Law schools only harming systemSix years have passed since law schools were introduced under a new plan to have them replace the role of the rigorous and highly competitive state-administered judiciary exam in incubating aspiring law practitioners.
When the rote-based bar exam is abolished in 2017, obtaining a law school degree and passing the license exam will be the only way one can practice law in the country. The Western-style law school institution was imported to breed well-rounded legal practitioners and specialists in various fields with global-standard competitiveness.
But so far the establishment seems to be doing more harm than good. The biggest problem is the cost. Finishing a three-year law school requires as much as 60 million won ($59,149), tuition fees that are beyond the reach of students from less well-off families. In fact, many university students sneer that a law degree and a master’s in business administration requires more money than brains.
There is also the problem of a lack of confidence in local institutions. Local law based on a civil legal system cannot be thoroughly covered in classes, and mock trials and field cases are taught by retired legal officers who lack recent experience. Courses in the two-year government-run Judicial Research and Training Institute, where those who passed the state exam undergo rigorous field training, are taught by active judges and prosecutors.
These downsides were well foreseen. But the government rushed in 2007 to institutionalize law schools to gradually replace the state-administered judiciary exam and training program without sufficient debate and review. The bill was pushed in a package with the Private School Act, which had been controversial in itself, so the legislature paid little attention to that aspect. One veteran lawyer recalled that the civilian panel reviewing the new system was discussing the quota for law schools when he heard the news that the law had been passed. The controversy continues until this day. The lawyers’ association demands the state-administered system remain intact to allow two available routes to practice law. A bill on the proposal has been motioned at the National Assembly.
But law departments have already been removed from universities that run separate law schools. Students can no longer study law in universities, and those who bypass law schools must prepare on their own for the state-administered exam. The overall education system to nurture law practitioners should be reexamined, and the high-cost low-yield law school institution should be seriously considered.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 29, Page 34