[Viewpoint]Approve law schools nowAbout two months ago, the National Assembly passed a package of judicial reform bills, including a draft revision of the code of criminal procedures.
With the passage of those bills, Korea’s judicial system will fundamentally change. It is regrettable and worrisome, however, that the Assembly has failed to pass a draft act to establish and operate law schools, the very core of the judicial reform.
When the law school system, which has been talked about since 1995, is implemented, the present state law examination will be abolished. Instead, judicial officials will be trained at three-year law schools.
The main purpose of the law school system lies in training judicial officials through a systematic educational process, rather than a brief examination, and nurturing judicial professionals specialized in diverse academic fields ― instead of narrow-minded lawyers.
When the new system is implemented, lawyers will be trained to specialize in international trade law or intellectual property rights in the information technology field. Lawyers with those specialties are difficult to recruit through the current state law examination system.
The graduate school system suits the demands of the 21st century knowledge-based society and is also a well-established system in the United States. Korea, too, has already introduced a special graduate school system in medical science and business management.
I am confident the new law school system will lead to making Korea’s educational system more competitive. At the same time, the establishment of law schools in the provinces will help evenly distribute qualified people throughout the country, instead of just being concentrated in the Seoul metropolitan area. However, the establishment of this law school system has been foiled due to a power struggle between the ruling and opposition parties over the issue of revisions of the private school law.
Since 2004, when discussions about the introduction of a law school system moved forward, 40 universities nationwide, including 12 national, or public, universities and 28 private universities, invested an estimated 200 billion won ($216 million) in facilities and equipment that would be required under the law to establish such a school. In doing so, they even sacrificed the other financial needs of their academic institutions.
In order to have enough faculty members for a law school, these universities have reduced the number of faculty members in other departments. In their stead, the schools have hired a large number of full-time professors and others with experience in judicial fields to get ready to start a law school.
However because the introduction of the law school system has been delayed for a prolonged period, these universities have started to suffer serious financial problems and difficulties in the management of their curricula. In addition, university students who have to prepare for the state law examination and high school students who want to apply to attend a law school are confused, not knowing what their futures will be.
Advanced countries are staying competitive by nurturing judicial officials who specialize in various fields. Considering that global trend, the introduction of the law school system goes beyond the simple interests of some concerned universities or interest groups.
The law school system is essential to improve our nation’s competitiveness.
As we have experienced during the recent U.S.-Korea free trade agreement negotiations, we must train capable lawyers through appropriate education to defend our national interests from international law firms, which will try to capture a share of our domestic legal market through specialists.
Considering the busy political schedule through the end of the year, the current temporary session of the National Assembly is the last chance to pass the law school act, which will make it possible for universities to open law schools in 2009.
The Assembly must heed the voices of the educators and pass the law school act this session. And the people should recognize the importance of this law and give the support needed for its passage in the current session of the Assembly.
*The writer is the president of Kyungpook National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Noh Dong-il