Joe Laureta, Legal Theory

I know of only one U.P. Law Professor who most law students refer to on a first-name basis despite the huge age gap (he was around in his late 60s when he taught us). He is also top of mind whenever I recall that phrase thrown around by law professors who want their students to listen so that we could receive some “nuggets of wisdom.”

Joe Laureta was my law professor for Legal Theory. I don’t recall when I first heard of my contemporaries in U.P. Law referring to him as “Joe”. Whenever someone asked who their professor was on a particular subject, you’d usually hear the answer prefixed with “Dean”, “Prof”, “Sir”, or “Ma’am.” Yet, I was surprised when I started hearing many students replying with just a first name – “si Joe.”

Of course, it was not all of the students but it was a noticeable few. And those who do did not do it out disrespect. After all, in front of him or any other professor, the proper title was used. Something told me that it was somehow passed on as a tradition by his students. Yes, intergenerational, given that he taught for so many decades in U.P. Law.

My theory was also supported by the stories he told. In particular, I recall him sharing his experience while he was a taking up his master’s at Yale Law School. There, students addressed their professors on a first name basis to lessen formalities and create a safe environment to engage in dialogues with the faculty. So, I suspect that he may have allowed his early law students the same privilege and thus a tradition was born.

Of the stories he told when he was studying abroad, he fondly recalled an old movie depicting the rigors of studying law and that there were actual Professor Kingsfields. When he talked about it, the room fell silent not knowing the movie he was referencing, while I have a small giggle which caught his attention. After the class, someone asked me what he was referring to, I referred to them a classic film (which I still recommend to this day): The Paper Chase (1973).

On to the nuggets of wisdom, it helps that he was teaching Legal Theory. It was the equivalent of Legal Philosophy in some ways. The discussions were more theoretical and abstract, such as what is law, morals, duty, sovereignty, commands, orders, and so on. I still have my notes and, geez, it’s trippin. I wonder who or what were we reading. I recall there was one primary text being used and then we were tasked to summarize each chapter (it’s 10 chapters on my notes). At any rate, I seem to have done well with a 1.75 from Joe.

I suppose, to me, the nuggets of wisdom were more of the stories he shared. These were two memories that imprinted on me.

First, he talked about his experience as a lawyer in the big law firm, Sycip Law. As expected, he talked about the long hours of work he devoted at the law firm as a junior associated. When he rose up to the ranks, most of his work shifted to meetings with clients. Notably, and what has been etched in my memory is his remark that one-half of lawyering was fashionably looking good in a suit – i.e. look the part. (To be clear, and to give due credit, he was talking about being presentable in appearing and meeting clients as the age-old saying was true: first impressions last )

Second, he talked about his experiences when he joined the Presidential Commission in Good Government (PCGG). Suffice it to say, going after ill-gotten wealth was a herculean task. There were the missing or incomplete documents, which is critical in building a case: the multiple layers of companies and trusts to obscure who the true or beneficial owners were of assets and properties; the bank secrecy laws both local and foreign laws; the non-willingness to cooperate of key individuals who may be witness; and, of course, the high-powered law firms and top-notch lawyers defending their clients. That explains a lot why there were many cases that were dismissed due to technicalities; however, there were also cases where there was a successful judgment resulting in a lot of ill-gotten wealth being seized and returned to the Philippine Government.

Bonus: Despite his older age, I saw him now and then running around the Academic Oval – with his shirt off. Color me impressed, he had a body twenty years younger for his age and fit at that.