‘Walk on either the left or right side of a chief judge but slightly behind him or her and get in the elevator in the order of ranks.’
Former and current law clerks that a Dong-A Ilbo team recently met with said that they received etiquette lessons for courts, including the above, from current judges and added that the old-fashioned and rigorous protocols are still in practice even though it is said that the atmosphere in courts is changing. The triangular position of a chief judge in the middle and associate judges on either of him or her but a little bit behind is still maintained when they go eat or take a stroll.
Law clerks, which are the new position introduced following the unification of judicial officers, are considered future candidates for judges. They are selected through a test taken by juniors in law schools and help with work for the justice department for three years. Many of them become lawyers afterward before they apply to become judges. However, the rigorous protocols of courts are pointed as a barrier to outstanding former law clerks becoming judges. Some of the etiquette lessons that law clerks receive include: follow a chief judge in the order of the year that one graduated from the training institute when walking; don’t take off your jacket until a chief judge does; suggest someone eat first in the order of ranks.
Such protocols are deeply rooted in courts. “I was warned when I served coffee after a meal to chief judges in orders different than their ranks,” a former law clerk said. When they go to lunch together, a lower-ranked judge should be notified to come out first to minimize a more senior judge’s waiting time for an elevator. Due to such hierarchical and strict culture, some law clerks decide to leave courts before they finish their three-year term. Many who finish a three-year term decide not to return to courts after experiencing a relatively freer environment at private law firms as lawyers.
Those inside and outside of courts say that courts’ culture of overly stressing protocols should change even though judges who put too much value on work-life balance are also problematic. A judge with four years of experience who asked to remain anonymous said that it is an outdated practice to emphasize formality and protocols. “Unnecessary protocols should be removed while work system and court culture to put more emphasis on work should be put in place,” said the judge.
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