The Life of an Underdog

By Mark John Simondo

TOPNOTCH Hardwork and dedication paved Mark’s way to the top TOPNOTCH
Hardwork and dedication paved Mark’s way to the top

I love being an underdog. I fancy the situation where I have much to gain and almost nothing to lose. I like it when my contemporaries underestimate me. I prefer it when nobody sees me coming. Most important of all, I crave the feverish drive to succeed that comes from being an underdog.

It is with this “underdog mentality” that I entered law school back in 2012. On the very first day of school, I looked around the classroom and told myself that in terms of brilliance and intelligence, I was the least among those who were in that room. I decided right there and then that in order to survive law school, I must outwork everyone.

My typical law school day starts at 9:30 in the evening. Since I have already read my books even before the start of the semester, I go straight to the cases that will be tackled in class the following day. By 1:30 a.m., I call it a night.

My alarm rings at exactly 8:10 a.m. I never put it on snooze. I am up and running by nine. The morning session is usually for the codal provisions. Early on, I tried memorizing all of the codal provisions. I soon realized, however, that it is beyond my capacity to memorize every provision of the Civil Code and the Revised Penal Code word per word. Instead, I decided that to internalize each of them.

The afternoon session begins at 1:30 p.m. I use this time to reread my books. If I finish early, I spend the rest of the afternoon goofing around with my law school friends. After all, even an underdog deserves to have his daily dose of laughter.

Classes begin at 5:30 p.m. As this time approaches, my palms get sweaty and my heart beats a little faster. Almost everyone dreads the recitation. While I also get nervous each time I get called to recite, I always see such time as an opportunity to check if I have done things correctly.

My effort and hard work paid off. I did well in my recitations. Eventually, my success in the recitations spilled over to my exams. I aced many of the major subjects in law school. All of the success, however, brought in a unique problem.

When it became apparent that I was at the top of my class, my underdog narrative fell apart. I feared that I would lose my drive and my focus. More importantly, I feared that I would succumb to a very dangerous disease called complacency. I needed to be an underdog in another arena. Enter the Bar Exams.

The licensure exam for lawyers has long been dominated by the big schools. The top 10 list is almost always filled with students from the better known schools.While where I came from, the University of St La Salle-Bacolod College of Law, is a feisty small school which gives all-out support to its graduates, it has produced only one Bar placer in the past 20 years.

I never felt that my education was inadequate. I knew that I was equipped to compete against the best students from other schools. But, for some reason which I could not fathom, I felt inferior tostudents from the big schools. I had an undying belief that students from the big law schools know a lot more than I do and that they speak and write better, too.

I recognized the situation I was in. Once again, I was an underdog. Just like before, I resolved that I will outwork everyone. I told myself that I may not be able to outgun other students through sheer brilliance, but I will outlast them through unwavering persistence.

In my situation, there was only one way to win—top the bar exams. There were more than 6,000 other examinees who took the bar exams with me. To get the chip off my shoulder, I had to outscore them. All of them.

Once again, hard work and persistence paid off. Though I still would have been happy had I simply passed the bar exams, the feeling of getting something I so badly wanted is priceless.  I have helped prove that success can be attained by anyone who is willing to pay the price therefor.

As I look forward to my oath taking, it dawned upon me that I will soon be entering the legal profession. With zero experience, I will be pitted against seasoned lawyers. I will enter a new arena, one filled with the best legal minds of this country. With nothing but persistence and hard work, the odds will be once more stacked against me. Again, as I have been so for most of my life, I will be an underdog. The situation suits me just fine. I would not have it any other way.