Updated: Feb 19, 2021
Law school is challenging and demanding. Even full-time students struggle and fail to make it. Law students aptly compares it to a jealous mistress. Thus, the study of the law requires focus, hard work and a great deal of dedication.
While most law students choose to study full-time. Some opt to pursue their law studies while having a full-time job. Yes, this can be a daunting prospect, but some successful lawyers can balance their studies with their career.
Atty. Earl Charles Villarin is one of them. Atty. Earl took up Law at the San Beda College of Law (Mendiola) where aside from being a full-time working student, he was also a full scholar of the Intellectual Property Association of the Philippine (IPAP). He was a consistent Dean’s Lister and was a member of the college’s legal aid program.
He took the Bar Exams in 2007 and was at the top 5 percent of the bar passers for that year. He has a Masters in Law Degree from the University of Western Australia and is a Solicitor admitted to the legal practice in Australia since July of this year.
In June 2012, he became a Certified Securities Specialist by the Philippine Stock Exchange (in partnership with the Ateneo Professional Schools). Atty. Earl achieved another feat in 2017 when he was recognized as the Top 300 Trademark Professionals in the world. Currently, Atty. Earl is the Vice-President for Legal and Compliance of Elev8 Holdings, Inc.
In an Interview with Barrista Solutions, Atty. Earl talks in-depth about his life as a working student and how this experience gave him a good head start to develop a career as a lawyer.
Barrista Solutions: What was your occupation when you were still in law school?
Atty. Earl: I was an Executive Assistant II, Office of the Press Secretary, Malacañang (1st -2nd year law school) and a Call Center Agent (inbound/outbound) - JP Morgan Chase and Tele Center, Inc. (3rd and 4th year)
Barrista Solutions: What made you decide to work while studying law?
Atty. Earl: It was a necessity. Finances were tight at that time and I had to finance my own studies plus I wanted to give back a little to the family.
Barrista Solutions: What motivated you to finish law?
Atty. Earl: I always wanted to become a lawyer (and I never saw myself other than that). I guess, that was my advantage against others since it has always been a dream. It was simply non-negotiable for me.
Barrista Solutions: Was there a time when you thought of giving up work so you can focus on your studies?
Atty. Earl: No, because if I stop work then I could not finance my studies. It was not a choice for me to take. However, to be honest, it was actually the other way around - there were multiple times that my employers wanted me to stop going to law school and concentrate in my work since I am already earning a lot. When JP Morgan Chase came to the Philippines in early 2000’s, the company offered me 3 times my salary, but it meant stopping law school. This was a crossroad for me. Many of my co-workers (some are employees who I actually trained before) are already directors and VPs who have their own teams in the Asia Pacific. It was a choice back then, but it was my dream - that meant giving up one for the other. You must keep on remembering that your job is the stepping stone and not the destination. The lines are harder to distinguish when money and promotion enter the picture. Many working students tend to go to the “safe” and “stable” option of just continuing with one’s work - and that is not a bad thing. It will always boil down to your priorities.
Barrista Solutions: How did you prepare for classes? Please let us know your routine.
Atty. Earl: It meant a lot of sleepless nights. Daily routine meant going to law school from 5 PM to 9 PM. After which, I will be going to Makati for my work at 9:30 PM to 7 AM the following day. I will be home by 8 AM and will be grabbing brunch on the way to my boarding house. I will be sleeping from 8 AM to 12 noon and will be studying from 12 noon to 5 PM. After, the cycle continues. The hard part there is during the weekend classes, which starts morning of Saturday (say, 8 AM) until the evening (around 8 PM or sometime 9 PM). During those times, I have not slept for more than 24 hours already. Instead of sleeping, I will be running to law school for my morning class.
Barrista Solutions: How many hours did you allot for study? How did you manage your time?
Atty. Earl: I usually allocate 5 hours a day for studying. That is the bare minimum.
Barrista Solutions: How did you keep your focus? How did you combat stress while studying?
Atty. Earl: Many working students will attest to this - the fact that you’re working is your way of relaxing and getting your mind out of the “bokya” or the failed exams. That is your great advantage from others - you do not have the time to think of your mistakes because you have to work, thus, you are able to “paradoxically” relax and unwind to a certain extent while you’re at work. Key piece of advice is do not attempt to explain law school to your co-workers and vice versa. You must maintain that Chinese wall for your sanity. Moreover, at the end of the day, they really won’t be able to comprehend it - it will be an exhausting and empty exercise. Thus, when in Rome, just do what the Romans do, as they say.
Barrista Solutions: What adjustments did you make when you were reviewing for the bar?
Atty. Earl: During the review, you are fighting with yourself. You no longer have classes to attend, thus, it is a matter of self-motivation during those grueling 6 months of review. Thus, like what Barrista Solutions is advocating, you will need to have a schedule right at the start. This will give you a structure and target. But work on your own pace. Please do not make it an excuse just to skim over your materials when you’re pressed in time. You will always be pressed in time, but you will need to have the integrity to leave only a topic when you fully understand it. Note that memorizing and understanding are two different things. During the review, focus on understanding as this will help you remember the law (and its spirit) rather than focusing on empty words. More importantly, you are working on your own time and pace, thus, try avoiding making comparisons with your classmates on your respective progress. This will only create unwarranted anxiety for you.
Barrista Solutions: Were you still working when you were reviewing for the bar? Please tell us about your review schedule.
Atty. Earl: I was working during the first four months of the review, but I already resigned during the last 2 months. The reason was that I did not want to give myself an excuse (or a scapegoat) if I fail the bar exams because I was working. In the same manner, even though I was not able to attend all the review classes, I still enrolled so as not to leave any room where I may justify failing the bar exams. My schedule during the last 2 months of the review was really studying 24/7, with breaks for an 8-hour sleep, an hour for meals, and another hour for recreation (watching news for current events and exercising). It was a marathon then, but I was lucky enough I survived.
Barrista Solutions: What subjects did you specifically focus on?
Atty. Earl: It was fairly equal for all subjects of the bar. I had a schedule and I tried (focus on the word “tried”) to have a double read of the review notes before leaving a subject matter.
Barrista Solutions: What was your mindset when you were preparing for the bar?
Atty. Earl: At the beginning of the review, my mindset was I wanted to top the bar but at the end of the review, it was simply not to repeat the rigorous review anymore. Either way though, failing the exam was not an option for me. It was a given for me.
Barrista Solutions: What was your reaction when you passed the bar exam?
Atty. Earl: When I passed, all the hard work and sleepless nights flashed before my eyes. I didn’t know what to feel exactly - except maybe extreme gratitude. I knew that it was not all my efforts - but the efforts of who supported me all throughout. In fact, I remember one of my co-workers telling me back then that when the bar results came, all of them were waiting for my name to show on the screen. When it appeared, it was broadcasted on the PA system of the whole office and they stopped working (we call it “off-break”, or “off-call”) for at least a minute or two to clap and be happy for me. For call centers, where each second is so important, that was an honor in itself.
Barrista Solutions: What advice would you give to the future barristas out there?
Atty. Earl: Remember the bar is not what will define you as a lawyer - it is each day you went to law school, those “bokyas”, those failed exams and the small triumphs in between. For those working students, don’t look at your situation as a disadvantage. You have the best of both worlds - use that to your advantage and you will go places.