Groups call bar exam into question

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Groups call bar exam into question

The controversy concerning the integrity of the nation’s law schools has developed into a conflict between law school professors and legal professors at universities without law schools.

Both camps released statements on Monday, one after the other, to defend their positions, strengthened in recent weeks amid renewed discussion over lawmakers’ use of influence in helping their children ? law school graduates ? obtain lucrative or high-profile jobs in the legal industry.

Those suspicions have also heightened arguments that such schools are often used as channels to pass down wealth and power.

The issue has become particularly heated with the bar exam scheduled to be abolished in 2017. Law schools were introduced at universities seven years ago as an alternative to the national bar exam, available to anyone regardless of one’s academic background.

On Monday, the Korean Association of Law Schools (KALS), comprised of 25 nationwide law schools, asserted at a press conference at the Korea Press Center in central Seoul that the bar exam should be done away with as scheduled.

The conference was attended by KALS Chairman Oh Soo-geun, the dean of Ewha Womans University’s Law School, as well as the deans of the organization’s member-schools.

“We regret that some are trying to slander the law school system with groundless information in order to retain the bar exam, which we consider a malicious and regressive movement,” Oh said. “The suggestion to keep the bar exam is a combined effort by legal organizations - which are trying to reduce the number of new lawyers - and universities trying to revive their law departments.”

“If the bar exam is maintained,” he added, “the majority of students who pass the exam would be from a few large universities in Seoul and undergraduate courses would be devastated, with students studying for the exam regardless of their majors.”

The association’s statement was followed by another from the Korea Law Professors Society (KLPS), chaired by Baek Won-ki, a law professor from Incheon National University.

The KLPS argues that the bar exam should be maintained and that the law school system is increasingly used as a way to hand down wealth and power.

The KLPS includes about 800 law professors from some 110 universities without law schools.

“For the last half a century, the bar exam has served as the fairest and the most prestigious gateway for youths,” Baek said. “However, we can see now that there are problems within the law school system, like high tuition fees and ambiguous admission standards, and that’s the reason why the system is considered a way of giving special favors to a few.”

The current conflict also follows moves in the political arena to maintain the bar exam. Five ruling Saenuri Party representatives have submitted bills to the Legislation and Judiciary Committee in the legislature, as well as New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) Rep. Cho Kyoung-tae, the first for an opposition lawmaker.

At a panel discussion on Aug. 21, NPAD Rep. Park Jie-won, a member of the committee, vowed to pass the bills calling for the bar exam to be saved.

Still, others argue that the conflict is politically motivated, part of a dispute between lawmakers loyal to the late President Roh Moo-hyun, himself a former human rights lawyer, and representatives who are not.

“The establishment of law schools in the country was one of Roh’s achievements as president,” noted a dean from a local university. “I think that the system is being attacked for political reasons.”

BY IM JANG-HYUK, KIM BONG-MOON [kim.bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]

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