On Education and the Legal Profession: Inside the Mind of Atty. Valderrama
Updated: Jul 24, 2021
By: Archiebald Faller Capila
In a world plagued with different obstacles pertaining to chances and opportunities, we often see people who try their best to cope. Because of different circumstances that affect one’s career path, professionals often dwell on further studies so as to keep up with the pace of an ever-evolving world of transition and adaptability.
Here in the Philippines, we would hear about various students of knowledge who pursue further studies in order to learn more about their chosen field of expertise. Some pursue their respective Master’s Degree right after opening their minds for undergraduate studies. Some even push forward and aim for their Doctorate Degrees. On the other hand of the spectrum of further studies are those students who pursue Law and Medicine instead.
Accordingly, there are a few who take this up a notch. Some professionals take a second undergraduate degree in order to explore new grounds and be able to understand more about interesting subjects. There are some who view further studies as a key to a more progressive mindset. There are a lot of people who look at education as a beacon of hope and an instrument for improvement. Some believe that with the proper access to and utilization of such knowledge, we would eventually live in a better world.
While it is almost common to see a multitude of persons pursuing further studies, it is quite unusual to see some try to accomplish everything all at once. Believe it or not, there are some people who pursue two undergraduate degrees and take it to the next level by enrolling and eventually finishing graduate studies as well. In that small circle belongs a lawyer who is now familiar with a handful of trades—a lawyer who believes that when we are equipped with proper education, we could push forward and become a great nation.
Atty. Nico B. Valderrama is a firm believer of education. He believes that by expanding one’s arsenal with respect to brilliance and knowledge, the future would remain bright and burning. According to him, students who pursue additional courses, especially lawyers, could play a big role in developing the country and the socio-political and economic landscapes attached therewith.
In an exclusive interview with Barrista Solutions, Atty. Valderrama shares his thoughts on the importance of further studies and education, his opinions on the current legal landscape in the country, and his message to those students who will form part of important roles in the near future.
Barrista Solutions: You are one of the few lawyers in the country who has a degree in BS Accountancy and BA Political Science. You also have an MA in Public Management. For you, what role does education play in the success of an individual?
Atty. Valderrama: For me, education plays a very important role in success. What you learn in school really prepares you for what you really plan on doing or pursuing in the future. Like myself, I have chosen this career in the legal profession, this is something you just cannot learn from experience. Education is just as important as the experience outside of school. There are many things you need to learn not only within the four corners of a classroom but also outside of it. I am mindful of the importance of really going to school because I have chosen a career that really requires knowledge. There are really conventional ways of learning and mastering the subject in order to make me a better lawyer than I have planned for myself.
Barrista Solutions: Currently, you are taking up your Master of Laws at the University of the Philippines. Given your wide educational background, how does this current venture of yours differ from your past experiences in schooling?
Atty. Valderrama: It’s very hard to describe how to describe the past experiences. ‘Yung mga previous academic pursuit ko, except my Master’s Degree in Public Management, have very different approaches. I think here in my Master of Laws, I would describe it as very transformational. Some people would say “ano pa ang matutunan mo kung abogado ka na, CPA ka na, and kung matagal ka na sa practice?” The Master of Laws program of UP has showed us that there are so many things you could learn from. We become better versions of ourselves. If taking up Law and becoming a lawyer opened up a door for me, and inside that door is a vast amount of opportunity—taking up my Masters is making me see more opportunities doon sa loob na pinasok ko. It may not open more doors for me, but it makes me more useful and effective kung saan ako pumasok. I see things differently now compared to how I saw it when I was a lawyer before I started taking up my Masters of Law.
With respect to the level of difficulty, I could say that the approach is different from law school. What makes it manageable for us is that there is an increased level of cooperation. There is still a spirit of bayanihan in our batch. There is no competition. The focus of LLM is directed towards practice.
Barrista Solutions: You continue to inspire the current generation to pursue great things and become a true catalyst of change by having the profession put to good use. Back in your days as a student, who or what are the things that inspired you to study law?
Atty. Valderrama: I don’t recall that deep experience that really energized me to choose and pursue law. Although I knew back then that I wanted to be a lawyer, which was even in my high school yearbook, I wasn't really into that dream during that time. If you really ask me I really wanted to be a teacher. That’s why it took me a while before I formally entered law school. After college I went to take on my Master’s in Public Management, hoping that it will upstart my career in the academe. After teaching argumentation and debate, yun yung nagmulat sa akin. Dun ko nakita yung potential ko to become a lawyer. Also, as a graduate of Political Science, I knew that it was aligned with my advocacies. Ako kasi, I believe that lawyers can change countries. I told myself that I want to become a part of a circle who will have a hand in developing the future.
Barrista Solutions: After your law degree, it was only then when you decided to pursue your degree in Accountancy. For you, what inspired you to pursue such course after you became a lawyer?
Atty. Valderrama: I was already a part of a group of companies when I was in law school. I was being prepared to handle the legal department. After I became a lawyer, my practice was mostly corporate and taxation. In handling such assessments and audits, the practice was made challenging for me because wala akong accounting background. At first, I tried attending conferences for non-accountants, reading books and articles, and going through cases. But there is always this sense of parang kulang. Parang may kailangan pa akong mas maintindihan.
My father taught me to never stop learning. It’s not about collecting degrees. It is about being hungry for knowledge. If I really want to become a better version of myself, I would always have to think about how can I improve myself by knowing more or knowing better? I consulted my friend and what she thinks about my situation. I was torn between taking up my Doctorate degree in Public Management and taking up Accountancy. She told me that the latter will make my practice better.
