[Outlook]Impasse hampers legal profession

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[Outlook]Impasse hampers legal profession

“What are we to do about law schools?” “How would I know? God doesn’t know either.” This conversation has been a typical exchange between law professors for years. It is also an important contemporary issue. The answer is an issue of interest to students planning to study law and many other people who are affected by the way the legal profession educates its new professionals.
The debate over law schools dates back to the Kim Young-sam administration in 1995.
The proposal to adopt a law school system was suggested by the globalization campaign but it was withdrawn due to strong opposition from Korea’s legal community. Since then it has been dogged by controversy.
The proposal has been promoted vigorously by the current administration as a fundamental plank of its platform for reform of the legal system, but it has been held up in the National Assembly for more than one-and-a-half years.
In 2005, when the proposal was first submitted, it was expected that law schools would open their doors for the first time in 2008.
However, we now have to wonder if it will be feasible for them to open by 2009, despite more than 40 universities spending a collective 200 billion won ($215 million) to introduce a law school system.
Now that the Roh administration has emphatically entered its lame duck stage there have been strong doubts over whether the Blue House’s proposal will be accepted by the Assembly.
Some say the proposal has too many problems and they have discussed new alternatives.
The proposal is now close to being endorsed by the Assembly, as a law school system has become inevitable due to the free trade agreement between the United States and Korea. But the problems within the proposal, exposed during months of controversy, have to be revisited.
The fundamental question is whether the law school system outlined in the current proposal is suitable for our legal process and if it can address the many problems that bedevil our legal education.
It is particularly questionable whether those who are responsible for legal education or those engaged in the legal community can agree with this system. Other systems aside from the American law school system are being discussed, but the core of the issue is what we can learn from the American law school system.
We should not introduce a system that is only superficially similar to the American law school setup. Our new system must address the deeper issues in our legal education and make it possible for law professionals to deal with the opening of the law market. In other words, the bar examinations that ensured only a limited number of students could become lawyers should be transformed into a qualification test that can guarantee we have enough attorneys. But the current proposal does not ensure such a transformation and that is the heart of the issue.
It is also the argument advanced by the deans of private universities who began a hunger strike last week.
Also the legislature has not had a good discussion on the issue. The proposal was sent to the National Assembly in October 2005 after many controversies regarding its final draft.
But the legislative review of the proposal has been delayed so far because of other political issues. While the proposal was being delayed, many doubted it would ever pass through the Assembly. Nonetheless, many universities have competed for the right to have a law school, as if their victory or defeat would determine their survival. Many want a school as a way to transform their future prospects. Despite this quagmire, the opposition Grand National Party has never published a stand on this issue, which invokes many doubts.
If the proposal fails to get passed during this Assembly session, which finishes today, the law school proposal will again be lost, causing consternation among many people.
Citizens should no longer be held responsible for the adoption and implementation of the policy.
Now that the issues and controversies involved with the proposal have become apparent, the National Assembly must reach a rapid conclusion, whatever that may be.

*The writer is a law professor at Sungkyunkwan University.

by Kim Hyung-sung
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