my talent and hopefully explore public service. That is why I wanted to pursue law. As for my law school journey, I could say that it was exciting, challenging, and satisfying all at the same time. I could say that some of the best times in my life happened when I was still a student of the law.

Barrista Solutions: What are the lessons that you learned in law school that you continue to reflect upon today as an esteemed member of the legal profession?

Atty. Manila: One lesson that I learned in law school, which I still apply today, is always to stay grounded. In addition, being prepared at all times also come hand-in-hand with such lesson. If we did not study for a recitation or an examination, we need to bear the consequence. We always have that responsibility to be prepared. In practice, there will always be a lot of time when you will get praised and everything. Do not let this go to your head. Stay humble. Just ensure that you are doing a great job in promoting the essence of the law.

Barrista Solutions: After acquiring a lot of legal knowledge in law school, what made you decide to raise the bar even more and eventually enroll in the Master of Laws program of Columbia University? How did this experience mold you into the lawyer you are today?

Atty. Manila: In my stint in law school, I really enjoyed studying. I wanted to learn more after such, even the same be considered as a daunting task. I applied to several schools and universities for scholarships. It was not easy. But I was determined to pursue legal studies beyond law school proper. Luckily, I was granted a Fulbright scholarship. Taking up my Master of Laws at Columbia is an experience I will cherish for a very long time.

Studying there gave me a broad perspective. It gave me a glimpse of how vast the profession really is. There, I learned that we must not limit ourselves. I even remember that my study there was about weakening judicial review. If the same was to be introduced here in the Philippines, it will be riddled by criticisms. But there, it was accepted because of the vast scope of the law. For them, every topic is a possible contributor to the expansion of legal development.

Barrista Solutions: If given the chance, what message would you relay to your younger self?

Atty. Manila: I would say never stop learning. When I was in law school, I thought that there is always a deadline or time constraint. We tend to think of timelines—that we need to finish school by this time, we need to be this person by this year, we need to get a job or get married by this age, etc. After experiencing so much in this profession, I could say that there is no deadline. There is no limit. The only one limiting you is yourself. That pressure we think of often has always been in our minds, and we must change that.

Barrista Solutions: In today’s time wherein the world is currently experiencing a health crisis, how do you, as a lawyer, promote your advocacies effectively?

Atty. Manila: I learned two things. First, lawyers must adapt to technological advancements. Everything is now conducted virtually. We need to adapt. We must be resourceful. Online learning and transactions, I believe, will no longer cease even after the pandemic.

Second, we must remain empathic. As lawyers, we handle very grave cases. At times, we become apathetic. This current crisis must be an eye-opener that lawyers must be emphatic. It should not be construed as a weakness. It will only show that we are helpful to another.

Accordingly, we must be practical as well. For me, being the Director of our Legal Aid, I could share with my students some tips on how to handle cases in real life. Our legal system and legal education are too theoretical. We must learn how to be practical in all aspects as well.

Barrista Solutions: You are also a law professor in several colleges. For you, what is the role of law professors in honing the future of the legal profession? What are some means and methods that you apply in order to inspire your students?

Atty. Manila: When I was a law student, I always said that I will be a law professor someday. The way that you practice law is somewhat based on your training as a law student. One thing that I realized is that the academe should not be focused on mere memorization. I think they should also inspire. Anyone can just read a book and codal and memorize. How will you motivate a student beyond classes? It’s still through inspiring them to pursue their further studies. We need to teach and to inspire as well.

I am always for the practical aspect of learning. We do not need to memorize lessons only. We have to apply them as well. As mentioned, I was not that good in memorization. So, I invested in critical thinking. This is what I teach as well to inspire my students. In addition, I teach them to apply the law in real settings. I encourage them to read current policies of the state, check their social media feeds, and eventually apply all legal lessons in real life.

Barrista Solutions: Personally, how important is the role of law students in ensuring the quality of legal services in the near future?

Atty. Manila: For me, it is very indispensable. There are no limits. You are protected by academic freedom. You have more freedom compared to a lawyer. You can write policies and introduce radical changes. You can join your school’s legal aid clinic, debate team, student government, or even the Bar operations. These are the advantages of being a law student. You have a better advantage because you do not have a limit. The only limitation is yourself. Having a limitless role in law school gives you the freedom to learn new things for your practice in the future. The things you do in law school will always affect your practice.

Barrista Solutions: During your time, how did you prepare for your Bar exams? What were the major obstacles, if any, that you had to go through and overcome along the way?

Atty. Manila: The Bar is the hardest licensure examination in the Philippines. Even the best and brightest fail. It is a very difficult task. For me, one needs to prepare as much as he can. Provide a schedule. Stick to your calendar. For every week, assign a book or material. Check on your progress each and every time. If you are having a slump, it’s okay to rest. Protect your mental well-being. It is very difficult to prepare for the Bar if you can’t.

My problem was that I was a night owl in law school. The same schedule went for four years. I had to adjust my schedule in preparing for the Bar because the exams, as we know it, are conducted during mornings. I had to manage my sleeping time.

And might I reiterate, I was bad at memorization. So, I had to be critical on what I read. I only memorized the key words in a particular law. I eventually analyze them and apply these to certain questions.

Barrista Solutions: As an esteemed member of the legal profession, what are your tips to law students who are fighting for certain advocacies inside and outside of law school?

Atty. Manila: My tip is just continue your journey and never be afraid. As law students, you are studying the rights of a particular person. These rights can be exercised. Whether they be human rights, environment rights, sports rights, publication rights—continue to study and exercise them. There is no limit. It’s only through our continued advocacies that we contribute to legal development. If we limit our law students, we limit our future members of the legal profession. If you think you are getting behind, stop. We all have our own advocacies. Push for it and never stop pushing for it.

Barrista Solutions: What are your tips to all law students out there dreaming of passing and even topping the Bar exams?

Atty. Manila: When I was a law student, it was always reiterated that we should pass the Bar because it reflects what we have learned in law school. Our country is very Bar-centric. It is concentrated in passing the Bar. At times, it hinders the practical aspect of the law. My tip is that if you look at the Bar as a key in applying your advocacies in the future, you will see it as a capable challenge only. It is not the alpha and the omega.

However, you must still accept the fact that it is a daunting task. Do not relax in studying for the Bar. Be well-prepared. If you studied well in law school, if you have discipline, then you can pass the Bar. It is not impossible.

Barrista Solutions: What is your message to all aspiring lawyers out there who want to contribute to the betterment of the country through the legal profession?

Atty. Manila: Never say you can’t. Nobody should be limiting yourself. Even in law school, the only limitation is yourself. You must be contributing in your own behalf. You must always maintain your integrity.

· Atty. Antonio Ceasar Manila recently finished his Master of Laws at Columbia Law School, Columbia University, New York, USA, where he received the Harlan Stone Award, under the U.S. Fulbright Graduate Student Program. He is also a Court Attorney VI at the Office of the Chief Justice, Supreme Court of the Philippines; member of the Supreme Court Committee on the Revision of the Rules of Court; Law Professor at the Far Eastern University – Institute of Law, Centro Escolar University – School of Law and Jurisprudence, and De La Salle Lipa – College of Law, teaching the subjects of Criminal Law Review, Clinical Legal Education, Civil Procedure, Criminal Procedure, among others; and Director of the CEU-SLAJ Office of the Legal Aid.

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