Law students threaten to drop out en masse

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Law students threaten to drop out en masse

Students at all 25 Western-style law schools nationwide threatened on Friday to collectively drop out of school in response to the government’s announcement that it will delay the abolishment of the old bar examination for four years.

The student associations of the country’s three-year Western-style law schools - including Seoul National University (SNU), Yonsei University and Korea University - agreed to collectively boycott classes and state-administered exams after convening emergency meetings Thursday evening.

They also drew up withdrawal forms, threatening to drop out of law school en masse to protest the Ministry of Justice’s announcement on Thursday that it will delay abolishment of the state-run bar exam until 2021.

The old bar exam was initially scheduled to be abolished in 2017 with the full adoption of a U.S.-style law school system, which was first introduced in 2009. This delay puts the futures of the graduates of the costly new law schools up in the air in an already oversaturated legal market.

At around 2:30 p.m., 464 of the total 480 students enrolled in the SNU School of Law submitted withdrawal forms to the school’s administration, demanding that the “Justice Ministry withdraw its statement that it will delay abolishment of the bar exam for another four years,” according to its student council.

Students at other law schools, including at Ewha Womans University, Hanyang University and Konkuk University, will follow SNU’s lead over the next several days and submit withdrawal forms to their administrations.

The students also agreed to boycott a criminal trial practical exam administered by the Justice Ministry on Saturday and a prosecutor practical exam scheduled for Dec. 12.

Lee Chul-hee, a student at Chungbuk National University Law School and head of the association of law school student association presidents, told the JoongAng Ilbo over phone, “We thought that withdrawing from school was the best method to convey our sincerity.”

A group of nine law school student association presidents held a press conference in front of the National Assembly in Seoul to protest the delay of the abolishment of the bar exam.

Law school professors also protested the Justice Ministry’s decision, and the Korean Association of Law Schools convened an emergency meeting of the 25 law schools’ deans Friday afternoon on how to respond to the government’s position.

Lee Won-woo, dean of the SNU School of Law, wrote an open letter to law school students on Friday in which he “deeply commiserated” with their anger. “I completely understand where you are coming from,” he wrote, “deciding to halt academic schedules and collectively withdraw.”

He added that the “ultimate goal of the dean and professors is the same as all of you,” but asked, “please do not get confused over the means and the goals.”

Bong Wook, a deputy minister for legal affairs at the Justice Ministry, said in a press conference on the same day, “We will continue to review the many agencies and organizations’ opinions, and the Justice Ministry will make a final decision,” somewhat backpedaling from its statement the day before that it will make sure the delay is legislated.

The government’s initial plan was to phase out the traditional bar exam.

Under the old system, those who pass the traditional bar exam go on to study at the Judicial Research and Training Institute before practicing law. If the bar exam - open to non-university graduates - is abolished, only those who study at the country’s 25 law schools will be eligible to take the qualifying exams to become lawyers, prosecutors or judges.

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