[Letters] More lawyers will make for better lawyers

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[Letters] More lawyers will make for better lawyers

This letter is in response to KJD’s top story on the Jan. 11 issue (“First law school grads face trial over jobs”). While that article did much to point out the peril law students may face, I believe that it neglected to address the purpose behind the law school system and the increase in law graduates, which I think is worth mentioning:

And that reason is? Simply, because more lawyers will make for better lawyers and a sounder society.

If one searches the web (in English) for information about Korean lawyers or selecting a Korean firm, horror stories abound. One blog tells of a firm billing 700 million won before doing anything; another states that Korean lawyers see themselves as “above questioning” and thus nonresponsive to clients.

To be fair, lawyers do not have a particularly good reputation worldwide. Most lawyer jokes end in death or dismemberment. But even U.S. attorneys would be shocked by this Korean reputation (and some statements were written by foreign-qualified lawyers).

Stateside, the legal profession includes regulations commanding obedience to clients’ orders and loyalty to the client. Furthermore, the industry itself is that of a service industry - poor service means clients leave; there is adequate competition in all fields to assure that only those who serve clients well shall find work.

Why, then, is Korea so different? One factor may be the Confucian past, where position is equated with respect, and hierarchy is of paramount importance. Another may be the speed of Korea’s development, with democratic law and regulation being a relatively recent acquirement.

But we must also consider scarcity - simple supply and demand. As the article highlighted, Korea’s bar passage rate is quite small; thus the number of lawyers is also quite small. In any society, the number of legal problems will be tremendous and even the “harmonious” emphasis of a Neo-Confucian society such as Korea’s cannot prevent all disputes and litigation.

On one hand a paucity of attorneys makes perfect sense. Most “big” law issues are not the issues of ordinary people. Multi-million or billion dollar securities transactions, supply contracts, or corporate structurings do not concern the average “Joe” (or average “Kim”).

But is it wrong to say that an increase in the number of lawyers would better the “elite” transactions noted above? If “x” lawyers understand tax law in one jurisdiction, but “100x” lawyers understand it in another, in which jurisdiction shall the practitioners excel to a greater degree?

In any case, it would be a far cry from reality to say that law does not affect us all in our day-to-day lives. A pedestrian is hit by a car; who pays? Who has the copyright in the letter you’re reading? As a recent letter by Professor Kim Kwan-Ki stated, labor, employment, and immigration attorneys are much in demand.

A “flood” of Foreign Legal Consultants is expected to be seen in the next few years, the same time that the new Korean law students will be hunting for jobs.

Will more firms open, offering more services? Will there be more competition and higher-quality lawyers? Can a surge of “green” graduates help to ensure greater access to the law for all Koreans and the ability of local firms to compete with global ones?

Like all things legal, one can predict, but one must always wait and see.

Darren Bean, a California attorney who has resided in Korea since 2009

*Letters and commentaries for publication should be addressed “Letters to the Editor.” E-mailed letters should be sent to eopinion@joongang.co.kr. Each letter should contain the writer’s name and full address. They are subject to editing. Letters and commentaries submitted to the Korea JoongAng Daily should not be sent to other newspapers in Korea.
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