THE PATHS I HAVE SEEN

Wearing a suit, I stand from a wooden chair different from those on the other side of the bar. I give my courtesy to the judge as I approach the witness stand. I pause for a second or two, saving just enough time to allow the anticipation of my audience in the courtroom to reach its climax. I take one deep breath. A demeaning look to the witness quickly follows. With a subtle smirk, I begin my interrogation. I throw questions one after the other, giving the nervous witness just enough seconds to breathe.  From the corner of my eye, I see my opposing counsel gearing up to object. But he does not. He cannot utter a word. Just like those on the other side of the bar, he becomes my audience. He is stunned by the way I cross-examine his client’s witness. At this point, I am confident that I have ensured my client’s victory. I end the cross-examination with a bold statement that gives the judge no other option but to decide in my client’s favor. The hearing adjourns. Everyone in the courtroom looks at me with admiration.

This is how I pictured myself as a lawyer on my first day as a student of the Ateneo Law School. At the time, I did not expect that the next two years would expose me to the different ways of living out the legal profession. Back then, my sole reason for being in the Ateneo was to ensure that I become one of the most esteemed litigation lawyers in the country.

The Path to Becoming an Educator

I first recognized that there exist other ways of living out the profession through my professor in Sales Law. It happened during one of our most mentally exhausting classes. When he called out my name, I confidently stood, knowing that I spent a good number of hours studying for the day’s lesson. To my surprise, none of the things I read could answer his question.  He made me sit down. He gave the answer to his question. The answer did not come from our assigned readings; rather, it required an analysis of the assigned texts. From there, he explained that our pursuit in the study of law must not stop at being familiar with it. Rather, we should always aim for the harder pursuit of understanding the law. He continued by imparting to us that it is only when we finally understand the law that we will start to see its loopholes, inconsistencies, and insufficiencies.

In less than ten minutes, he shared with us the idea that lawyering does not end in becoming familiar with the different provisions and doctrines of law. Like what his former professor did to him, he left with me the desire of acquiring the “habit of never taking any proposition, provision, policy or rule, at face value and to subject all aspects of legal issues to the test of analysis[.]” (Villanueva v) Because of him, I became aware of my responsibility as a student of law to constantly analyze it and to ensure that it is always responsive to the society that it seeks to govern. And with the wisdom that he passed on to me that day, he also ingrained in me a desire to ensure that students of law, regardless of the school from which they come, receive the same wisdom.

The Path to Becoming a Member of the Judiciary

I unexpectedly recognized another way of living out the profession through the Ateneo Law Journal. One time, while waiting for the senior editor I was to consult with, I decided to browse through the previous issues of the Journal. As I scanned through each issue, I saw names of persons in the Judiciary whom I admire. I realized that their ponencias best embodied the values that were starting to form in me because of the Journal. I recalled a sentence in the acceptance letter given to me by the Journal. In that sentence, I learned one of the Journal’s goals — to share in “Ateneo Law School’s responsibility of molding persons-for-others by being a conscience for decision-making[.]” (Purisima)

By being in the Journal, these Justices were not only given the chance to guard the country’s legal system through legal scholarship. I believe that their experiences in the Journal also inspired them to aspire for positions in the Judiciary. In the Journal, we always face the challenge of answering novel questions of law within the standards of legal scholarship.  In my experience, I get a sense of fulfillment each time I accomplish this task. Perhaps, these Justices also felt the same during their years in the Journal. And maybe, this sense of fulfillment was one of the things that inspired them to be a member of the Judiciary.

As I browsed through their names in the Journal, I started to see another path. I figured that the fulfillment that I only get from working in the Journal is leading me to a path that some of its previous members chose to traverse — the Judiciary.

The Path to Becoming an Alternative Lawyer

Recently, I glimpsed another path. It happened while I was living in the mountains of Quezon as an intern of Ateneo Human Rights Center. During a local festivity, the elders of the Dumagats invited me to have shots of lambanog with them. As the lambanog started to numb my senses, they asked questions regarding their ancestral domain and mortgaged ancestral lands. More shots of lambanogand more questions came as I answered each question. In this state of numbness, I felt their thirst, not for the local wine we drank that day, but for their rights that to them were mere words to be discussed only on special occasions.

In this stupor, I saw the least travelled path in living out the legal profession. I saw it as the Dumagats passionately quenched their thirst for their promised rights each time they asked me questions. I saw it as they allowed me to pour my little knowledge of law into their empty cups.

The Path for Me to Take

Wearing my house clothes now on this lazy Sunday afternoon, I lie on my bed writing. I give myself a few minutes to construct in my mind the image of the lawyer that I am going to be. I do this as I recall all the memories of my first two years in the Ateneo Law School.  I pause for a second or two, predicting the image that will be formed. I pause some more. I am confused. Ateneo, through different ways, made me realize that court litigation is just one of the many paths of living out the legal profession. In fact, this arguably could be the path of least resistance. There are other ways of being a lawyer. Some are just less travelled because of the challenges that face those who are bold enough to traverse them. Which of these paths am I bold enough to take?

This is the picture I have of myself this lazy Sunday afternoon: a sophomore in the Ateneo Law School who no longer has a concrete image of the lawyer he will one day become. I am even more confused. The image is very vague. I cannot say whether I will be a litigator, an educator, a judge, or an alternative lawyer.  I may even end up choosing another path that the Ateneo is yet to make me see. But in this state of confusion, I find comfort. After all, these paths assure me that there is no single way of becoming a lawyer and that I can choose the kind of lawyer I will become.

Works Cited

Villanueva, Cesar L. Law on Sales. Quezon City: Rex Printing Company, Inc., 2009.

Purisima, Kristoffer James E. Letter to the author. 15 Sept. 2010.

Dan Kevin C. Mandocdoc is a sophomore in the Ateneo Law School. He is also an editor of the Ateneo Law Journal and an intern of the Ateneo Human Rights Center. Prior to entering law school, he obtained, with honors, his B.S. Management, major in Legal Management degree in the Ateneo de Manila University.