Equal opportunity for allThose who claim that legal professionals - judges, prosecutors and lawyers - should take a single path for law school education say that poorer students also have equal opportunities through extended fee waivers and scholarship programs to expensive law schools. They argue that individuals spend an equally huge sum preparing for the excruciatingly hard and time-consuming judiciary state exam through cram institutions.
They also point out that there is no other way than through medical school education and training to earn a doctor’s license and why should the law license be any different?
They claim that if the judicial entrance exam to practice law is retained instead of being scrapped in 2017, the idea to foster more and broader legal professionals through law school would be undermined. Apart from the last reason, the other arguments to support their logic to sustain a single path for law practice are unconvincing.
To enter law school, one needs to earn satisfactory grades in an undergraduate school - most likely from an elite university. Even for a middle-income family, tuition nearing 100 million won ($89,485) is too much of a burden. Creating student debt doesn’t make the burden go away. Law schools cannot fully make up for the psychological insecurity and desperation to achieve a career dream. It is absurd to compare the cost of completing a full law school course with that of preparing for a state exam that can be done while working part-time. Those advocating elimination of the national state exam system neglect the fact that many of those who have entered the practice after passing the exam could not have dreamt of being a law professional under the law school system.
Some professions require special lab training and some just textbooks and blackboards to be literate in the field. There are few licenses in our society that are issued to a strictly qualified group. Law professionals have so far been generated through the state exam system that does not impose any special limits on the eligibility to sit for tests.
When the government and politicians decided to scrap the state judicial exam and instead introduce law schools, the main goals were to equalize the rank of universities, enhance the quality of legal service, upgrade legal education and reduce the waste of human resources who spend years preparing for the state exam.
But all the rosy prospects and hopes over the law school system were dashed after two years. Law schools guarantee more than a 75-percent pass rate even before their students take the bar exam.
The competition ratio in the exam was 1.1. to 1 last year and is expected at 1.3 to 1 this year. Still, law school professors and students demand a higher acceptance rate. Without disclosing the exact scores of the bar exam, no one can exactly know who and why one is accepted to the state prosecutor’s office or court.
What we know is the schools and families they come from. The ratio of graduates from provincial universities and nonelite schools entering law schools in the capital, the courts, the prosecution and large law firms fell by half compared to when there was a single judiciary exam to practice law. Civilian groups that advocated for the law school system to provide more quality legal services remain silent these days.
In the past, we placed hopes on the golden rule that there are things money can and can’t buy. When the state judicial exam ceases to exist, society will be moving toward one that is dominated by those with money and background. We must retain both paths to provide equal opportunity and allow productive rivalry in the law profession to prevent the spread of incompetence, narrowness, recklessness, elitism and greed.
Translation by Korea JoongAng Daily.
*The author is a professor of Kookmin University Law School.
by Lee Hong-sun