Affluent areas field more law students

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Affluent areas field more law students

To pay for law school, a 32-year-old student surnamed Kim takes odd jobs such as translation work and becoming a human subject for pharmaceutical drugs.

Last winter vacation, Kim volunteered as a test subject for a generic version of Viagra.

“We weren’t able to drink or smoke, our food was regulated and I spent 50 to 60 hours in the lab, so I felt like my freedom was taken away,” said Kim. Researchers would test his blood and condition after ingesting the drug. They would also compare his state before and after being administered the original drug.

He received 400,000 won ($352) for the experiment and said that becoming a human subject is an easy way to earn money.

“Because I spent 50 million won in the past two years, my savings have bottomed-out, so I have to take on part-time jobs,” said Kim, who studies in Seoul. “I spent three years working before entering law school, so it’s really not easy to go to law school without the aid of parents.” His father is retired, and he had to pay his own way through undergraduate school as well.

The Ministry of Justice announced last month the 1,451 students who passed the bar examination. They are the first batch of lawyers from the new, Western-style, three-year law school system implemented in 2009.

In 2009, the government allowed the opening of 25 graduate-level U.S.-style law schools, where students who complete three years of schooling are eligible to take the new bar exam. Only those who graduate from these 25 schools can take the bar exam.

Before, anyone who graduated from high school could take the bar exam, and those who passed were guaranteed two years of training at the Judicial Research and Training Institute.

But with the costly tuition, potential lawyers from more humble backgrounds such as Kim’s are finding it harder and harder to break into law school and fund their education.

The JoongAng Ilbo Special Reporting Team recently gathered the residence information of 5,074 students from 25 schools who matriculated between 2009-2011 to analyze if there is a correlation between wealth and attendees of law school.

Analysis of their addresses showed that the majority of law school students come from Seoul and also indicated students from areas with higher real estate prices go to better law schools. According to the data, 61.4 percent of the students from the new law school system lived in Seoul. The residences of the students were based on their addresses the year before their matriculation at the school.

In contrast, of the 8,115 legal professionals such as judges, lawyers and prosecutors listed in the JoongAng Ilbo database nationwide, only 18.7 percent were originally from Seoul.

Of these Seoul law students, 16.7 percent have addresses in Gangnam, Songpa and Seocho, the three wealthiest districts in southern Seoul. On the other hand, only a handful of students came from neighborhoods in the outskirts of Seoul where real estate prices are low such as Geumcheon District at 0.6 percent, Dobong District at 1 percent and Jungnang District at 1 percent. The highest number of students at 9.4 percent are from Gwanak District, a commercial center in southern Seoul where Seoul National University is located.

The JoongAng llbo requested Lee Won-jae, professor of technology culture at Kaist, to analyze the data of the students’ residences and the cost of real estate nationwide. Lee found that students who lived in areas with higher real-estate prices had a higher chance of getting into their preferred law schools.

According to Lee’s analysis, 23.2 percent of student at the top-tier law schools - Seoul National, Korea, Yonsei, Sungkyunkwan, Hanyang and Yonsei universities - lived in areas where real estate prices were in the top 25 percentile (more than 24.33 million won per 3.3 square meters [35.5 square feet]).

In contrast, only 13.8 percent of law students at the top-tier schools lived in houses within the lowest 25 percentile in real estate cost (less than 7.86 million won per 3.3 square meters). The real estate prices were determined by their cost the immediate year before the student matriculated at law school.

“The hypothesis that the wealthier you are, the better law school you will get into has been 99.9 percent confirmed,” Lee said.



By Special Reporting Team [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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