Unpaid training program still costs new lawyers

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Unpaid training program still costs new lawyers

There are already few on-the-job training opportunities for new lawyers who have passed the bar exam, and starting this month, a new measure will require that they complete a three-month unpaid internship program.

Graduates of three-year Western-style law schools who have passed the bar exam are currently required to undergo six months of training in the work force before being allowed to practice law and take on their own cases, while law clerks or prosecutors may participate in internships in their respective fields.

The primary issue centers on training opportunities for the new attorneys: New lawyers must complete on-the-job training at a law office, company or entity registered with the Ministry of Justice or in a program provided by the Korean Bar Association (KBA). However, only a limited number of firms and organizations are willing to bring them in.

The new measure, implemented by the KBA, aims to offer incentives to potential employers in the form of free manpower, while giving fledgling lawyers a chance to complete real-world training.

The KBA accepts applications from practicing lawyers to oversee training of those who have passed the bar exam. In exchange, for their service - which is technically considered pro bono - they receive 500,000 won per month.

“Before the implementation of this measure, the employer, upon its conscience, paid lawyers-in-training one to three million won per month. But now, in this unpaid system, they have to typically work late hours and weekends without pay,” said Kim Jung-wook, 37, who heads an association of Korean law school graduates who have passed the bar exam.

In response, an increasing number of new lawyers have filed complaints against what they have deemed a “sweatshop” system, the Seoul Bar Association said.

New lawyers face difficulty finding employment in an oversaturated legal market, and even struggle with finding internships with a legal organization or law firm.

Problems with the on-the-job training system also apply to large law firms.

After the results of the bar exam were announced in April, major law firms found themselves inundated with requests from parents or acquaintances who promised new clientele in return for giving job opportunities to new law school graduates who needed on-the-job training.

“Opinion is split,” said a partner at one law firm with over 150 attorneys who asked to remain anonymous. “Because these requests directly affect a law firm’s profits, should they be accommodated? Or are they damaging to the firm? The steering committee had a heated discussion over this for more than a month.”

“We decided not to accept [the requests],” he continued, “but this is a problem that can recur at any time.”

Still, in light of new developments, the new measure is compulsory as well as unavoidable, a KBA official said.

“It reflects the aims of new lawyers who want actual on-the-job training,” the source said.

However, Seoul Bar Association Chairman Kim Han-kyu said that the new internship system only put up additional obstacles.

“If there is no progress,” Kim said, “it’s only right to get rid of it.”

BY IM JANG-HYUK, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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