Philippine Attorney Requirements & Bar Exam
According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, the population of the Philippines as of August 2015 was 101,000,000. However, as of 2017, only an estimated 70,000 lawyers had been admitted to the Philippine Bar – which arguably requires the most difficult licensure exam in the country.
Furthermore, the Bar Exam is the only licensure exam not regulated by the Professional Regulation Commission. Under the 1987 Philippine Constitution, the Supreme Court of the Philippines was vested with the sole authority to promulgate the rules concerning the admission to the practice of law through the Bar Examinations Committee.
Requirements for Admission to the Philippine Bar
Rule 138 of the Rules of Court of the Philippines, promulgated by the Supreme Court, includes the requirements that applicants must meet to be considered for admission to the Philippine Bar. Members of the bar must be:
1. Citizens of the Philippines
The 1987 Philippine Constitution states that “the practice of all professions in the Philippines shall be limited to Filipino citizens, save in cases prescribed by law.” Although Congress has already enacted laws allowing foreigners and foreign corporations to engage in business in the Philippines, the legal profession, to this day, continues to be reserved only for Filipino citizens, without exception, accompanied only by the professional fields of pharmacy, radiologic and X-ray technology, criminology, and forestry.
2. At least 21 years of age
To prove their age, applicants must submit certified copies of their birth certificates, as issued by the National Statistics Office or the local Civil Registrar.
3. Of good moral character
When candidates file applications with the Office of the Bar Confidant – Supreme Court, they must submit two testimonials of Good Moral Character executed by members of the Philippine Bar and a Certificate of no Derogatory Record from the law school. In addition, they must state under oath that no charges involving moral turpitude have been filed or are pending against them in any court in the Philippines. If charges have been filed, applicants must submit proof of the status of these cases, and whether the charges have been dismissed or are still pending.
4. A resident of the Philippines
In addition to the citizenship requirement, applicants to the Philippine Bar must also reside in the Philippines.
In addition to these basic requirements, applicants must also prove that they have completed four years of high school, earned a four-year bachelor of arts or bachelor of sciences degree, and studied law as a postgraduate degree for an additional four years.
The Legal Education Board (LEB) also requires that bar applicants complete specific coursework during college. Applicants must have accumulated at least 18 units of English, 6 units of mathematics, and 18 units of social science during college.
In 2016, the LEB added additional educational requirements in an effort to improve the quality of legal education. Those seeking admission to any law school must first take and pass a uniform nationwide Philippine Law School Admission Test. Additionally, applicants shall not be admitted to the Bar Exam unless they have satisfactorily completed the following courses in a law school duly recognized by the government:
- Civil Law
- Commercial Law
- Remedial Law
- Criminal Law
- Public And Private International Law
- Political Law
- Labor and Social Legislation
- Medical Jurisprudence
- Legal Ethics
Before 2010, one specific requirement for becoming a Philippine attorney was that applicants must have obtained their law degrees in schools located within the Philippines. In March 2010, the Supreme Court amended Rule 138 of the Rules of Court by allowing Filipino citizens who have studied law in a foreign country to take the Philippine Bar Exam upon compliance with the following requirements:
- Completion of all courses leading to a degree of Bachelor of Law or its equivalent:
- Recognition or accreditation of the law school by the proper authority;
- Completion of all fourth-year subjects in a law school duly accredited by the Philippine government; and
- Proof of completing a separate bachelor’s degree.
All applications for bar admission must be filed with the Supreme Court through the Office of the Bar Confidant. Applicants’ degrees, including high school, college, and law school, must be from officially approved and recognized schools, as authorized by the Secretary of Education. Applicants must file affidavits attesting to such facts, accompanied by certificates from each university or school of law. Further evidence may be required by the court.
The Bar Exams
Unlike in other countries, the Bar Exam in the Philippines is written in English and only occurs once a year. Bar examinees must endure four painstakingly long test sessions during the month of November, during which they are tested on their knowledge of Political Law, Remedial Law, Labor Law, Taxation, Mercantile Law, Civil Law, Legal Ethics, Criminal Law, and Practical Exercises. The results of the Bar Exam are usually released in March or April of the following year, further testing examinees’ patience and resolve.
Unless the Supreme Court En Banc agrees to lower the passing rate for a particular year, bar examinees must obtain a general average of 75% in all bar subjects. Moreover, no grade can be below 50% in any particular subject. During the last five years, the average passing rate for the Bar Exam has been a mere 28.81%.
Upon passing the Bar Exam, taking an oath, and signing their name in the Roll of Attorneys, applicants become full-fledged Philippine attorneys.
Applicants who do not pass the Bar Exam are allowed to retake it as many times as necessary. Nevertheless, candidates who fails three bar examinations must prove that they have enrolled in and passed regular fourth-year bar review classes and attended a pre-bar review course before they can take the Bar Exam again.
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- Sec. 5 (5), Art. VIII, The 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines
- Sections 2, 5, 6, 14, and 16 of Rule 138, The Rules of Court of the Philippines
- Sec. 14, Art. XII, 1987 Philippine Constitution.
- Republic Act No. 7662, Legal Education Reform Act of 1993, 23 December 1993
- LEB Memorandum Order No. 7-2016, 29 December 2016
- Bar Matter 1153, Re: Letter of Atty. Estelito P. Mendoza Proposing Reforms in the Bar Examinations through Amendments to Rule 138 of the Rules of Court, 9 March 2010
- Bar Matter No. 1161, Re: Proposed Reforms in the Bar Examinations, 3 September 2013