Western-style law school system hits bumps in first few years

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Western-style law school system hits bumps in first few years

A 32-year-old office worker surnamed Choi took the law school entrance exam last year but failed. This year he did not bother retaking the Legal Education Eligibility Test, or LEET, the Korean equivalent of the U.S. Law School Admission Test, or LSAT.

Choi witnessed the first batch of the newly implemented U.S.-style law schools’ graduates earlier this year and was not impressed with the perks of having a new graduate-level law degree under your belt.

“I feel doubtful about investing in three years of law school after seeing the law school graduates’ careers,” or lack thereof, he admitted.

With the drop in popularity in the new western-style law school systems implemented in Korea since 2009, the number of applicants for LEET is at the lowest ever.

The standardized exam is administered by the Korea Institute of Curriculum and Evaluation, which provides Korean law schools with a metric to measure the aptitude of students for law school admissions.

The Korean Association of Law Schools revealed on Sunday that 7,628 people applied to take the 2013 LEET, 13.3 percent less than last year when 8,795 applied.

The Korea Institute of Curriculum and Evaluation saw 10,960 applicants sign up to take the aptitude test in 2009, the year it was established. That number dropped by 32.9 percent the following year to 8,428 and increased to 8,518 in 2011. But the test has maintained a range of around 8,500 applicants over the past three years.

Only those who graduate from 25 law schools opened in 2009 by the government are eligible to take the new bar exam.

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

This old system will be completely phased out by 2018.

As the number of students to pass the old bar examinations is set to decrease by half from last year to 500 this year and 300 the following year, the test administrators anticipated LEET takers to increase this year as more lawyers-to-be transition over to the new system.

But hefty tuition and low employment rates in the currently oversaturated legal market is already deterring those who once considered undergoing the three-year graduate-level law school system.

The decreased number of LEET takers backs this growing skepticism of the law school system.

This year, 1,451 out of 1,665 students from 25 law schools passed the new bar examinations. But of those who passed the bar, about a third of them found lawyer jobs in the government and private sector, and only some 230 lawyers were hired into the coveted top-seven law firms or decent judiciary or prosecutor positions. Another deterrent is the high cost to take the LEET at 270,000 won ($228).

The 2013 LEET will be administered on July 22 and results would be announced one month later. Law school applications are in October, and there are a maximum of 2,000 spots in the 25 schools.

By Yoon Seok-man, Sarah Kim [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]
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