THE ATENEO LAW SCHOOL AND THE ENDS OF A LEGAL EDUCATION

Education: Is it an End In Itself?

For as far back as memory serves, I have always believed that education is something good and beautiful. It is something that everyone — with absolutely no exception — should pursue. That was, of course, the reason why I occupied myself with my own pursuit of it. And this pursuit was the reason why I made it my intention to obtain only the best university education the country can offer. This was rather a big dream for a boy from the province who would usually be expected to get an education en route simply to getting a job and feeding a family — en route to a life of contentment where education is more a means rather than an unending way of life. I confess that, early on, I found myself subscribing to the idea that education could actually be an end in itself, not merely a means. Of course, much later, I found out that I was very much mistaken.

Before graduating from high school, I had wanted to attend college in the Ateneo de Manila. Honestly, I cannot say whether at that time I could already tell what quality education was really about. Nevertheless, there was something about the Ateneo that catches the eye, the interest. It was probably because of the school brochure which depicted an experience of “real” university life. The brochure was crisply printed, very elegant and flashy. There were pictures of the school buildings and surroundings — the atmosphere seemed fresh and conducive to whatever activities a college student (of which I had only the faintest of ideas then) may find himself engaged in.

Unfortunately, my desire to enroll in the Ateneo was stifled by financial constraints. Thus, I had to attend undergraduate studies elsewhere. But it would not disappoint. By far, one of my best experiences find fortress in my university life as an undergraduate. But, like everything else, undergraduate life meets an end. After four years in college, bigger things lay ahead. Law school was calling my name — a legal education awaited me.

Call it fate or destiny (I perhaps would) but this time around I found myself an Ateneo student, eager to get an education. And I realized that what I was about to get was no ordinary education. Indeed, a legal education is something else.

The ALS’ Commitment: Legal Education as a Means to an End

A legal education, it turned out, requires utmost dedication and passion from the student — not just plain curiosity or desire for knowledge. It is strenuous. It demands time. It requires precise training and an understanding of what it is for, what its ideals and goals are. Certainly, it was upon entering law school that I grasped that education serves a purpose — it is a means towards an end that is far greater than itself. Thus, it must come hand in hand with an institution that aspires for excellence in every aspect, one that would steer a student towards the goals of the profession by way of an education that actively, rather than passively, endeavors student formation based on such goals. This is exactly how the Ateneo Law School functions as a legal institution.

It has been three years since I stepped into the Law School as a freshman. From the very first day there was a drive to excel, a drive to make a difference (or at least to prepare oneself to make one). Some of it had to do with the atmosphere. Everyone was smartly dressed and the school premises and facilities were very welcoming. Much of it, however, had to do with the education I knew and could feel I was really getting. Up until I entered law school, the education I had been able to attain was owed in large part to my inquisitiveness and love of learning. In the Ateneo, a greater passion for learning was instilled in every student.

The curriculum of the Ateneo Law School makes certain an education whose goals are not hazy but, rather, definite and firm. Although students are expected to be excellent in themselves, no such reliance or presumption is made. Every student undergoes a transformation to embody the Ateneo lawyer.

The Ateneo recognizes that the profession that awaits every law student requires rigorous training. This training the Law School seeks to provide. Nevertheless, as a Catholic institution, the School does not also fail to recognize that the profession is replete with enticements to iniquity. Hence, it ensures the formation of future law practitioners that are “Catholic to the core” (borrowing the words of James J. MacMahon, S.J. in his Foreword to Vol. 1 Issue No. 1 of the Ateneo Law Journal in 1951). Words get thrown around constantly — words like ‘excellence,’ ‘magis,’ and ‘man for others.’ Such words, however, are actually more lived than said. And in this aspect, the Ateneo presents several opportunities. Extra-curricular activities provide avenues for training in areas such as debate and writing — lawyers’ tools of the trade. There are also opportunities for socio-civic work and advocacy — areas that distinguish the Ateneo lawyer from the rest. And in every aspect of the curriculum, the objective is always to excel.

The Ateneo Law School, in its endeavor to offer the best legal education in the country, recognizes that the formation of students as responsible men and women of the law is a conscious effort. The Ateneo is aware that the task of a law school is not just to produce lawyers. Nor is it just to produce excellent lawyers. Rather, the Ateneo affirms that the task of a law school is to produce excellent lawyers who seek to influence change within society, guided by Catholic values and human virtuosity.

In celebrating its 75th year, the Ateneo Law School embodies a legal education that has withstood the tests of turbulent times. Its commitment to quality legal education remains as firm as ever. Thus, the legal profession, the country even, can rest assured that the legal minds and advocates of the future, equipped with the best education legal institutions can offer, will be able to hurdle the rigors of the profession and meet society’s demands for justice and equality — the ends of a legal education.