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For a Bigger Cause: Insights and Lessons from Dean Gatdula

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

By: Atty. Archiebald Capila

“It’s a test of grit and perseverance and determination. Ultimately it will all boil down to why you are doing this. If it is for your own betterment, that would pale in comparison to somebody who is doing it out of sheer love for others.”

To most, the study and practice of law entails a grand scheme of jurisprudence and laws alone. The study of law, as some would say, is a training ground to become gladiators in a suit. The practice of it on the other hand, to some, is a life-long commitment to exchange legal banters with co-members of the profession.

However, such venture is never that simple. As current and future lawyers, we must be able to understand that the pursuit of the law forms part of a bigger cause. It is and will always be intertwined with other fields of specialization. Without other forms and functions of society, the legal profession cannot stand on its own.

To be able to understand this concept, law professors are called to ensure that the next generation of lawyers will be able to grasp the responsibility bestowed to practitioners of the law. Law professors are expected to share not only legal wisdom but life lessons as well in order to raise future lawyers who have with them a better understanding of philosophy, culture, and life in general.

These are daunting tasks to say the least. But we have in our country some lawyers who are up for the challenge.

Dean Jemy Gatdula of the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P) Institute of Law is among those at the frontlines of nurturing the next generation of lawyers. Aside from serving UA&P Law as Dean and law lecturer, Dean Gatdula has counseled clients, international organizations, and governments on international law and constitutional law. He is also a prominent opinions columnist for BusinessWorld and author of the classic book Natural Law and the Limits of Judicial Power. In sum, the Cambridge-trained lawyer is now considered the country’s most influential conservative Catholic intellectual.

In an exclusive interview with Barrista Solutions, Dean Gatdula shares his thoughts on the legal profession, the current dynamics and culture of UA&P Law, and the lessons he continues to share to his students.

Barrista Solutions: What or who inspired you to study and eventually practice law?

Dean Gatdula: What attracted me was always the fact that the law is there to put order and reason into society. In my ventures, I noticed problems that needed to be addressed. If there’s an ill in society, a disorder, a misprioritization of resources, or even the misgiving of allocation of value to what must be given to our society, the law is there to resolve them all. The study of law presented to me an avenue to where we can put order into people’s lives. Generally, it is the idea of applying justice equally to all—to eventually create a better society.

Barrista Solutions: If there be any, what are the major obstacles that you faced during your stint as a law student and how did you resolve them?

Dean Gatdula: To be honest I never felt there were obstacles. Yes, external circumstances have always been present in the study of law but they are normal—prerequisites even. Back then, I had the attitude to accept the fact that the workload will always be heavy and that the study is and will always be complex. We were subjected to pressure then. Perhaps it is a bit different now. But at that time, law students were expected to undergo a certain amount of direct pressure from the teachers.

It was more of putting up a consistency with respect to the work ethic that would match the demands. For me, the puzzle to be solved was to be able to show up consistently day in and day out. It was to be able to show the same performance, the same commitment, and the same discipline every day which I think, in essence, is what my law professors were trying to get out from me.

Even then, my attitude was that it was not an obstacle but a puzzle to be overcome. It was a series of tests where I had to perform in order to qualify to go on a higher level.

Barrista Solutions: If you can talk to your younger self who is currently engaged in the study of law, what advice would you give him?

Dean Gatdula: I would advise the younger Jemy to not take it all too seriously. I would tell him to be more relaxed and not to be too worried. Just relax and enjoy the four years you are in law school because that is one of the most interesting and joyful years. You get to meet people who will eventually become your friends and colleagues in your journey.

Barrista Solutions: What is the best lesson that you have learned in law school that you continue to hold close to your heart now that you are a seasoned lawyer?

Dean Gatdula: Essentially, it is the building of character. The recitations and the countless hours studying—all of it was to develop discipline and grit. It was also meant to carry the values and traits in a way that one does it with grace.

