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Aug 1, 2011

Korean Law School Students SHOULD Face Grim Reality - Blame the Professors

The Korea Times posted a decent article entitled “Law School Graduates Face Grim Reality.”

The author’s one flaw is that it only takes into account the opinion of law professors and students.

The reality, in Korea,  is that most professors do not have law licenses and even the professors with law licenses often have little experience practicing law.  The quotes from the articles are correct, but do not reflect the complete reality.

The article quotes a professor that contends “What’s certain is that the government should be most blamed for all the confusion and disputes surrounding the law school system. And the victims of this mishandling will be the students.” The professor refused to be named in the article.

Another professor noted, “The country will have 1,500 lawyers next year, but they will be driven into cutthroat competition.” What is wrong with competition? I have been taught to believe that capitalism produces cheaper and better products and services. 

I love competition.  It makes me a better lawyer and also makes us all more profitable, since with better lawyers comes more work for lawyers.  Better lawyers are more respected lawyers and more respected lawyers will lead to more opportunities including opportunities outside of the traditional legal jobs.   This has not yet occured in Korea.

I have worked with Korean, Chinese, Japanese, American, British, Hong Kong, Singaporean, French, German and other lawyers in my decade plus in Asia and by far the Korean lawyers have been the least efficient, creative, careful, and dedicated to the needs of clients. This fact may be caused, as other have noted, by cultural realities, but must also be blamed on the lack of quality education and competition.
I formerly worked as professor (6 years) and sadly intimately know the reality. 

The majority of professors, still, simply lecture. The majority of professors, even those with law licenses, are incapable of writing a legal opinion, case brief, or drafting a complaint that anyone but a friend in a law firm will pay for.

Different problems occur in the Judicial Research and Training Institute. The Institute professors, overwhelmingly, are judges. These judges have zero experience representing clients.  The Institute, however, overall does do a good job in training students to be judges, but does a poor job of producing attorneys with capabilities needed to be a good attorney.

The law schools must adapt to new realities and teach Korean lawyers skills they need - however it seems few know what skills are needed. The third year law school students that I saw this summer - do not have the needed skills. or work ethic needed to be attorneys in our competitive world.

The problem is the professors and even lawyers are unaware of the skills needed to be lawyers, since most Korean lawyers are, only, focused on non-complex litigation. They are incapable of any services to clients other than basic contract drafting and mundane litigation. This is why you see few attorneys working in non-legal roles in Korea.  While, in contrast, in America and the U.K many attorneys are also presidents of companies, author books, run non-profits, brokerage houses, investment banks and engage in activities that a legal education is perceived useful for (almost any job).

I suspect major changes will occur if foreign law firms entering Korea push hard to impose their structure into the Korean law firms.  If they do not, I suspect some attorneys will specialize in going after the deep pockets in malpractice cases.  Judges are more willing to accept these claims and the stuff I have seen over the years, deserves not only civil punishment. 

I am lucky enough to have a team that I have been able to push to work within a structure similar to international law firms.  This has taken me a great deal of time and produced a great deal of grey hair, but has also produced a product that few Korean firms can duplicate.

The Korea Times articles mentioned in this article may be found HERE.

Other articles that may be of interest:
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SeanHayes@ipglegal.com