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Balancing Work and Law School Life: An Interview with Atty. Ross Gagate

Updated: Aug 25, 2021

By: Romer V. Yadao

“Age wrinkles the body. Quitting wrinkles the soul.” – Douglas MacArthur

While his classmates were deeply immersed in reading their books and cases in libraries or in the comfort of their homes, Atty. Ross Gagate was swinging it out to earn the much-needed money to support his daughter and his education. During weekends, while others socialize, he made it a habit to flip through his books, dissect the articles and apply the cases relative to them.

His goal is rather straightforward and that is to become a lawyer. It is a tough life and he acknowledges it. After all, he is not a stranger in disquietude. From the time that he set his sights on law school, he already has a daughter to support. How did he do it?

In an exclusive interview with Barrista Solutions, Atty. Ross Werle Gagate shares the struggles he encountered in law school and while doing so, being attuned with his work, what his daily routine was, and the mental fitness he prepared for toward his Bar Exam.

How did you prepare for law school?

It is a matter of commitment. Mentally, I already envisioned that being a lawyer is the only way in life. Financially, as much as possible, I save every centavo for my law school fund—delayed gratification as they say. Emotionally, I always have myself in the comfort of my family. Socially, I make sure that I also spend some time with my closest friends and fraternal brothers - Lex Leonum Fraternitas. Last, is discipline. I mastered what I needed to learn and learned from life’s lessons on failure.

This, too, is highlighted by the Mamba Mentality which not only helped me prepare for law school but get through it as well.

“Without studying, preparation, and practice, you're leaving the outcome to fate. I don't do fate. Fate is what results when you let life decide for you.” -Kobe Bryant

What was your occupation when you were still in law school?

I was a Financial Technology Risk Examiner (Financial Supervisor/Bank Examiner Specialist) of Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. I evaluate the financial technology risks, safety, and soundness of the BSP Supervised Financial Institutions.

What made you decide to work while studying law?

It’s just basic survival. I didn’t have the privilege to be a full-time student. I have to provide for my family. And I believe life and growth shouldn’t be limited to the boundaries of law school. The dream was to become a lawyer. Now, I am one. And that’s what matters.

What motivated you to finish Law School?

As I always tell, my family and the legacy of my elders before me. That’s what motivates me to move forward and continue our bloodline of lawyers.

Was there a time when you thought of giving up work so you can focus on your studies?

Every single day.

Work demands so much of my time that sometimes I’d be amazed at how I could read long cases during lunch break and then go back to my computer to submit a report due a few hours later.

But at the end of the day, I still need to work to support my family.

How did you prepare for the classes? Please let us know your routine.

The preparation is more of knowing the value of time and to efficiently manage it.

I usually wake up at 4:30 am to start my 2-hour readings. By 6:00 am I start my prep so I can be at work before 7:30 am (for the 8-hour work shift to end by 4:30 pm). I also read even during my lunch breaks.

After a shift, you’ll see me rushing to school before the 5:30-9:30 pm class. I usually get home at 10 pm. By then, I would make myself a quick dinner, freshen up, and get ready to start studying again until 1 am. Sleep, before I need to wake up at 4:30 am again.

It is a cycle that I have lived by for the rest of my law school years.

How many hours did you allot for study? How did you manage your time?

I make sure that every holiday, free cuts, and available time that I have will be dedicated to studying law. Because in law school, intelligence is not enough to survive.

The diligence to absorb as many legal doctrines and principles as you can and the grit to resiliently endure law school. These are the essential qualities one needs — not just to survive — but ultimately thrive in one of the noblest professions in our land.

So how many hours? At least 6 hours a day of monitored studying minutes. Monitored — meaning this does NOT include peeking at social media, checking emails, or even answering the “call of nature!”

How did you keep your focus?

Aside from the pride to not lose self-respect whenever a professor terrorizes students just to understand the doctrine of law, I simply prayed and kept on praying.

I also have a picture of my family on my phone so when I feel like giving up, I’d just look at those who I dedicate my struggles and sacrifices to. This reminds me of my purpose and why I still choose to persevere despite everything.

After all, it is all about delayed gratification.

How did you combat stress while studying?

I exercise from time to time. I listen to good music. And I spend whatever time blessed for me to have with my family. Of course, a bucket of beer with friends and “brods” also does the trick.

What adjustments did you make when you were reviewing for the Bar?

I only had limited available personal leaves to file, so I made most of every minute I can squeeze into study.

I also took regular Mock Bar exams to improve the manner of how I answer possible Bar questions. And I made it a daily habit to practice writing legibly by allotting at least a full hour each day.

Were you still working when you were reviewing for the Bar? Please tell us about your review schedule.

Yes, I was. I only took my leave 3 days before the Bar proper. So, what I did was to stick to my schedule and my Bar Review Center’s schedule.

I made sure I was done with the scheduled topic BEFORE attending class. Since I was working, online classes work for me. During weekends I would study from 4 am to 11 pm straight including online and/or in-class lectures.

What subjects did you specifically focus on?

I focused on subjects I deemed to be quite challenging. I also focused on scheduled morning Bar subjects namely Political Law, Civil Law, Mercantile Law, and Remedial Law.

What was your mindset when you were preparing for the Bar?

It was simple: “There is no next time.” I told myself it is either I pass the bar or just give up my life-long dream of becoming a lawyer. This gave me the urgency I needed to really get my head focused on the game.

What was your reaction when you passed the Bar Exam?

I was on self-quarantine during that time. After reading my name among those who have successfully passed the Bar, my initial reaction was: “Am I really looking at the right list?”

And once I confirmed it, I felt shivers all over. It was a huge hodge-podge of emotions. I finally made it! But because no one was beside me to share such joy, I just shouted it out and video called with my family who was also very emotional upon hearing the good news.

It was truly an amazing “euphoric” experience I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

How did you feel when you had to take the Lawyer’s Oath on a virtual platform?

It was bittersweet. The experience of the traditions I looked forward to ever since (such as taking my oath before the Justices of Supreme Court) made me somehow a bit sad and disappointed.

It wasn’t what I had envisioned. Nonetheless, it still made it much more memorable. A milestone in our Philippine Bar history and an extraordinary experience.

No pandemic will stop me from becoming a lawyer and to take my Lawyer’s Oath. With the current situation, we are in right now, it would be best to accept that this is the new normal.

Right now in the time of the so-called “New Normal”, how did you feel about having to work virtually?

It makes life easier and more efficient. One can enjoy the comfort of his or her home while working and being productive at the same. However, the common sentiment is the demarcation between work and private life.

What is your message to your colleagues in the profession of law who are frontliners as well in this time of pandemic?

We took an oath before God and before Men. But life is much more important above all. Stay safe, keep safe, and let us continue being instruments of justice in this “new society” best described by Sen. Jose Diokno in his letter to his son Popoy.

What is your final word to all law students trying to survive one day at a time while trapped in the new normal?

Allow me to borrow a quote that kept me sane in law school:

“If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

* Atty. Ross Werle Gagate is a graduate of Arellano University School of Law. He has been with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas as Financial Technology Risk Examiner of the Financial Supervision Sector while pursuing his Law Studies.

He is also a globally certified information security manager and certified information systems auditor, both of Which he acquired while studying law. He is also a Certified Securities Specialist of Philippine Stock Exchange.

He recently passed the Philippine Bar Exams and is one of the Lawyers who took the Oath virtually.


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