Professional courtesyA conflict has erupted over the establishment of U.S.-style law schools in Korea. The Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development has set a limit of 1,500 law students for 2009, when the new law school system starts, and the number will be increased to 2,000 by 2013.
Universities that have been preparing to establish law schools are angry, saying that the limit has been set to protect the privileges of those who are already in the legal profession. These universities say they will no longer establish law schools if the total number of students is less than 3,000.
As the legal and academic professions are now at odds, it will be difficult for the education ministry to make a decision, unless it focuses on the rights of consumers rather than the interests of lawyers and professors.
New law schools will make it possible to offer legal services for a reasonable price and to produce legal professionals who specialize in fields like natural science, before the legal market is opened to overseas lawyers.
In this respect, the limit set by the Education Ministry doesn’t seem reasonable. The number of lawyers in Korea is 8,423 as of last year. That is one lawyer per 5,700 citizens. Among the member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the average is one lawyer per 1,482 citizens. Korea’s figure is nearly four times lower than in other OECD countries.
As for the number of cases filed by each lawyer, a Korean lawyer has on average 189, more than 10 times than in the United States or England. Among 250 cities, counties and districts in Korea, 120 localities have zero lawyers, which means the legal fees in these jurisdictions are so expensive that in more than 70 percent of cases defendants file lawsuits on their own without lawyers.
For this reason, everyone except the legal profession resists the limit that the education ministry has set.
There were no hearings held to gauge public opinion and the Education Ministry made a unilateral decision on the limit, which has made opposition to its ruling even stronger. But it is not too late. The ministry doesn’t need to select the universities that will have law schools by January.
The ministry can announce the new law in March, as previously planned.
That will enable the law to go through a process of public debate and establish a new limit which will realize the goal of introducing law schools. Along the way it might discover that the reason sharks don’t eat lawyers is professional courtesy.