Even though we carry certain responsibilities, we nevertheless do it in a manner that is actually with propriety, civility, and cheerfulness. Look at it this way—whatever you study in law school, most of them will eventually be repealed and amended in the long run. New rulings will come out. New laws will eventually flourish.

But beneath the learning, what you are actually studying is not the law but the manner on how you do it. You are learning to develop fortitude and build the ability to persevere even though you are sleepy and confused. You learn on how to confront bad news from your professors. Even though there are people who say you cannot make it, behind that, you are learning to make it through by persevering.

That is the ultimate lesson you learn in law school. And also, not only do you persevere and develop grit, you do it with grace as well. The pressure that could break other people, we as lawyers in the end develop something—that toughness that we use to thrive under duress. And we use that ability to help other people more. People look to us when they are under pressure because they know that we can withstand that pressure.

Barrista Solutions: What led you to decide in practicing law as a professor and eventually as the Dean of University of Asia and the Pacific Institute of Law?

Dean Gatdula: It stemmed from my want to help others. For example, you found a restaurant and the food is good. The first instinct is to share it with your family and friends. I know that there is a huge amount of experience and insight that I have which I want to share. It turned out, perhaps, that these insights I have with me align with the functions of a Dean and so I took it as a responsibility and not merely as a privilege.

All of us know how hard law studies are. And if I can help more young people to become lawyers that our country needs, then why not? It is a responsibility I would be glad to bear.

Make no mistake—not everyone can be a lawyer. And the law is called a profession for a reason. The reason why we have law schools is not only to fulfill people’s dreams of becoming lawyers. There are law schools to ensure that the country has better lawyers. So, that is one responsibility we do not take lightly here in UA&P Law. It is incumbent upon us to ensure that the country have well-versed lawyers in different fields of specialization.

Ultimately, there is a greater good that must be considered. And the reason why we join the legal profession is to do that good. Bottomline is that the legal profession exists in order to serve society.

Barrista Solutions: What other visions do you have for your student aside from the fact that the study of law is not only for themselves but for our society?

Dean Gatdula: The vision of UA&P Law is to produce ethical, technically competent, and cultured lawyers. We want to produce lawyers who are not only competent here in the Philippines but anywhere in the world. We strive for them to be able to engage in a global practice. We want lawyers to be technically adept not only in the courtroom but in the boardroom as well.

One thing I also want my students to know as well as other aspiring law students is that when we accept you, we will take care of you as the professionals that you are. You are already college graduates. You are no longer naïve and young people. You are all professionals.

We treat each UA&P law student as a nation changer. Each of us, if we could tap into their specific talents, will be able to contribute to the positive change the country needs. Some may be very good in litigation. Some may be very good as managers. Some may be good as policy makers. Some may be good as academics or researchers. Here, we help law students tap into the very talent they have. And we always go for it.

We shy away as well from ruthlessly kicking out students. As much as possible, the moment that we chose you and admitted you in our law school, we want you to be a part of our family and community. Not everyone can be an academic legal scholar. However, you can be at the top of whatever legal specialization you would want to engage into. Everyone can be positive change makers.

Lastly, at UA&P Law, we give our students 100% support—our total commitment. All we ask in return is that our students do their job which is to learn the law and to always act with integrity. We want our students to be ethical, to not cheat, and to maintain honesty even if no one is watching. Ethics in law begins in law school and we take that very seriously in UA&P Law.

Barrista Solutions: What are the common problems that the faculty members of your law school encounter in teaching subjects and managing a law school? How do you address and resolve these problems as well?

Dean Gatdula: I think social media has in a way depreciated the capacity, ironically, the students in their technical capacity with regard to communication—in writing or speaking. It may appear in social media that we are able to articulate. But when it comes to communicating with respect to the legal profession, there lies a specific requirement or demand that we need to address.

Students have to work harder. Grammar, logic, and vocabulary are essential. There are also demands of one having to become a good advocate. It is the ability to convey the good thing that needs to be done and what you are presenting is the greater good.

