Allegations renew debate over law school, bar exam

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Allegations renew debate over law school, bar exam

The controversy over law schools, introduced seven years ago as an alternative to the national bar exam, has reignited in recent days amid renewed discussion over lawmakers’ use of influence in helping their children obtain lucrative or high-profile jobs.

Ruling Saenuri Party Rep. Kim Tae-won, for instance, is thought to have pressured the Korean Government Legal Service to hire his son, while Rep. Yoon Hu-duk, a member of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), is believed to have used his authority in 2013 to help his daughter land a position at a large corporation.

NPAD Rep. Cho Kyong-tae announced on Wednesday that he would table a proposal to maintain the bar exam, set to disappear in 2017 - the first for a main opposition lawmaker. Five similar bills have already been proposed by Saenuri lawmakers.

“The law school system, which is in its seventh year, is believed to merely benefit the rich, because admissions are decided based on interviews,” Cho said in a press release.

Another lawmaker, Saenuri Rep. Kim Yong-nam, a former prosecutor, also pointed out that most information concerning employment figures among law school graduates was not open.

“Back in the days when we only had the bar exam, we didn’t have doubts because the scores were all made public,” Kim said. “But under the law school system, we always suspect unfair benefits because we never find out how they’ve become prosecutors or judges, or hired at law firms.”

“If we keep the bar exam, the market will make decisions based on bar exam scores and law schools, and the less competent one will naturally disappear,” he added.

In the main opposition NPAD, Reps. Park Joo-sun and Kim Kwan-young, who both passed the bar exam and have worked in the legal field, as well as Rep. Park Young-sun, who once chaired the National Assembly’s Legislation and Judiciary Committee, have expressed their opposition over doing away with the bar exam.

Those who want to keep the bar exam have also insisted that its eradication could be politically motivated.

“In 2007, the ruling and the main opposition parties agreed to pass one of what each party wanted - a private school act and a law school system,” said Saenuri Rep. Hong Il-pyo, a former judge. “The problem is that law schools are recognized as places where the sons and daughters of the wealthy can easily obtain jobs, so it’s actually true that the employment process isn’t transparent.”

Though it previously decided that the bar exam would be abolished in 2017, the Ministry of Justice has not made a clear decision on whether to retain it. “It must be decided with the national consensus,” Justice Minister Kim Hyun-woong said. “We will make clear our position as soon as possible after taking into consideration opinions from every corner of the society, including [those in the legal field].”

BY LEE KA-YOUNG, KIM BONG-MOON [kim.bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]

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