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Setting the Bar: The Study and Practice of Law with Atty. Alcobilla

Updated: Jul 2, 2021

By: Archiebald Faller Capila

Atty. Alcobilla- the 2014 Philippine Bar Topnotcher shares insights on the legal Profession and the current trend in legal education in the country.

It is without a shadow of a doubt that the study and practice of law in today’s time have changed because of the current health crisis. The legal profession, although it has withstood the tests of time, has now fallen victim to a point of reform because of the pandemic we are all trying to figure out. Indeed, the study and practice of law will never be the same again.

From the digitalization of the Bar examinations, the shift towards online platforms for law school classes, and the inevitable teleconferences for hearings and other legal meetings, the world of the law has now reached a turning point. Accordingly, those engaged in the study and practice are still finding ways on how to fully adapt to the new normal.

As mentioned, no one is spared. In the legal profession, there lie the names of practitioners who have seen, witnessed, and eventually became a part of the said transition. The said reforms do not care as to what your standing is in the circles of the profession. Whether you are already an expert when it comes to the profession or just a starting student who has a relevant amount of experience with respect to law school, it is most likely that you are a victim of today’s time.

And at this point in time, we ask ourselves—how do lawyers handle their respective works in this taxing time? How does a lawyer set new bars to meet in order to remain afloat in the practice of law? In this circle of lawyers is a young and progressive mind who has personally experienced the abrupt transition of our procedures and methods in the study and practice of law—Atty. Irene Mae B. Alcobilla.

After topping the Bar, Atty. Alcobilla engaged in practice as an associate while teaching law. Indeed, she has seen how various aspects of the profession have been gravely affected. In an exclusive interview with Barrista Solutions, Atty. Alcobilla shares with us how she adapted to the new normal, her thoughts on the profession in general, and her message and tips to all law students aiming to pass and even top the Bar examinations.

Barrista Solutions: The current pandemic has affected all professions in the country, including that of the practice of law. What do you think should be the major adjustments of practicing lawyers in order to keep up with the “new normal”?

Atty. Alcobilla: The CoViD-19 pandemic caused not only major but also abrupt changes in the legal practice that no one has really anticipated or has fully prepared for. A few months into community quarantine, the judiciary, for instance, adopted hearings via videoconferencing. Not only that this mode is unconventional, this may also be problematic because of poor internet connection, impractical application in some court proceedings, e.g., presentation of documentary evidence where, at times, physical examination of documents is required, and generally challenging to the more senior law practitioners. It has also become increasingly common for courts and parties to use e-mail in sending advance copies of pleadings and some court documents to facilitate faster communication. Similarly, in-house or internal meetings are also being done online. Thus, to keep up with the “new normal,” it is essential for practicing lawyers to be more adept at technology.

Despite all the challenges, I see an opportunity for technology to pave the way to a swift and efficient administration of justice, without being bound by distance and time. I believe that with the proper and ethical use of technology, we will emerge mightier than the challenges brought about by the pandemic.

Barrista Solutions: Our legal education is one of the aspects gravely affected by the said pandemic. As a professor of law yourself, what major changes have you done with respect to the manner of teaching?

Atty. Alcobilla: The onset of pandemic last year and the imposition of community quarantine in the middle of the second semester forced us law professors to adopt online and distance education. It was a sudden change from a traditional classroom set-up to a fully online structure, which may either be synchronous or asynchronous. Students’ activities, while virtually connected, are beyond our peripheral vision. What is more challenging is the conduct of examinations, which requires that we strike a balance in allowing that it be administered remotely and ensuring that its integrity is not compromised.

For my students, I had to set a time limit for each question, which is separately (as opposed to in bulk) sent via e-mail to all students. For me, a time-pressured exam reduces the likelihood of discussion and cheating among students, as they will be forced to focus on answering the questions due to limited time.

Barrista Solutions: Being a professor in these times, you now see the study of law from a different perspective. What are the changes that you notice with respect to law students nowadays in their pursuit of a law degree, if any? What are the similarities and differences with respect to your methods compared to that of today’s students?

Atty. Alcobilla: Except for the medium of teaching/learning, I don’t think there is any major difference in the ways of students’ pursuit of a law degree. While we now hold classes fully online, and obviously have not met one another in person, students are still required to learn and study outside of the regular class schedules by giving them assignments ahead of time; they still prepare case digests – only that this time, their outputs will be sent via e-mail or stored in a drive; and they still recite and take quizzes during class hours (as in pre-pandemic times). The distance learning currently adopted is good for law students who want to study law in their chosen law schools, without abandoning their current jobs, and regardless of their locations. I really think this is a good opportunity for them.

Barrista Solutions: Aside from being a professor of law, you have been engaged in different activities concerning the legal profession in general. How do you manage your time in attending to your different duties and responsibilities?

Atty. Alcobilla: It is not easy to juggle my time among my regular employment, professorial engagements, and community work commitments. However, if you decide to involve yourself in a certain endeavor, you must always give your 100% commitment, no matter the circumstance. Practically, no one is fully prepared for every endeavor – the work will always be there to catch up with you, and the day will always be too short to finish everything. Nonetheless, what matters most is that you put your heart into it, you keep up the hard work, and continuously feel inspired in doing your job.

