When I finished high school, I never imagined myself becoming a lawyer. I came from a simple family. My father was a taxi driver and my mother was a waitress. There were no lawyers in our family and we have no lawyer relatives at all.
I still remember when we were asked to write down our dream jobs for our high school yearbook. While most of my classmates placed “To be an engineer“, “To be a doctor“, “To be a teacher“, I simply wrote down “To be a contented man“. I wrote that down because I wasn’t really dreaming big. But that was not an indication of uncertainty on my part nor a lack of direction. It was merely me being simple.
After high school graduation, the prospect of going to college was a bit bleak. My parents’ income was not sufficient to finance my college education. Fortunately, I was able to secure a scholarship which will pay part of my tuition expenses. At first, I was thinking of enrolling in engineering but then I realized, since my sister, herself a scholar, was already taking up architecture, maybe I should choose a different course – to have some diversity. So I decided to enroll in a different course. Nursing was one of the “boom” courses at that time. My sister accompanied me to the queue for the College of Nursing applicants. But while at the very long queue, I changed my mind, again. Patiently, my sister helped me browse through different course offerings until I came across Political Science. Honestly, I’ve never heard of that course when I was in high school but the subjects offered in Political Science intrigued me. And as fate would have it, I finished Political Science and that paved way for me taking up law.
After earning my degree in Political Science, I immediately quit my job at a fastfood chain (as I also worked part time because my scholarship did not cover non-tuition expenses). I was thinking, I am now a degree holder and I should have no trouble looking for a higher paying job. I was actually aiming to land a teaching job at the same university where I graduated. While applying for a college instructor position, I enrolled in one of the local law schools. Come day one of law school and I still did not land that teaching job. I tried other schools but none would accept me despite my decent GWA. Apparently, universities prefer applicants with masters or doctorate degrees. There was a bit of panic at that time already but midway through my first semester in law school, I was able to get a job, not as a college instructor, but as an English tutor to South Koreans.
My salary as a tutor was barely enough to cover my tuition, law books, and all other expenses needed to finance my legal studies. In fact, in order for me to take my final exams, I have to borrow money from my girlfriend (now my wife). I was a bit ashamed of myself at that time. I felt inadequate. After that semester, I decided to quit law school.
After quitting, I decided to be a call center agent. I was happy at first because I was earning a decent salary. But then, after two years of taking calls, I decided that was not how I want to spend the rest of my life.
I decided to go back to law school.
I decided to have a fresh start considering that I only finished one semester, which wasn’t much at all.
During the first two years of my return, I was able to balance my call center work and law school quite fine. But just like everything in life, law school will not be complete without a daunting challenge.
On the day of my final exam in Civil Procedure, I had to attend to my dying father. I still decided to go to school and took the exam, perhaps to divert my attention to something else. My dad died while I was taking the exam. After mourning my father’s death, I received news that I failed my Civ Pro exam. I kinda expected that. Now I am faced with the fact that I have to be delayed in law school since I cannot take up 3rd year classes without re-taking and passing Civ Pro which was only seasonally offered. To reduce the delay, I decided to switch to another law school. I did not have much choice but to go to a lesser regarded law school but hey, I believe in me more than I believe in any of these law schools. Interestingly though, and unfortunately, when I transferred, I was forced to retake law subjects I already passed – this was apparently due to the fact that the law curriculum between these law schools were different – something which was not mentioned to me before I processed my transfer credentials. But oh well, what was done was done. In short, the delay I was trying to avoid was not successfully averted.
So my law school life continued. Meanwhile, the account I was servicing for at the BPO where I was working at got dissolved. I was transferred to a financial account where we handled loan concerns. That account was a very stressful account because, unlike in the sales account where I came from, virtually all our callers in this financial account were irate. The stress I was taking at work was beginning to take a toll on my law studies. Suddenly, the work-school balance I had was fading. Now I am faced with the same dilemma of choosing between work and law school.
Fortunately though, a former schoolmate of mine offered an alternative job. This was my introduction to online jobs. My schoolmate introduced me to my first client and when I was certain that I can earn money from this new racket, I quit the call center job I had.
My first online job involved article writing and trafficking term papers abroad. I basically wrote term papers for U.S. students and also blog articles for various online niches. Eventually, I became a virtual assistant. As a virtual assistant, I learned to build and manage websites. I was lucky to have a client who allowed me to work on a flexible schedule to accommodate my law studies. This was the set up until I finished law school.
I was not able to attend our graduation day as I promised my boss I will make up for the absences I incurred when I was taking my final exams. I also did not throw any graduation party. To my mind, the battle is not yet over.
First thing I did once law school was over was to assess myself whether or not I am truly prepared to take the 2014 bar. Honestly, it did feel like a shot in the dark. At that time, I resolved that I shall file my petition to take the bar but if come bar month and I am not yet ready, I will definitely back out. No sense taking such a gamble anyway.
In my assessment, the subjects I am least prepared to take were Taxation, Civil Law, and Mercantile Law. So these subjects were what I intended to focus on during my review.
Next thing I did was to ask my boss how much leave time I can get. This was the tricky part because as per our initial agreement, I am entitled to 10 leave credits a year only – and I already used some of that during my final exams. It was difficult for both of us because first, I can’t afford to go on leave for a long time because then I will not have any money to support my review. Second, my boss can’t afford to have me go on leave for long because really, I have no substitute at work. We can’t simply get a temp and then entrust him or her access to all the websites I manage. At the end, we agreed I can have a one month leave which was the bar month itself.
