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[Op-ed] Bad Policy on Law Schools

Posted December. 09, 2008 07:45,   


The Seoul metropolitan area is home to half of the country’s population and attracts most of Korea’s human resources and money. The previous Roh Moo-hyun administration emphasized balanced national development. To that end, it sought to relocate the capital from Seoul to an area near Daejeon, a city 167.3 kilometers from Seoul, but the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional. The Roh administration then proposed the creation of a multifunctional administrative city. Though it was considered a good idea to jumpstart provincial economies, pushing for unrealistic policies caused adverse effects.

The logic of balanced national development also influenced the selection of law schools and the number of students in each area. Fair distribution of law schools was more important than assessing the conditions of universities, such as the number of people who passed the bar, the environment for law education, and the quality of faculty. Some claimed reverse discrimination as provincial universities took 43 percent (860) of the combined slots of law schools (2,000). The move was intended to encourage more students in the provinces to enter nearby law schools so that after graduation, they could contribute to the development of their regions by practicing law there.

The results of an analysis on the first students to be accepted to law schools, however, echoed widespread concern. Since law schools in Seoul and vicinity did not offer many slots, many excellent graduates from those areas went to law schools in the provinces. Some 60 percent of students accepted by provincial law schools (excluding Kyungpook National University in Daegu) are graduates of universities in Seoul and vicinity, and 41 percent were from the top three universities - Seoul National, Korea and Yonsei. Most graduates from universities in the Seoul metropolitan area are likely to go back to their regions after completing law school in the provinces. The argument for regionally balanced slots might not hold up. Certain universities that produced many graduates who passed the bar or were not selected to start law schools are urging more slots or additional designation of law schools.

Korea should learn from Japan, which also introduced the U.S.-style law school five years ago. Japan allocated 5,800 slots, more than its guidelines designated, to 74 universities for balanced regional development. As a result, 33 percent of law school graduates passed the bar on average and only three percent in a certain school. Nearly 46 law schools facing a shortage of applicants are trying to cut the number of slots. The number of slots should be increased for well-prepared universities to include various subjects in the curriculum. In Korea, law schools could face financial difficulty due to a small number of students despite annual tuition of up to 20 million won (13,809 dollars).

Editorial Writer Yuk Jeong-soo (sooya@donga.com)