Students: Little new in law-school system

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Students: Little new in law-school system

A man surnamed “A” has a license to practice law in New York, but this year, he enrolled in a Korean law school because he wants to work in Korea in the future. A, who graduated from an American law school, didn’t have the slightest doubt that the curriculum here would resemble his alma mater’s teaching methods.

Those expectations turned upside down when he took his first midterm exam. All the questions tested his memorization skills, rather than his legal reasoning.

“Back in the U.S., all the exams were open-book, and I was able to flip through pages of law books to solve the questions while reflecting my thoughts,” A said. “I guess Korean law schools only care about how much legal knowledge a student manages to stick in his head.”

A is taking five classes this semester, and he said only one is discussion-based. The rest are lectures, which he says leave little opportunity for discussion or questions.

This year marks the second anniversary of the establishment of a three-year, U.S.-style law school system in Korea. Twenty-five graduate law schools were established across the country, with the aim of having career attorneys conduct discussion-based classes to nurture creative, competent and well-rounded legal experts.

But students like A say the schools have fallen far short of their goal.

“To train a legal mind, it’s important to offer more discussion-based classes. That would give students a chance to exchange their thoughts and views on issues, but it seems like many professors aren’t interested in that at all,” said a professor who teaches at a law school in Seoul.

A law school student at Seoul’s Sungkyunkwan University pointed out that Korean students are too used to taking rote classes and many act passively in class.

“Many students rarely prepare for class in advance, and it won’t be easy for professors to carry out a discussion-based class,” the student said.

The teachers may not be much more inspired than the students. More than 10 percent of the full-time lawyers hired as professors, 22 of 219, have quit and returned to their firms.

Lee Jae-kyo, an attorney who specializes in taxation, was hired as a full-time law professor at Inha University when it launched its U.S.-style graduate law school in 2008, but he quit last month. “I’m not used to writing dissertations, and I felt like my executive ability in the legal field was lagging behind while I’m here,” Lee said. “Many students here are just focused on the bar examination. They don’t pay much attention to classes that teach the actual practice of law.”

By Choe Sun-uk, Kim Mi-ju []
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