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Law student milestone: First hearing

I attended my first ever hearing today! And by first hearing, I mean, the first hearing in which I am making an appearance on behalf of a client, as a law intern of the UP Office of Legal Aid. Sobrang kilig!

As part of our curriculum, when we reach our fourth year (and have finished all Remedial Law subjects), we are required to take Law 138-A and Law 138-B, the clinical education program of the College of Law. The UP OLA provides free legal assistance to indigent clients and allows students to experience practical and actual training in court while doing a great service to the public. Think of it as the counterpart to med students interning and serving patients in hospitals.

Unlike my previous summer internships in Makati, the UP OLA is an entirely different experience because as a law intern, I handle my own cases and represent my clients in all their pleadings and court appearances. While all of us act under the direct supervision of an assigned supervising lawyer and the OLA director, we are the ones who confer with the clients, interview witnesses, prepare documents, and appear in court - the whole enchilada. I guess this is where the UP Law experience cuts itself above the rest: we put primary importance in public service, it's integrated in our curriculum. UP does not credit our internships in private law firms; and regardless of how many firms and courts we work for during our school breaks, we are still required to go through OLA as a way of "giving back" to the State.

It's exciting because it gives us an actual taste of what it's like to be lawyers in court, while still allowing us much leeway for mistakes and learning (thanks to the "We're just law students" card.) Everything is put in an entirely different perspective when you realize that someone else's life is already in your hands. It's incredibly overwhelming - especially when you realize you now have to apply everything you've learned thus far - but also fulfilling when you do something right, when you make someone feel that there is justice and goodness in the world.

Earlier, I couldn't resist the urge to pinch myself when it finally dawned on me that I am appearing before a judge. True, I had my SL with me (as the Rules of Court provide that a law student enrolled in a clinical education program must be accompanied by a lawyer, when he/she is representing in a Regional Trial Court or higher), but he was intent on letting me do my own thing. Even we ended up resetting the hearing because of the absence of opposing counsel, I can still say that this day is definitely one for the books. For the last three years, I've been struggling with my feelings about law school. But today was an affirmation of sorts, a kind of epiphany that says while being in school is difficult, getting a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel is so, so worth it. Apparently, there's no greater feeling than finally being able to say:

"Appearing for the plaintiffs, your Honor, I am from the UP College of Law Office of Legal Aid, law intern Karla Bernardo."



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