It’s already November and for everyone this means we are that much closer to the Christmas season. For a special set of people, it also means it’s Bar exams season.

This year, more than 8,000 aspiring lawyers showed up for the first day of the Bar exams last Sunday at the University of Santo Tomas. Out of the total 8,701 who applied to take the exams, 543 failed to show up on the first day. Over the course of the next three Sundays, as the past years have shown, more Bar aspirants will drop out of the exams, most of them overtaken by nerves and jitters.

I remember my own Bar exams like it was only yesterday even though in reality it was almost 30 years ago. We were housed in a small and dilapidated house in Chinatown because it was all we could afford at the time.

I was nervous, sure. But who wouldn’t be? Now that I reflect upon it, the nervousness was born not largely out of fear, but of excitement, of finally staring in the face the culmination of four years’ worth of memorizing codals and slogging through jurisprudence. I took the Bar exams in 1990 and thank my lucky stars, I passed it on my first take.

I was fortunate enough to have had the privilege of studying law at the University of the Philippines. As a former faculty member of UP Law, I can categorically say that the way law was taught at UP was not to assure students passed the Bar exams but to prepare them to become the best lawyers they could be — that they would thrive as practitioners of law. Bar prep was really an afterthought — perhaps to our detriment.

Those who enter Malcolm Hall — or UP Law — are welcomed by the words of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. which say:

“The business of a law school is not sufficiently described when you merely say that it is to teach law or make lawyers. It is to teach law in the grand manner and to make great lawyers.”

But the rest of Justice Holmes’s speech at the Harvard Law School Association during the 250th anniversary of Harvard University on 5 November 1886 is equally important: that a law school does not undertake to teach success, but what it does undertake is to teach law.

You cannot make a student a master by teaching. A student makes himself a master by aid of his natural gifts. Justice Holmes concluded: “It is the crowning glory of this law school that it has kindled in many hearts an inextinguishable fire.”

That is what every law student who takes the Bar exams must remember: to keep the fire burning. Getting your license to practice is not about what school you went to, but about your personal motivations in getting through them. The Bar exams are difficult, there is no doubt about that. Only a fool would say they aren’t. But all aspiring lawyers must trudge on and power through. For there is no other way but forward.

I sincerely believe that for those inclined, there is no higher calling than to serve your countrymen as a practitioner of law. I wish every Bar candidate, especially my former students, all the best as you finish — one Sunday at a time — the most difficult month of your lives so far. I look forward to calling you compañero and compañera.