A matter of gaining respect

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A matter of gaining respect

Competition can sometimes be
meaningless. A match between different
forms of combat sports like
taekwondo versus boxing is possible.
But sparring cannot take place
between players of taekwondo and
gymnastics. A contest is pointless, as
the purpose and role of playing and
enjoying the two sports is entirely
different. We should make a choice
between the traditional bar exam
and newer law school to groom and
train legal professionals, and not
weigh the two to see what is better.
The state-administered test is
designed to select candidates for the
judiciary ready to take up training,
while a law school educates those
without any previous law studies
for the purpose of grooming legal
professionals. The test can breed a
group of elitists in a selective legal
field, while a law school student
gets a license to practice law upon
graduation. Those who pass the test
suddenly become eligible to enter
the field after a certain period of
training, while law school graduates
must prove their expertise and ability
through experience.
After scrutinizing the merits and
disadvantages of the two distinctively
different systems, the government
and society agreed to shift to a law school system in 2007. It is outrageous
to suddenly come up with
an idea of making the two compete
under a binary system.
The proponents of state exam
propose to compete in test and court
results. Those who pass the state bar
exam go through standardized training
in a single state institution, while
law school graduates can work in
fields where lawyers traditionally do
not go. They cannot be objectively
compared and rated. Their ability
proven from law school training
should be enough to qualify them to
practice law. If they are forced to
compete, law school students would
also have to devote their time preparing
for the rigorous bar exam. It is
like asking a gymnast to prepare for
a taekwondo combat match.
The state made a promise to the
people to scrap the bar exam in 2017
when making law school legislation
in 2007. People have long prepared
for the timetable and transition. Universities
have not accepted new students
for undergraduate law courses
for the last eight years. Existing law
degree students have prepared for
the bar exam, law school or any job
according to their conditions.
For the last eight years, thousands
of students who aspired to
become legal professionals had to
study in other fields in universities
and delay law study until a graduate
law school course. Those who got
into law schools would be eligible
to take the exam to win a lawyers’
license in a few months. They are
confounded and feel betrayed.
The law school system has its
flaws, but prolonging the state exam
for another four years cannot be the
answer to the problems. New law
schools at Dongguk University and
Kookmin University are yet to receive
state authorization due to the
cap on quotas for the number of law
school acceptances. This must be
solved by easing quota restrictions.
The law department at Korea University
had 1,400 students in the senior
class, but the quota in the threeyear
law school is only 360.
Because the school accepts just a
fourth of the past quota, it naturally
has to charge higher tuition fees. If
the quota is doubled, tuition fees can
be halved.
To insist on a binary system despite
the risk raises suspicion of
shaking the law school establishment
to revive the state-exam-only
system. This comes from undermining
the social status of lawyers. The
public does not regard lawyers with
the same respect they had for those
who passed the elite state exam and
authoritative training. But stripping
the elitist rank from the lawyer’s office
had been the main idea behind
establishing law schools. Lawyers
have become more accessible; they
must stoop lower to serve the people
if they really want to earn respect
from the public.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff

*The author is a professor at Korea University Law School and a lawyer.

by Kim Je-wan
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