[Viewpoint]Law school blues

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[Viewpoint]Law school blues

These days, college graduates show off various fashions at commencement ceremonies. However, until not so long ago, college graduations were symbolized by square academic caps. Not many people know that the cap’s four sides stand for the four traditional areas of study at universities: theology, philosophy, law and medicine.

Today, the status of theology and philosophy are not what they used to be, and law, which was once the most popular major, finds itself in a serious crisis.

The introduction of law schools, or professional graduate schools of law, is bringing revolutionary changes to legal education overall, and haste and irresponsibility characterize the plans. Critics have expressed concern that the drive to reform legal education might be a change for the worse.

There has been lots of discussion about abolishing law education from undergraduate programs and installing professional graduate schools of law instead. It may be hard to completely void the plan at this point, but we need to make sure the changes that take place are positive and reinforce legal education.

Professional graduate schools can not meet the need for legal education by themselves. Unlike in the United States, not every university can establish a law school if it wishes.

Instead, a limited range of legal professionals will be educated by selected schools. But what about those professions closely related to law such as judicial scribes, patent attorneys, licensed real estate agents and appraisers? When the law schools are introduced, the people in these fields will have to be educated at private institutes because they will not fall under the scope of professional graduate programs.

In modern society, the scope of the legal profession is enormous. In the United States, enough legal professionals are matriculated each year to cover every legal need. However, we have separated the education of attorneys from related fields, and lawyers limit their focus to litigation. The situation is not likely to change.

Meanwhile, middle and low tier colleges face an existential crisis. While these schools have not produced many lawyers, many of their graduates become civil servants and professionals working in fields related to law.

Some schools hope the government would expand the number of law schools and students who can be admitted, but such a plan is not yet on the way. Other colleges have decided to close down their law departments altogether, and some are putting their decision into action.

It is unfair to think that weeding out law departments at middle and low tier colleges is natural by emphasizing the theory of competition.

This is like saying it doesn’t matter if small and midsized companies are weeded out and only large companies survive. Just as large corporations and small businesses take different roles in the economy, different roles are expected from the major universities educating lawyers and smaller universities training those working in law-related professions.

Let’s not say that only the fittest can survive. There can be no first place if there is no second place or third place. Moreover, even if you are the best in one aspect, you cannot be the best in everything. All members of society need to faithfully play their roles and complement one another. It is not different for universities.

The problem faced by middle and low tier colleges is not only their problem but also an issue for all universities and legal education in general. If we neglect this issue, Korea’s legal education will be crippled, and the legal service industry is bound to have a big hole.

In the long run, we will have a domino effect of deteriorating legal services and a loss of international competitiveness. The first domino is about to fall, and policy makers and citizens must understand that now is the time to head off further problems with the least expense.

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