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Half of new lawyers still out of work

Lawy has always been regarded as one of the most prestigious occupations in Korea but the legal market has already turned into a red ocean and nearly half of new attorneys remain unemployed.

Of the 970 people who completed a two-year mandatory training program Wednesday at the Judicial Research and Training Institute after passing the bar exam, 343 have yet to be employed, with 189 to join the military to serve out their conscription.

The portion of the graduates with no job takes up 44.1 percent, a sharp increase from 36 percent in 2008.

The majority of the jobless would prefer governmental positions: 124 opted for the prosecution while 82 are judge hopefuls.

Of those hired, 150 headed to large law firms, with 29 starting their career as juniors for independent solicitors, 30 working for public corporations and 18 at private companies. Twenty-six opened private practices of their own. 
New legal professionals attend a graduation ceremony at the Judicial Research and Training Institute in Ilsan, Gyeonggi Province, Wednesday. (Park Hae-mook/Korea Herald)
New legal professionals attend a graduation ceremony at the Judicial Research and Training Institute in Ilsan, Gyeonggi Province, Wednesday. (Park Hae-mook/Korea Herald)

“I haven’t received offers from at firms I wanted,” said a 29-year-old lawyer-trainee who asked to be identified only by his family name, Seo. He decided to join the military to stall for time. “I know several others who haven’t been confirmed with employment yet and they are quite anxious, too.”

Industry insiders say the worldwide financial downturn drove more aspiring lawyers to vie for public positions guaranteeing job stability. Also, the economic hardship made many law firms stingy in hiring junior lawyers, they said.

“Conventionally, most graduates were recruited no later than June. But last year, the unemployment issue lingered till September. This year, it may take longer than that,” a spokesman for the training center was quoted as saying by the Yonhap news agency. “Next year, things will be much more complicated because law school graduates will be joining the market, fueling the competition,” he added.

However, some predict that more job will open in the meantime to “bulk up” brains for competing against foreign firms once the legal services market opens due to recently agreed-upon free trade agreements.

“Once the market opens and foreign firms, including aggressive American firms rush in, the only way to survive from the extreme competition is to size up and professionalize in specific areas,” the Donga Ilbo newspaper quoted an insider of Kim & Chang, the nation’s largest firm, as saying.

“The training center is also focusing on teaching rather novel and practical fields such as international trade law or American and U.K. laws. We hope it would broaden the trainees’ choices,” Lee Jeong-min, professor at the center, told the Chosun Ilbo.

By Bae Ji-sook (baejisook@heraldcorp.com)
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