Eventually, it was one of my best career decisions. Where I am right now is magnified because of me being a Certified Public Accountant as well. Do I regret not having accountancy first? No. Because kahit papaano, nagagamit ko yung knowledge ko sa Political Science, Public Management, and Law. Those degrees that I earned, they play an important role in my practice. I am blessed to be allowed to finish those.
Barrista Solutions: Because of the current pandemic, more practitioners and law professors are now using various virtual and online platforms in order to teach their respective classes. For you, is this more of an advantage or a disadvantage? Why?
Atty. Valderrama: It’s not black and white. For me, this pandemic sped up our need to catch up with the world—and that is our disadvantage. We are deprived of the transition. We are not yet fully connected. The world has been using online platforms for quite a time now. It is only today that we access the same.
In addition, kung ang titingnan mo is Metro Manila, we can do online learning. But the entire country is not as developed. How do we look at it? If there are people lagging behind other areas, anong effect nila diba? Kakaunti lang talaga ang nakakausad. We must bear in mind that there must be no student left behind.
You are trained and educated to become a lawyer. It is a question of how you help them catch up. There may be one deserving member of the legal profession out there and we deny him the opportunity just because of this pandemic. This is not just survival of the fittest. We need to help each other. Just imagine a country with a lot of great lawyers—imagine a system of legal education that trains and molds good lawyers. Great lawyers can be made. And the pandemic should not stop us from helping them, our students. If we need more lawyers, we need to train more lawyers. We need to reach out to those who want to become lawyers.
Barrista Solutions: What do you expect to change in the near future when it comes to the legal profession if and when the pandemic is over? What are you hoping for with respect to your practice as well?
Atty. Valderrama: The pandemic revealed to us that lawyers are not invulnerable beings that we think of. Even lawyers can suffer from mental health issues. Naging significant ang issue ng mental health even for practitioners during this pandemic. I really hope that it will be addressed soon. We see seminars for mental health on those who are in social media, for kids, teenagers, but mental health issues do not really choose a specific generation. It’s also a major issue as far as practitioners are concerned. We do not need to wait for more members of the profession to seriously suffer from this condition before we take serious steps.
Barrista Solutions: In your own opinion, what are the needed improvements with respect to the system of legal education here in our country?
Atty. Valderrama: We need to develop out of court resolutions. The profession is bigger than the litigation industry. As a professor, I would really want to see this aspect taught in law school more. There must be a formal class on what the law students need to learn. We do not want to clog the court. We need to highlight negotiation and mediation. That is actually ideal. It’s really the client’s call. You can do so many things to change things. Given that power, if we are fully equipped with such skills, then we can do more things.
Barrista Solutions: In today’s time, social media platforms have been very relevant when it comes to entertainment and information dissemination. For you, how should lawyers regulate their use of the same in order to make good of their sworn oath?
Atty. Valderrama: As lawyers, we should be mindful of what we say and how we conduct our private lives. This still reflects what the legal profession is all about. Being a lawyer, we have the responsibility to check what we post. People really value what lawyers say. Because of that kind of culture, we really have to be very careful. Read and study more about your positions before you share them. Think before you click. But even for those making a decision, we should be informed. We should study before we make critical decisions. Educate the people. Their decisions are based on what they know and sometimes, what they know comes from people like us.
Barrista Solutions: Recently, you opened up your new law firm. What are the challenges that you encountered in dealing with factors concerning your new chapter in your legal practice? How did you overcome such obstacles?
Atty. Valderrama: Opening up my law firm is not really an immediate decision. After I became a lawyer, I already have a side job. It really has to differ from my main job. I am still the general counsel of a group of companies. My greatest challenge was really finding the right people to work with. I am really passionate about my job. They need to be as passionate as I am. I am blessed that I am able to form the core team in growing the firm I just started. Because I still have a lot to do with respect to my other jobs, I really need to establish an open communication and continuous learning.
Barrista Solutions: If you could give a piece of advice or any form of message to your younger self, what would it be and why?
Atty. Valderrama: I would tell myself that your failures in life and in law school will make you a better lawyer. We question why we experience bad things. Being a lawyer and professor, I have appreciated these failures and how it impacted and inspired my students in dealing their my own failures. You learn the lesson from those who actually suffered. If you want to learn it your way, go learn it your way. I am not a topnotcher. I have no academic achievement whatsoever. But as a professor, one of my strengths would be the capability to relate to my students. Look at me now. There is still hope. You do not need to be perfect. I am as broken and as imperfect and yet I was able to push through. Work on your own strengths. No one can expect a perfect life.
Barrista Solutions: What are your tips and message to all law students out there dreaming of finishing law school and eventually passing the Bar exams any time soon?
Atty. Valderrama: With all that is happening around, never let it take away the reasons why you pursued this profession. You are the future. You can change the legal profession. We need to use this to overcome our personal challenges. The life of a lawyer gets harder as you progress. Always remind yourself that it is and will be worth the pain and failures. Never give up. Even though everything is against you, don’t give up. Remember that in the darkest moments of a client’s life, a good lawyer comes. That lawyer can be you.
Atty. Nico B. Valderrama is a lawyer and a certified public accountant by profession. He is a professor of law at the Arellano University School of Law and the Adamson University College of Law. He is likewise licensed to practice law in the State of New York, USA.