UA&P Law: First Class

my Trade Tripper column in the recent weekend issue of BusinessWorld:

On June 16, I did something I’ve done ever since I became a lawyer: walked into a classroom to begin the semester. It’s a routine that rarely varies. Everybody stands for a short silent prayer, then “I’m Jemy and the subject is Philosophy of Law (or Public International Law),” and classes begin. Which was exactly the thing I did last Monday. Except this time it felt different. Probably because it’s not every day one opens the very first school year of the country’s newest law school.

The University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P) School of Law and Governance finally held classes for its Juris Doctor law program -- with 31 brave students who’d rather break new ground than do ordinary. They come from a variety of fields: from political economy to business, film-making to medicine.

Before launching into the intricacies of the law, I told the students: “As you will find out, not only are you the ‘first class,’ you -- this day, this moment -- are also the culmination of 50 years of dreaming, planning and praying. As such, you, like your teachers, have the responsibility to be who this School is meant for: cultured, ethical, patriotic, professional lawyers and leaders of our society.”

They were reminded that this School will be different from other law schools to its very core: they are to treat one another as comrades; they are not (like other law students) to hide notes from each other or intentionally misplace library books, to never improperly approach (“gapang”) faculty for better grades. They are also to meet the pressures of law studies with restraint. In short: no dramas.

And the most unsettling for many that previously studied or are currently studying law: there is to be no shouting, cursing or vulgarities. This is a rule that extends even to the teachers. Everyone is to act, talk and dress like the professionals they’re meant to be.

This is not to say that the students will not be toughened up for the profession they seek to enter. The monstrous amount of reading, the relentless questioning from the teachers, and the very nature of law study itself will see to that.

And indeed they need to be tough. Aside from the many ethical and competitive challenges that lawyers today face, the law profession itself inevitably confronts a fundamental shift.

As John O. McGinnis and Russell G. Pearce (in their 2014 paper “The Great Disruption: How Machine Intelligence Will Transform the Role of Lawyers In the Delivery of Legal Services”) declares: “Machines are coming to disrupt the legal profession and that bar regulation cannot stop them. Machine intelligence is not a one-time event that lawyers will have to accommodate. Instead, it is an accelerating force that will invade an ever-larger territory and exercise a more firm dominion over this larger area.” In the areas of “discovery, legal search, document generation, brief generation, and prediction of case outcomes,” lawyers will be edged out by technology.

UA&P presciently foresaw such changes. As such, its law graduates (more than mere court technicians) should be capable of researching, planning and strategizing for or heading organizations of whatever nature (public or private). As Columbia Law School Dean David Schizer, in an interview with the Financial Times, points out: “You want the people who run the organization to think like lawyers; and you want the lawyers to think like people who run the organization.” This, he argues, “should inform how the law is taught because graduates often end up not as practicing lawyers but running businesses.”

One way UA&P is doing that is by training its students not only in the technicalities of the law but doing so within the context of a truly liberal education. In other words, to train our future lawyers how to think critically.

Unfortunately, “critical thinking” for many schools (and media) today means automatically opposing Church doctrine, the traditional family, traditional marriage, to be anti-American (or “anti” something), and to reject the idea of a strong Philippine republic.

But a true liberal education, as Robert George demonstrates (in his essay “Academic Freedom and the Liberal Arts”), “assumes, to be sure, that there are right answers to great moral and existential questions. It is the enemy, not the friend, of moral relativism. But liberal arts teaching is not fundamentally about telling students what the right answers are -- even when we are justifiably confident that we have the right answers. It is about considering arguments and counterarguments, and examining competing points of view.”

Theodore Roosevelt once said: “To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.”

Regrettably, law schools past have produced such menaces to our society, many disguised as the “socially aware” self-righteous kind. It is our hope that the UA&P School of Law and Governance will be different from them, producing lawyers truly worthy of the “noble profession.”