Dismal Legal Education

Dismal Korean Legal Education

By Sean Hayes
Korea Times 11/20/2007

Korean lawyers are not meeting the expectations of Korean and foreign clients. The problem stems from the poor quality of education in general and legal education in specific.

Businesses in Korea know there is a problem. In a survey conducted a few years back, by Lexis-Nexis and the Korea Economic Daily, 97.3 percent of Korean companies stated that Korean law firms fall behind the world standard.

Lawyers, in Korea, know there is a problem. Chun Y. Yang, a lawyer at the largest law firm in Korea, stated in a speech that: “Generally speaking, U.S. law practice is significantly more developed and sophisticated … U.S. lawyers are expected and trained to think three, four steps ahead and be proactive … The chances are average local Korean practitioners or even the relatively good ones will not be able to meet the high expectations of a U.S. client.”

President Roh Moo-hyun and the National Assembly know there is a problem. The Law School Bill states, “Under the current system to nurture legal professionals, a gap exists between legal education and legal practices. Also the current system does not sufficiently nurture legal professionals who have expertise in preventing and addressing legal disputes. Therefore, the purpose of this amendment is to provide legal services which meet citizens’ various needs by introducing a U.S.-style law school system.”

However, the majority of professors either don’t know or don’t care about the problem, since no significant change that seems to address these problems has been acknowledged or addressed during the law school application process.

Students and legal professionals including judges, prosecutors and attorneys nearly universally believe that professors need to stop lecturing and focus on nurturing critical thinking and logical reasoning skills by engaging students. However, they believe that most professors are incapable of teaching in any other way.

The reason most professors are unable to make any substantial change to teaching methods is because a majority of Korean professors have Ph.D.s or an S.J.D. The Ph.D. is earned within the presently flawed Korean system and an S.J.D. is a degree earned in the U.S, but is essentially a self-study degree, that is sold almost entirely to non-American students.

Those with these degrees comprise the vast majority of Korean professors. Most of these simply lecture, focus on theory that has little relationship to the practice of law and put little emphasis on building students reading, writing, speaking, research, logical reasoning and critical thinking skills.

These are also the people that the nation is entrusting their law schools to. My school, Kookmin University, and the rest of the schools will simply maintain the status quo. The teaching method is not even being discussed and, thus, the major benefit of the U.S. law school system will be lost.

If this is true the impending law school system will not “nurture legal professionals” and a “gap between legal education and legal practice” will still exist. I polled students at my school and only one professor, plus myself, regularly asks students questions and regularly uses real world examples in class.

Of course this professor was a former judge and sadly will reach his retirement age and will no longer teach at my school.

We need to either abandon the law school system, since continuing on this track will only cause more expense and time for students, or require at least all first year classes to be taught in the Socratic method and a majority of classes to focus on building reading, writing, speaking, research, critical thinking and logical reasoning skills.

All first year classes should be taught by professors with J.D.s, or professors that have been judges, since all J.D. students have been “nurtured” in the Socratic method, and all judges, because of their experience have the tools needed to quickly adapt to this method; while professors with S.J.D.s and Ph.D.s have had little to no exposure to the Socratic method and have caused and nurtured for decades the “gap” between “legal education and reality” and are overwhelmingly incapable of anything except lecturing.

If this is not done we will be discussing further changes for decades to come.


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