[VIEWPOINT]Law school delays are a breach of dutyThe opening of law schools in Korea, scheduled for March 2008, have been postponed for another year due to the delay of the related bills at the National Assembly. It is still not clear whether they can even open in 2009, because you can not tell whether the Assembly will pass the related bills this year.
As a result, universities that have invested in facilities and in recruiting professors are stamping their feet in anxiety. According to the Ministry of Education, 38 universities nationwide ― 12 national or public universities and 26 private universities ― invested 198.8 billion won ($207 million) in the construction of new buildings and other preparations by July of last year, and they plan to make an additional investment of about 170 billion won.
One private university in a local province has already spent more than 40 billion won for investment in facilities, and some private universities in Seoul have spent more than 20 billion won.
Judging from this, there must be cut throat competition among universities to run law schools. The employment of more faculty members is another big burden for them.
They have already employed many former judges and prosecutors as professors in order to meet the standards of the law school screening panel. However, as there is no guarantee that their law schools will be authorized and it is not clear whether the schools will be allowed to open their doors in the near future, the universities are suffering in silence as they pay the wages for the extra manpower.
It was last October when the bill on the establishment and management of law schools, a bill that provides the legal ground for the establishment of law schools, was submitted to the Education Committee of the National Assembly. But the passage of the bill was delayed almost for a year. What is the reason for that? If it was delayed because the lawmakers needed more time to polish the bill, to make a better educational system for training future attorneys and to minimize unfavorable side effects of the law school system, no one would criticize it.
The problem is that the sub-committee for the deliberation of bills is delaying the passage of the bill to the Legislation and Judiciary committees without even having a formal discussion.
The Grand National Party is, at least outwardly, largely responsible for the situation, because the party has been sticking to its position that it will only pass the law school bill in the committee if the ruling Uri Party agrees to rewrite the revised private school bill.
The Uri Party also cannot evade responsibility for the delay because it gave the Grand National Party an excuse to hold the other laws hostage. The Uri Party rammed the private school law through the National Assembly earlier.
The purpose of the law school system lies in normalizing law education in universities and training globally competitive attorneys. Until now, our university neighborhoods have been filled with private educational institutes designed to prepare law students for state bar examinations, as more and more students take it regardless of their major. This trend has mass produced “state bar examination wanderers.” The government effectively fanned the “state bar examination fever” by increasing the quota of successful candidates for the examination to up to 1,000.
The reality of law education in Japan, which started a law school system in 2004, was not greatly different from Korea. It was so poor that the leaders of economic organizations called the Japanese judiciary “a 20 percent judiciary” in the beginning of the 1990s. That means that although 80 percent of the legal conflicts take place outside the courtroom, including the international arena, the Japanese judiciary was of no use for them. It is useful only for the remaining 20 percent of litigation cases that take place in the courtroom.
It was basically a reproach that Japanese attorneys were not internationally competitive. Due to demands from the economic community, the discussion of the introduction of a law school system started in Japan and the schools opened their doors in April 2004.
The opening of Korea’s legal market is inevitable. The United States is bound to make stronger demands for that to happen as it negotiates a free trade agreement with Korea. After the opening of the legal market in Germany in the 1990s, the powerful influence of the U.S. and British law firms was confirmed.
Just a few years after the market opened, nine out of the top 10 German law firms either merged with U.S. or British law firms or collapsed. A situation could come about where Korean attorneys have to give 80 percent of their legal cases to foreign law firms or lawyers, and are forced to struggle among themselves just over the remaining 20 percent. In order to avoid such a situation, we have to hurry to train competitive attorneys of our own.
It is nothing but a breach of duty that the National Assembly delays the passage of important bills related to the education system. Who will compensate the universities for pouring a lot of money into the introduction of law schools? The National Assembly should not stand in the way of the opening of law schools, but think sincerely about a plan to enhance the competitiveness of Korean attorneys.
* The writer is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Shin Sung-ho