Two other points is that in today’s world, we always have to remember that beyond the law, what is the focus is that of human relationships. We are not talking of statistics, numbers, and vague concepts. We are talking of actual people with actual experiences. We cannot simply view it as an experiment or view society as a big laboratory that we can experiment in.

In UA&P Law, we take a huge amount of time in imparting a liberal multi-disciplinary education. They should be very familiar with the concepts in philosophy, history, political thought because we have to tell our students that behind every legal provision you see are decades and thousands of years of trial and error of people before us. We should be careful in changing things that work. That is why for our students, justice, truth, freedom, and democracy are not only words. Behind them are decades, centuries, or thousands of years of experimentation by people.

Lastly, there is a lot of uncertainty when it comes to technology. Ultimately, we have to come to the conclusion that platforms using artificial intelligence is a tool to help and not one to replace lawyers. Like what I always say, a computer cannot duplicate grit. It cannot teach you to connect the dots and pinpoint what is important. Inside a person, one knows what is important. Your family, your faith, and your belief are important. A computer making a calculation will not be able to grasp that. Law is about humanity and human beings. Sometimes there is a tendency that we overidealize human beings. We have to understand that we are humans. We have flaws and faults.

Barrista Solutions: Over the years, the University of Asia and the Pacific Institute of Law has produced lawyers who are making their respective marks in the profession. What are your plans moving forward so as to ensure that your future graduates will raise the bar even higher?

Dean Gatdula: I want to emphasize that our students have a home here. They can rely on us to help them and guide them in whatever legal venture they wish to specialize in. We have a mentoring program we have always been proud of. It does not end when they take and eventually pass the Bar. We are here to guide them beyond their journey. Eventually, we will be opening a program from specific areas of law. It is also in our timetable that we will eventually come up with a graduate law program which includes a Master of Laws and a Doctor of Juridical Science degree.

We want our lawyers to realize that they are part of a greater discipline—which is the building of society. We do not look at law as an isolated matter. It works within a bigger aspect of life and society. And we should not be too proud to learn from the other discipline. We have to look at our brothers and sisters from other professions. We learn from them as well. As lawyers, we should accept the fact that we do not know everything.

Barrista Solutions: What is your message to all the students University of Asia and the Pacific Institute of Law who are doing their best to graduate at the aforesaid institution and eventually become lawyers?

Dean Gatdula: It’s a test of their grit and perseverance and determination. Ultimately, it will all go back to you. You will ask yourself on why are you pursuing law in the first place. If it is for your own betterment, that would pale in comparison to somebody who is doing it out of sheer love for others. It is incredibly a powerful motivation that you care for your family, country, and God.

The sheer desire to be called an attorney will be dwarfed by the fact that other students are doing this for a bigger cause. There is a saying that love endures all. Knowing that gives meaning to all the sufferings and troubles that need to be endured. The greater purpose is always something outside you. It’s not about you. Know why you are doing this.

Barrista Solutions: What is your message to aspiring law students who are considering University of Asia and the Pacific Institute of Law as their future school?

Dean Gatdula: Understand that we are a school that takes ethics, values and principles very seriously. We will be very happy to help you all and welcome them and nurture you all. The best way to prepare for law is not to think exclusively of the law but to be the best person you can be, for your God, for your family, for your country.

Being the best person you can be—ethical, virtuous, competent, cultured—is the best way to being a good lawyer.

Dean Gatdula shares his thoughts on the legal profession.

· Dean Jeremy I. Gatdula is the Dean of the University of Asia and the Pacific Institute of Law. He specializes in international law, constitutional law, and the philosophy of law. On scholarship from the Cambridge Overseas Trust, Dean Gatdula read international law at the University of Cambridge. Upon the invitation of the US State Department, he attended the Study of US Institutes (SUSI) program, focusing on constitutional law and political thought. He received his Doctor of Juridical Science degree from San Beda University where his dissertation work focused on the natural law, the Philippine Constitution, and the limits of judicial power. Aside from being a well-known author, he serves the National Transplant Ethics Committee as well as a member.

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