1st Filipino to pass the PA Bar Exam without studying law in the U.S.

Jaime Santos attending The Lawyers’ Club of Philadelphia October Reception in recognition of his 50-year membership. The event was held on October 17, 2022 at The Union League, Philadelphia. Photos courtesy of the Santos family

By Loida Nicolas Lewis

Before 1973, U.S. citizenship was a requirement to take the bar examinations to practice law. 

However, in 1973, the US Supreme Court in the case of In re Griffiths ruled that American citizenship should not be required to take the bar examination to be admitted into the practice of law. 

Jaime Santos has been in Philadelphia since 1965 working as an Estate Planning Officer in a bank. He graduated from the University of the Philippines with a law degree in 1959. 

When UP was founded in 1908, the Philippines was a territory of the United States, so that a UP law degree was deemed to be equal to that of a law school in the USA.

Jimmy, as he is called, migrated to Philadelphia with his wife Zorina who graduated from Far Eastern University with a medical degree and an undergraduate degree from St. Theresa’s College. She worked as a physician at the Philadelphia General Hospital. 

Jimmy is the younger brother of Dr. Eduardo Santos, who became a U.S. citizen after migrating to Minnesota as a medical doctor. He petitioned Jimmy to come to the USA as a permanent resident. 

Since he was already a lawyer in the Philippines having passed the bar exam in 1959,  he had no problem getting a job working in a bank in Philadelphia. 

He started to apply to take the PA bar exam in 1971 because his work was equal to that of a U.S. lawyer but was receiving less than his American lawyer counterpart. 

The PA Bar Examination denied his application. He applied a second time in 1972. Denied again. The third time in 1973, he applied again. By that time In re Griffiths was promulgated. The PA Bar Examiner Judge Wilkenson told him that he could take the bar exam. Jimmy passed it on his first try. 

The Santos family visits Manila in August 2015. From left: Jaime P. Santos, daughter Melanie Grant, wife Zorina Santos, sons Edward Santos, and Jaime Santos Jr.

The PA Bar Association recently honored him for being a lawyer admitted to practice 50 years ago. 

Attorney Jaime Santos was born in Bacolor, Pampanga in September 13, 1935. His father, accountant Antonio Santos, was the La Mallorca-Pambusco treasurer, and his mother Luisa (nee Pasion) was an entrepreneur who started selling vegetables in the market which grew into a grocery store, a clothing store, and later  a jewelry store.

Jimmy, the third out of six children, studied at Pampanga Trade School and became the best wood finisher. It made him some money during weekends. 

He was admitted into the University of the Philippines and graduated from law school in 1959. As a lawyer, he was retained by La Mallorca-Pambusco bus company, taught in two colleges and handled private civil cases. 

He and his wife Zorina have three children: Their daughter Melanie is the youngest and a lawyer. She and her husband Thomas Grant CPA, have four wonderful children. His eldest granddaughter was working at Chick-fil-A as a manager in her senior year in high school, he was proud to say.

Their eldest son Jaime Jr. – called John John — played violin and football in high school. He has a business in consumer electronics. He is married to Leslie who is in real estate, and they have a son Alexander.   

Their second son Edward finished communications and is a TV producer.

When Jimmy and his wife went to visit the Philippines in 2020, COVID-19 hit the country and the rest of the world. Sadly, his wife was stricken and passed away in Manila. 

Now, Jimmy at 87 years old and a widower, decided to study guitar and take voice lessons. When he was younger in Bacolor, he had asthma and he thought singing with a guitar could cure his condition. He still suffers from asthma but now he could sing with the guitar before an audience. He has performed in three recitals, singing while playing his guitar “Amazing Grace,” “What Child is This?” and the Kapampangan folk song “Malagung Kakun Palsintan.”

Mabuhay, Compañero Jimmy Santos! 

Columnist Loida Nicolas Lewis and Severino Nico, both UP Law graduates passed the New York Bar Examinations in 1974, thus becoming the first Filipinos to pass the NY Bar Exams without studying law in the USA. 

(C) The FilAm 2023

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