From New York to Jerusalem

Got this from the uplaw2006 egroup (am not a part of their batch, but am a part of their egroup kasi sila yung batch ng barristers when i was bar ops head)

Thursday, October 04, 2007

By Geronimo L. Sy

This is the story of my friend and classmate, Joel. Back in law school, Joel was known as a humorous, intelligent and diligent guy. He interned at the human-rights center and graduated with a high rank. A few years after, we found that he was already licensed to practice in New York and was in fact working in a big-time law firm in Manhattan. Of course, we ribbed him for selling out while envying his six-figure pay in dollars.

The next news we have of him was his travels all over the world and I mean literally. He was even galloping with the safari animals in Africa at one time. When he came home for a vacation and to renew his Philippine license, we got together to swap old jokes and the latest balita on our class. Joel was man enough to pick up the bill, most of the time.

Filipino lawyers are leaving the country. In a way, they are the last group of professionals to have called it quits and decide to get away and go away. The barriers are steep with the difference in legal systems in contrast to nursing which treats of the same anatomy. The license requirement is also much stricter with costs hovering at around $6,000 dollars for reviewing and taking a state bar either New York or California.

We complain of too many lawyers that stunt our national development with their endless argumentation, pointless debates and lack of moral values. Maybe the answer to our woes is to export our lawyers, nay, even subsidize to encourage them or hasten the process. Yet America the bountiful and productive welcomes them and in fact seemingly swims with the legal sharks. Did you know that on a per-capita basis, there are more lawyers in the States than in ‘Pinas? Did you also know that in California alone, they have about the same number of lawyers in absolute terms as in ‘Pinas?

The problem is not in the number, it is rather in the distribution much like the doctors and other professionals who tend to flock to the cities in spite of the competition because that is where the market and the money is. Today I launch the “Lawyers to the Barrios” program and I am moving to Antulang.

The other rising class is the paralegals. Often, Filipino lawyers settle for paralegals in the States who make about $40,000 per annum. Not bad with the accompanying lifestyle and change of environment. Then one can slowly work towards being a full-fledged mercenary with pen in hand and laptop in tow.

But this piece is about Joel. Last month we heard that he resigned from his lucrative practice and moved to Jerusalem right in the heart of the Middle East conflict. He now works as a legal officer for an NGO focused on human rights. He said he was going back to his roots and answering the call of service. Doesn’t that bring a tear to your eye and a smile to your weary face?

Regardless of scandals, it doesn’t take a near-death experience or a whistleblower for everyone, anyone to begin anew and to make decisions that matter. In our daily struggle to belong and to find our place in the sun, we forget the long view and get trapped in the short term. Joel just helped us make sense of the world—from the Big Apple, he jumped into the big shawarma. From New York to Jerusalem, people are rotting and hoping. From Manila to the world, our Filipino lawyers are leaving old minds and decaying systems behind for the promise of the new order and a fresh start. To those left behind or chose to stay, let us be the ones to inject clean ink as blood for the profession, writing a new page for our country.


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