In my case, I am inspired by my many dreams for myself, and the dreams of others who may be less fortunate than me. I feel privileged that I can help them achieve their goals while working on mine at the same time.

Barrista Solutions: It has been said and proven by many practitioners that the study of law and the actual practice is different in so many ways. For you, what were the lessons you have picked up in law school that you continue to use today in your career?

Atty. Alcobilla: It is not possible for law students to learn everything in law school. After law school, it is a lawyer’s sole responsibility to keep himself abreast with the legal developments. Indeed, the law is dynamic, and legal practice is a continuous learning process. Confusion will get in the way too, and I think it will always be there. Insofar as the lessons that I picked up from law school are concerned, I keep close to my heart and continually remind myself of one practical lesson: that lawyering is a profession, not a business; its primary consideration is the duty to public service, and not money.

Barrista Solutions: A couple of years ago, it was announced that you placed first among 1,126 Bar passers. Looking back, what are the major changes that you have encountered with respect to your personal practice after accomplishing such a feat?

Atty. Alcobilla: I am grateful for that experience, but placing in the Bar exams also poses some challenges: (a) you get compared with others; (b) there are generally higher expectations set for you compared to your counterparts, and (c) there are some people who tend to make a big deal out of your blunders than your accomplishments. It may be natural for people to expect more from you, and that’s the reason why I consider it a challenge than a problem. My rule is that I will create my own path and follow it at my own pace, regardless of the expectations of others.

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. Alcobilla: Given my humble beginnings, I had a limited understanding of law practice – one that revolves around protecting one’s family from abusers, giving legal advice to the poor, and getting innocent people out of prison. I never even considered the legal profession as something lucrative because, in Antique, where I grew up, I often saw lawyers being paid by pauper litigants with vegetables, fruit harvests, live native chickens, or goats. It was my grand uncle, the late Atty. Oseo T. Alcobilla who inspired me to take up law. He lived a modest lifestyle and rendered honest service to the poor. Thus, I never really imagined myself wallowing in wealth when I become a lawyer. My younger self also imagined that I would be the defender of my family and relatives from potential abuses and harassment.

Barrista Solutions: What are the advocacies that you wish to impart to your students and co-members of the legal profession?

Atty. Alcobilla: As lawyers, we would feel drained if we merely perform our jobs and chase our dreams just for our personal satisfaction, and forget about other members of the community who may be in need of our help. So, to feel motivated and to have a great sense of purpose and responsibility, I encourage my colleagues in the legal profession, as well as law students, to be involved in uplifting the welfare of our less fortunate brothers and sisters in the community, even through means that are not necessarily connected with the practice of the legal profession. Having an impact in the community that we live in is what truly makes our life more meaningful.

As the late United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg aptly puts it, “…if you want to be a true professional, you will do something outside yourself, something to repair tears in your community, something to make life a little better for people less fortunate than you.”

Barrista Solutions: If you could give a piece of advice or any form of a message to your younger self, what would it be?

Atty. Alcobilla:

Dear Young Irene,

Enjoy the blissfulness of your sanctuary, the calmness of the green fields, the freshness of the air, the kiss of the sun, even the roughness of the road, the weight of your bag, and the harshness of the waves. Appreciate every little moment of your fragile life. Remember that it is okay to commit mistakes. It is fine to fall and cry. It is also good to lose sometimes. Every little memory you create will later be priceless. The lessons you will learn have their purpose. You will miss all of it. But note that, while you enjoy the happiness accompanying your youth, you are also creating your future. Be neither dismayed nor excited. Just do your best. At the end of the tunnel, life has a lot of surprises.


Your Older Self

Atty. Alcobilla, a Philippine Bar Topnotcher shares inspiring insights about life, the legal profession and the study of Law.

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

Atty. Alcobilla: I can sum up all the tips into three: Study smart. Sleep well. Pray.

Believe them when they say that, “the Law is a jealous mistress, and requires a long and constant courtship.” First, you must really give time to your lessons – read, understand and imagine the textual provisions, and case laws. Second, you also need to give yourself enough sleep and rest to recharge and be more productive. It is hard to absorb and concentrate while studying when you are sleep-deprived. It is even harder when you are answering the Bar exams. Finally, nourish your soul with prayer to be more steadfast, strong, and inspired that all you work hard for will come to fruition someday. All your hard work and dedication will surely pay off someday.

· Atty. Irene Mae B. Alcobilla is currently a Legal Officer at the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. She also serves as a professor of law at San Beda University, University of Asia and the Pacific, and Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila. She graduated from the San Beda University College of Law and placed 1st in the 2014 Bar examinations. Accordingly, she obtained her degree in political science at West Visayas State University wherein she graduated Magna Cum Laude.

For more inspiring stories of esteemed members of the Philippine Bar, view articles on Barrista Profiles.

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