Suits 2.0

is my Trade Tripper column in this weekend issue of BusinessWorld: 

That the rule of law is essential for a dynamic and prosperous society is now widely considered as gospel. It is therefore ironic that the profession directly and primarily entrusted with upholding it is oftentimes treated like a necessary nuisance. But contrary to conventional wisdom, however, the problem is not that we have too many lawyers but rather whether lawyers are adaptable to today’s shifting demands.

Even then, it’s inaccurate to say we have too many lawyers. Wikipedia (citing IBP data) says we presently have 40,000 living lawyers. Assuming that figure correct, we therefore have a “lawyer density” of 2.5 lawyers per 1,000 Filipinos (with an assumed population of 100,000,000). In which case, our lawyer density is well below that of the US (at 3.65 lawyers per 1,000 US citizens, and Spain’s 3.36, but above Italy’s 2.33 and Canada’s 2.20; see The Optimum Number of Lawyers, Stephen P. Magee, November 2010).

But the changed reality of the legal profession today is such that a huge number of those 40,000 lawyers are not into litigation. Most instead successfully parlayed their legal discipline as a more rigorous alternative to a Master’s degree to advance in their careers in corporate management, entrepreneurship, academe, government, or international economic or financial institutions. Thus, the number of lawyers actually providing traditional legal work is relatively small, the short supply probably explaining the country’s high legal costs.

So, it’s how to adapt and improve – not the quantity of – lawyers that’s crucial. Which leads to the matter as to what kind of legal education is most fitting. In 1954, a young man asked US Justice Felix Frankfurter the same exact question. His reply is as insightful now as it was then:

“No one can be a truly competent lawyer unless he is a cultivated man. If I were you I would forget about any technical preparation for the law. The best way to prepare for the law is to be a well-read person. Thus alone can one acquire the capacity to use the English language on paper and in speech and with the habits of clear thinking which only a truly liberal education can give. No less important for a lawyer is the cultivation of the imaginative faculties by reading poetry, seeing great paintings, in the original or in easily available reproductions, and listening to great music. Stock your mind with the deposit of much good reading, and widen and deepen your feelings by experiencing vicariously as much as possible the wonderful mysteries of the universe, and forget about your future career.”

The answer therefore: a humanities oriented, liberal arts education. Doubtless one must pass the Bar exams and one should indeed prepare for it. But a law career goes beyond the Bar, with consequences that will affect society in general due to the lawyer’s responsibilities in developing and upholding the rule of law.

This is why every law school loudly declares its ambition to produce lawyers mindful of the common good. But as one noted educator pointed out: “A desire to work for the common good is not enough. The way to make this desire effective is to form competent men and women who can transmit to others the maturity which they themselves have achieved.”

This “maturity” is achievable in several ways. One is PAREF schools’ highly successful system of “one-on-one mentoring”. Here, each student has a mentor he or she regularly chats with, forming a supportive relationship that develops the student’s personality, character, and over-all potential.

Another is instilling in law students the need for a moral compass, respect for human dignity, self-mastery, and strong faith – all the products of a good liberal education. And the reason is simple. While strictly respecting the freedom of students’ consciences, nevertheless, as the aforementioned educator advised: “A man who lacks religious formation is a man whose education is incomplete. That is why religion should be present in the universities, where it should be taught at the high, scholarly level of good theology. A university from which religion is absent is an incomplete university, it neglects a fundamental facet of human personality.”

Also necessary is for our lawyers to develop an “international” outlook. The constitutional “doctrine of incorporation” made this inevitable, what with international law forming part of the laws of the Philippines. But this globalization of our lawyers’ mindsets must also be based on pragmatic considerations, including particularly our nation’s interests. The decision of some local law schools to favor WTO or ICC courses (or even the EC), for example, has sadly come at the expense of lawyers being completely unfamiliar with the legal systems of our neighboring trading partners in ASEAN and APEC. 

In any event, it’ll be fascinating to see the University of Asia and the Pacific’s School of Law and Governance (slg.uap.asia) make good on its mission of producing cultured, multi-disciplined, ethical lawyers capable of responding ably to society’s altered demands on the legal profession.