Law School Basics: Ruling on Contentions

By Ricardo E. Escanlar III

Yesterday, I was tasked to interview applicants for law school. I asked the usual “Why did you want to become a lawyer?”, “Why did you choose our law school?” and “Why do you think you have the skills necessary to succeed in the legal profession?” And they responded adequately, for the most part. The question, however, which kind of befuddled them, was “What are your expectations of law school?” Some of them gave a generic “I expect it to be challenging”-type of answer, so I then clarified, “What do you think are the things that you will encounter or experience in law school?” One, I recall, answered that they expect law school to be like a courtroom, where they are to argue their case before a judge.

That applicant is not incorrect. There are subjects in law school which will require students to act as counsels and argue a case. However, for the most part, the most common type of arguing done in law school is during examinations, where students are given a scenario. And generally, the students are not the one doing the arguing, but a fictional person. They are instead given the role of a judge tasked to rule in writing whether or not the contention of the person is legally tenable or not.

In my previous article, I discussed how to answer questions that ask for definitions of legal concepts. In this article, on the other hand, I will discuss how to answer contention-type questions.

To illustrate what a proper answer to this type of question looks like, let’s use as an example this question in the 2019 Bar Exam, in Political Law:


R was elected as Municipal Councilor for three (3) consecutive terms. Before the end of the third term, Vice Mayor S died, rendering his post vacant. Since R was the highest-ranking Municipal Councilor, he assumed the office of the Vice Mayor. One of his constituents, T, assailed R’s assumption of office, arguing that elections should have been conducted to fill in the vacancy following the death of Vice Mayor S.

(a) Is T’s contention correct? Explain. (2.5%)

So, how do we approach this?

First thing we should do is to read what the contention is. This is because the contention is what we need to address, and the only thing that we need to address. Anything we write that is not related to the contention or does not help explain your ruling will merit a corresponding deduction. Here, the contention is that “elections should have been conducted to fill in the vacancy following the death of Vice Mayor S”.

Next, we determine the key issues involved. What are the key facts here? First, Vice Mayor S died. Second, R, who was a Municipal Councilor, assumed the office of S when the latter died before the end of the former’s third term.

After that, we determine the relevant laws. Since this involves succession for the office of Vice-Mayor, a local government position, the relevant law is the Local Government Code (LGC).

Lastly, we use the law to resolve the contention. So, what does the LGC say is the rule when a Vice-Mayor dies?

Section 44 of the LGC states:

“…If a permanent vacancy occurs in the offices of the governor, vice-governor, mayor, or vice-mayor, the highest ranking Sanggunian member or, in case of his permanent inability, the second highest ranking Sanggunian member, shall become the governor, vice-governor, mayor or vice-mayor, as the case may be.”

So, there. According to the LGC, the vacancy is filled by the highest ranking sangguniang member, and there is no need for an election, as T contends. Therefore, R’s assumption of office is valid, and T’s contention is untenable.

But, of course, knowing the answer isn’t enough; we must also be able to properly structure our answer. Law school professors like an organized answer because not only is it easier to read, it also shows that a student has the organizational skills necessary to succeed in the legal profession.

So, what should the answer look like?

We adopt the “CRAC”- (Conclusion, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion) answer structure. Why? We lead off with the conclusion to make it immediately apparent for the reader to know what the categorical answer is. Next, we provide the rule or legal basis, because the purpose of the examination is to determine your knowledge of the law. Then, we provide the analysis to show how the law is connected to the given facts. Lastly, we conclude again to close the argument.

Therefore, our answer should be something like this:

No, T’s contention is incorrect.

The Local Government Code (LGC) states that if a permanent vacancy occurs in the office of vice-mayor, the highest ranking Sanggunian member shall become the vice-mayor. The LGC does not mention that an election is needed to fill in the vacancy.

Here, Vice Mayor S died, which caused a permanent vacancy. R, the highest-ranking Sanggunian member, assumed the office of Vice-Mayor.

Therefore, R’s assumption of office is valid, and T’s contention that elections should have been conducted is incorrect.

Notice a few things. To further emphasize how the facts are connected to the law, we use what I call “mirroring”. The LGC states that the vacancy must be permanent; therefore, we point out that the Vice Mayor died, which caused a permanent vacancy. The LGC also states that the highest ranking Sanggunian member occupies the vacancy; here, R was the highest-ranking Sanggunian member. The LGC also does not state that elections are needed; thus, we state that T’s contention that elections were needed is incorrect. Also notice that the order that these were mentioned in the law is the same order as mentioned in the analysis.

So, there it is. Again, this approach cannot be perfected overnight; it takes practice to achieve mastery of technique, and perseverance to achieve mastery of the substance. The sooner our law school applicants realize this, the easier their path to becoming a lawyer will be.