[Outlook]Legal troubles

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[Outlook]Legal troubles

The introduction of U.S.-style law schools will produce chaos. It makes people wonder whether our society is decent and rational.
Many university law departments, the main institutions of legal education here, are ignoring the core problems that come with law schools. They support or oppose the plan to adopt a U.S. style legal education system based on whether doing so supports or runs counter to their interests. These universities are busy arguing minor issues.
First, the identity of law schools is not clearly defined. In Korea, law education has been divided and handled cooperatively by a number of different institutes. University law departments teach basic law education for four years. The Judicial Research and Training Institute offers training focused on practice. Regular graduate schools offer courses of two to four years to conduct academic research. Special graduate law schools teach specialized law education.
Some 10,000 students graduate from college every year, and some 1,000 of them pass the national bar examination and become lawyers. The rest work in every corner of society to support the nation’s rule of law.
The new system of U.S.-style law schools will probably shut down university law departments, special graduate law schools, the Judicial Research and Training Institute and regular graduate law schools.
Few believe that a three-year law course will be enough to provide a basic law education, prepare students for practice and educate them in specialized fields.
In U.S.-style law schools, the basic law education is taught in J.D. courses, and specialized law education is taught in L.L.M courses. Students undertake training or practice as researchers or apprentice lawyers.
Japan has introduced law schools but university law departments are still the center of legal education. Law schools are part of the graduate school system.
In China, law schools and law departments co-exist. Korea’s plan for a new law school system is bizarre and can’t be found in any other place in the world. It could destroy the foundation of the country’s legal education.
Second, the law school system encourages the pursuit of irrelevant goals. The government attempts to close down law departments to cool overheated competition in university entrance examinations.
But it will only postpone the competition to the next step when students enter law school. Extreme competition to enter universities has undoubtedly ruined public education. Competition to enter law schools will ruin college education, hinder the development of academia and distort a system that produces the country’s talent pool.
It is clear which will do more harm to the country.
The government is also granting permission to universities all over the country to establish law schools, regardless of their competence, in the name of balanced development.
This is not logical and also it is discrimination against those universities that are competent enough to open law schools but did not receive permission to do so.
Third, the law school system has little chance of success. The government argues that law schools will train and produce talented law professionals when the law market is about to be opened to the world. But a law school will have only 150 students or even 40 to 50 students.
These micro law schools will not be able to teach in specialized areas or provide courses in English. The law school at Waseda University in Japan has 300 students, but classes in specialized fields are still canceled when few students register for them. In Korea, those in law education and the practice of law worry that law schools will produce incompetent lawyers.
In 2012, both law schools and the Judicial Research and Training Institute will produce graduates. It is very likely that law school graduates will not find favor in the judicial services market.
The government also says that low-cost judicial services will help people use lawyers more often and more easily. But the number of lawyers won’t increase much, and law school tuition is expensive so graduates will want to make up for their costs when they start working.
If their incomes do not make up for their expenditure as students, some might do work that violate legal ethics.
The introduction of U.S.-style law schools into Korea will do little good but much harm. University law departments, the foundation for the human resources that guarantee the rule of law, will disappear. If only some 2,000 people can receive legal education, the country can’t be called lawful. The new administration must stop its plan to introduce law schools. It should completely scrap it and start from the beginning to establish a new legal education system in Korea.

*The writer is a professor of law at Korea University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Sun-taek
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