The Ateneo de Manila opened its Law School on June 6, 1936, with alumnus Manuel Lim as the first Dean. The School started with Freshman and Sophomore classes and, eventually, junior and senior classes were opened. In 1939, the first graduates took the Bar Examinations, and from it emerged its first number one bar topnotcher in the person of Claudio M. Teehankee, who would eventually become in 1986 the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines.
The Ateneo Law School was closed down in 1941 as a result of the outbreak of the Second World War. The destruction of its buildings during the battle for the liberation of Manila delayed the resumption of classes after the war. In 1948, the Ateneo Law School was reopened with classes being held in the quonset huts that were erected on the ruins of the old Ateneo at Padre Faura in Manila. The Law School, since its re-opening in 1948, has produced several bar topnotchers, jurists, legislators, academicians and noted legal practitioners.
The Law School remained at Padre Faura even as the other units of the Ateneo moved to Loyola Heights, Quezon City in January, 1952. A concrete edifice was constructed in the Padre Faura campus and classes were held there until 1977. In June 1977, the Law School transferred to a new location at the first Ateneo Professional Schools Building at 130 H.V. de la Costa, S.J. Street, Salcedo Village, Makati City. During the latter part of 1998, the Law School transferred to its present location at the Ateneo Professional Schools Building at the Rockwell Center in Makati City, which provides for modern and spacious facilities conducive to better teaching, learning and other academic pursuits.
In October, 1986, the Ateneo Human Rights Center (AHRC), one of the first university-based institutions engaged in the promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines, was established. It was formally integrated into the Law School in 1996 and began to handle the Ateneo Legal Aid Program.
In 1998, the Center for Continuing Legal Education and Research (CCLER) was established as a special unit of the Ateneo Law School to provide a venue for continuing legal education programs by holding legal education series, undertaking legal researches and producing legal publications on current, relevant and important legal topics and subjects. The Center would later on be renamed as the “Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J. Center for Continuing Legal Education and Legal Research” when in July 8, 2010 it was formally housed in a new facility built on the 4th floor Roofdeck of the APS Building.
On July 1, 2000, the Law School inaugurated The Chief Justice Claudio Teehankee Center for the Rule of Law (TCRL), to serve as the Law School’s research and conference center, with books and research materials on Philippine Legal History, the Martial Law Period and Pre-Martial Law Period, the United States Civil Rights Movement, the Sabah issue, Rizaliana and International Law.
In 2004, the ALS Legal Services Center (ALSC) was formally established within the Law School with the appointment of its Director and Co-Director, towards achieving the following objectives: (a) expanding the opportunities for law students to participate in the legal aid and related programs of the Law School by rendering service to indigent clients, thereby heightening their awareness toward alternative lawyering; (b) making justice accessible to the marginalized and indigent members of Philippine society, by providing quality legal representation; and, (c) offering Ateneo alumni a vehicle by which to pursue their pro bono vocation, through a closer working relationship with the Law School.
Essentially, the legal aid program of the Law School utilizes the clinical legal education classes in the J.D. Program by engaging students to act as volunteers handling human rights and other legal aid cases under the supervision of volunteer alumni-lawyers. The vision of the Center is to expand its network to be able to become an effective pro bono law firm that will represent the poor and other marginalized members of society and to channel alumni resources to public interest endeavors.
Graduates of the Ateneo Law School until 1990 were conferred the degree of Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.). Starting 1991, the degree of Juris Doctor (J.D.) was conferred on all graduates. The J.D. program is a rigid and enriched law curriculum which requires students to take both the core Bar subjects, and later to take elective subjects offered to complement their knowledge of law and in order to allow them to specialize in certain fields of law; to undergo summer apprenticeship with law firms, the courts or other government offices or agencies with quasi-judicial functions; to develop the students’ appreciation of the practical and ethical aspects of law; and, finally, the students are required to prepare and defend a thesis, to develop their skills in research.
Beginning School Year 2011-2012, the Law School formally offered to both local and foreign students the International Master of Laws Program which confers the LL.M. degree on those who comply with all the requirements mandated in the program, highlighted by the completion and successful defense of an LL.M. thesis.
The Ateneo Law School then and now continues to pursue a liberal Jesuit educational program that seeks the harmonious development of moral virtues and intellectual excellence, aimed at developing not only lawyers knowledgeable in the law and its interpretation, but also good and committed Catholic lawyers. The mold has been cast by St. Thomas More who was “the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”