For my review, I enrolled in two bar review programs, the other being an online review program, but only attended subjects where I need to build up on (the three subjects I mentioned earlier). I self-reviewed in the other bar subjects. I focused on the contents of the syllabus provided by the Supreme Court website. I gathered as many tips as possible. I was fortunate to have friends who have passed previous bar exams and they gave me advice and assistance.
Come bar month, I went down to Manila and searched for a place to stay for the month. I am not used to the lowland weather but I was thinking, I am sure it will be hotter in the exam room considering how tough the exams will be.
The first and second Sunday of exams went really well for me. Personally, I was thinking the second Sunday will be toughest but luckily, I was able to answer all the questions in both subjects. At that point, I thought the worst was over.
But inexplicably, on the night before the 3rd Sunday of exams, I found myself having trouble sleeping. I was only able to sleep for thirty minutes at 4 am. And when I opened the questionnaire for Mercantile Law, I cannot believe that my mind went blank. It also did not help that the start of our exam was delayed due to questions regarding the bar codes given us. Some of my roommates were doubting the correctness of the bar codes being placed on the notebooks issued to us at that time.
In total, I recall that there were six questions in Mercantile Law that I was not able to answer logically. Sure, I answered all the questions but I felt like the examiner will give me a zero rating in those six questions – and there’s no guarantee that the examiner will give me good ratings for each of the remaining questions. I can admit I was not able to present persuasive arguments in those six questions. That trend continued until the afternoon exams in Criminal Law where, again, I was not able to present logical answers in at least three questions. I went home feeling down but I really have no choice but to prepare for the final Sunday and get over with that bad performance.
In the evening before the 4th Sunday of exams, I again found myself sleepless. But unlike what happened the week before, I did not lie restlessly in bed. Instead, I sat down and read my reviewers on Remedial Law and Legal Ethics. Fortunately, my mind did not go blank in either subject when exam time came.
After the last exams, I was too exhausted. I was neither happy nor relieved nor sad. I just want to go home. So I went home and slept in perhaps the longest sleep I’ve had in years. The next day, I still cannot believe that the bar exams was over. I did not want to read any of the bar exam questionnaires which we took home. But in my assessment, the nine questions I messed up with will not lead to my flunking the bar – and I psyched myself up with that belief. I refused to go over those questions. In my mind, I passed the bar.
For the next months until the results were released, I avoided thoughts about the bar. I immediately went back to work. All those months, I did not revisit the questionnaires. I just don’t want to speculate. I don’t want to know if there were other questions I unwittingly and unconsciously messed up which were not apparent to me during the exams. Conversely, I did not get complacent. I know that sometimes, and this happened a lot in law school, even though you were so confident in your answers to a point where you expect high ratings, you still end up receiving low grades.
But as the month of March 2015 approaches, I cannot help but be anxious. Every lawyer who said that the waiting part is the hardest part is correct. There was a point where you just wanted to have the results regardless if you fail or not – just to kill the anxiety. There are also times where you wish you could stop time so that no one will ever know the results. That way you don’t have to experience defeat in case you failed. You see, it’s a lot of mixed emotions.
Then March 2015 came, at this point, I begin to manage my expectations. Some friends would bluntly ask me how I feel about my performance and I always say, I am confident in my answers but one can never really know. I’ve had several friends, and I know of several individuals, who took the bar ahead of me who were regarded as “bar bets” but surprisingly failed – so certainly, one can never be so sure. That being, I began to revisit my notes. I found myself reading cases again. I began looking for updates in jurisprudence. I was reviewing.
In the few days before the results were released, a lot of rumors were swirling around various online forum. One particular rumor from an alleged insider gave news that the passing rate was going to be 27%, which was encouraging considering that the previous bars’ passing rates were really low. Others were already telling from which schools the topnotchers will come. On the night before March 26, I decided not to work on any of my pending projects. However, I cannot sleep as the suspense kept me up. I was only able to sleep at 4.a.m. I woke up at 10:30 a.m. – an hour before the announced time of release. I did not eat breakfast. Instead, I opened a computer game and played for about 30 minutes. After that, I opened a browser and read a tweet from a news channel that the passing rate was only 18.82% – second lowest since the year 2000. This surely gave me more reasons to be nervous. My hands were numb as I patiently wait for the Supreme Court web page to load.
11:30 a.m. came and my computer screen still showed a blank Supreme Court page. I just sat there waiting. Later, I heard my wife screaming as she saw my name in the list of passers. She beat me to it! I wanted to cry but for some reason, my eyes did not well up. We just hugged each other and a few minutes later, congratulatory messages flooded my phone inbox as well as my social media inboxes. Surely, it was one of the happiest moments of my life.
A few hours passed and I found myself reflecting on all the ups and downs of law school. It was definitely a challenging part of my life. In total, I spent five and a half years in law school, worked three different jobs, and enrolled in three different law schools. I could have stopped and focused on a career. I could have stopped when I failed. But I didn’t. I was not contented but it wasn’t because I was greedy nor it was because I was ambitious. It’s simply because I have a dream which I wanted to fulfill. Surely, the adversities I faced weren’t as daunting as those faced by others but the lesson is the same, if you have a dream, you have to work for it. Because the reality is, success is not achieved simply by asking for it. I was just an average law student. But I always made sure I put up above-average effort. That, to me, was the key to surviving law school and the bar.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Howard Chan is the founder of UberDigests. You can read his other articles here. Some of these articles were written during his law school days. Don’t forget to comment your thoughts!