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[Editorial] Law school woes

Irregularities do not justify bar exam retention

Law schools are likely to create controversy in society again amid allegations that irregular screening processes were used to select students at some universities.

Social conflict could arise from a series of litigations from people who failed the bar exam, as the Ministry of Education is deciding whether to unveil the result of its full-fledged scrutiny of 25 law schools nationwide over possible admissions irregularities.

One allegation is that some children of legal professionals entered law schools by highlighting their family backgrounds during the admissions process. The issue is whether the law schools offered improper favors to students whose parents are former or incumbent judges and prosecutors.

More than 100 lawyers have called on the Education Ministry to make public the allegedly irregular admissions, and the initial issue is whether the ministry will choose to reveal the results of its probe in detail.

Should the ministry announce that it suspects some students garnered admission by taking advantage of their parents’ close relations with professors, this is bound to have widespread social ramifications.

Aside from legal professionals, markets speculate that some applicants were admitted unfairly because of the high-profile jobs of their parents.

Now there is no choice for the ministry. Any misdeeds at law schools must be publicized in detail.

However, society should clearly separate the admissions issue from calls among some lawmakers and Justice Ministry officials to retain the state-run judicial entrance examination, which is scheduled to be abolished next year, when it will be completely replaced by the law school system.

The nation has been implementing a two-track screening system ― both the national bar and law school-based exams. The law school system was introduced here in 2009.

From 2018, only individuals who studied for three years at 25 law schools nationwide and pass the “attorney-qualifying examination” will be allowed to become lawyers, prosecutors or judges. Non-law school graduates will be ineligible to take the attorney-qualifying exam, which was introduced in Korea in 2012.

Some reportedly are seeking to exploit the Education Ministry’s coming revelation as a timely tool to revive the state-run judicial examination. Such an attempt, if there is any, would be inappropriate, as the ministry could effectively weed out law schools’ improprieties by handing down stern sanctions on rule-breakers.

If people in positions of power want to push for retention of the state bar exam, they should initially gain public consensus on the move, and carry out extensive discussions at the National Assembly.

Many citizens share the view that the heavy tuition fees at law schools will eventually block students from low-income households from entering the legal profession. Nevertheless, society had already agreed on the need to address the side effects of the state-led bar exam, which include the creation of a great number of “losers” who fail to pass the exam despite studying for five to 10 years.

Unsuccessful bar exam candidates’ failure to get jobs or lack of willingness to be employed as ordinary salaried workers has been a factor weakening national competitiveness.

Another worrisome point is that legal professionals might be trying to secure their vested rights as they have in past decades. Under the law school system, the number of lawyers will rapidly increase as years go by, as in advanced countries, including the U.S.

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