When the 2019 Bar Examination results took over the interwebs last week, so did messages of disbelief from those who made the cut. Like a reverse show-and-tell, some recalled their mishaps on the test day, shared their absurd (but completely acceptable) study habits, and paraded their memories of law school—their favorite hellhole. Were they frantic or relieved? It might have been a combination of both.
But if you lurked around Twitter enough that same day, you’d know that one name surfaced more in the middle of 2,103 passers. He’s Kenneth Manuel—or Sir K, his online handle—a 26-year-old UST Law graduate. Like a stuntman of his own, he was a CPA reviewer at the Review School of Accountancy, full-time legal assistant at Divina Law and a former instructor at Colegio de San Juan de Letran while reviewing for the Bar. Worth it is an understatement—he landed sixth in the list of topnotchers.
“Becoming a lawyer is far from being my first dream,” he recalls. After he changed dreams like he changed clothes, he eventually thought of pursuing law in 2014. Little did he know, he was set for another round of change—his character, habits, priorities and routine this time. “The academically confident K slid down to become a person with self-doubt,” he confesses.
An ordinary day in law school meant dodging terror profs’ bullets—impossible piles of cases, soul-sucking scolding, rage at the slightest of errors, and even ad hominem attacks. Add a lost scholarship, failing relationships and weakening health to the mix. But he survived all of these.
“Bad days in law school are the norm; it is just a matter of getting desensitized to its regularity.”
“The struggle ends. The goal is possible,” Manuel says as he tells us his story. Even if he could very much turn into law school’s poster hero today, he insists on highlighting the imperfection of the whole damn process. We talked to Twitter’s favorite Bar topnotcher about bouncing back, some study tips and taking a break.
Whenever you had bad days in law school, how did you manage to recover?
Bad days in law school are the norm; it is just a matter of getting desensitized to its regularity. Since it became my new normal during law school, the shameful recitations, the disappointing exam grades became less of a big deal as days progressed. The anxiety of receiving a final failing grade is always there, but I always remind myself that failing a subject or an exam will not make me less of a lawyer.
Being with good company is also key. During stressful days, group study sessions light up the burdensome study of law. The thing with group study sessions is, although it is admittedly less productive, we get to laugh about our common struggles in law school. It makes us feel less alone.
Let’s talk study habits. Can you share with us some techniques you deemed effective and those you had to eventually scrap?
One tip in studying is never study with an empty stomach. A good and productive day always starts with the best meal: breakfast.
Taking down notes in yellow paper lets me practice my penmanship and the observance of the proper margins—mechanical Bar essentials. Yellow paper notes are likewise lightweight and easy to organize.
“The anxiety of receiving a final failing grade is always there, but I always remind myself that failing a subject or an exam will not make me less of a lawyer.”
Phones can be distracting. Well, I should know; I have been tweeting heavily even during my Bar review. However, they can be a lot of help, too. I recommend you download apps to help you focus—the most common perhaps is Forest (not a paid advertisement). You can apply the Pomodoro technique there by setting a timer for studying and another timer for your break time. The thing with Forest is you cannot exit the app while the timer is counting down, or else the tree you are planting will die.
Multiple colored highlighters are likewise useful. They slow down studying, but it makes it bearable and properly paced. Reading too fast results in less retention. I also find some slight satisfaction in seeing my law books turned into coloring books.
Do you have a bar exam review playlist you can share?
I have a Spotify playlist named “BakLABAN,” coming from the premise: “hindi ako pinanganak na bakla para hindi lumaban.”
Can you tell us how you spent your breaks (and how you kept your sanity intact)?
This is an interesting question. A good movie, preferably with a Rotten Tomatoes rating of at least 80 percent (hahaha) is an excellent relief from stress. Munching on my comfort food—cheesecake, chocolate waffles, wafers, ice cream and potato chips—while watching a short documentary on YouTube is a productive way to spend one’s study break. I always make it a point that I spend my breaks productively, particularly thinking that I really have limited time. A good movie adds artistic value to oneself. Watching documentaries on YouTube adds knowledge.
Sometimes, when I get burned out while reading one subject, say criminal law, I drop it and switch subjects, say labor law, just to break the monotony. In other instances, the switch may be between tasks. When I get exhausted digesting cases, I can switch tasks and start to check the papers of my students in relation to my work as a professor. Power naps are also essential. A 10-minute power nap surprisingly gives me an energy boost to keep going for another hour or two.
What advice can you give to the youth, especially those who are on the edge of quitting their dreams?
It all boils down to purpose—why we started pursuing our dreams and why we even thought of it in the first place. It may be for our loved ones, to make them proud or give them a comfortable life, or be it for our society, to fight against injustices and inequality. When we think of giving up, we remember our purpose, and we make that our fuel, our driving force, our mental strength to stand up and continue the pursuit of our dreams. We remind ourselves of how far we have reached, and how it will make little sense to give up when we are already at the end game.
Photos courtesy of Kenneth Manuel
Art by Rogin Losa