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Drama heats up law school debate : SBS legal thriller causes a stir due to character’s preferential treatment

Feb 14,2017
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Actor Ji Sung stars as an amnesiac lawyer facing a death sentence in the SBS drama “Defendant.” [SBS]
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Left: Supporters of the bar exam shave their heads in protest of its abolishment. Right: Law school students hold a demonstration after the phasing out of the bar exam is delayed. [JOONGANG ILBO]
Conflict between graduates of law schools and those of the national bar exam is heating up due to a particular episode of a recent television drama.

The show in question happens to be “Defendant,” the new SBS legal thriller. The 16-part mini-series is about a reputable prosecutor named Park Jeong-u, played by actor Ji Sung, who finds himself on death row for the alleged murder of his family and must now recover his lost memories in order to uncover the truth.

The controversy in question is centered on a particular supporting character named Yeo Min-gyeong, played by actress Han Ji-woo, who according to her profile description on the official homepage, is described as a lawyer who was able to get into law school thanks to the influence of her father and hired into her law firm thanks to her uncle. Basically, her success is credited only to her connections.

The Korean Lawyer’s Association on Jan. 26 sent an official notice to SBS asking for the revision of the character’s description.

The association stated, “Because the unfair admission into law school or the unjust hiring into the law firm is being portrayed as ordinary, the reputation of current law school students and graduates are being defamed.”

However, lawyers that have passed the bar exam have protested these claims.

“The Korea Lawyer’s Association’s is denouncing freedom of expression,” said the Korean Bar Association on Feb. 6. “It is because unfair admission to law school and resulting employment truly does exist that the depiction [of the character] is being based on facts. Should the Korea Lawyer’s Association continue to assert their stance, then we will provide full legal support to the network’s staff and cast members.”

Similarly, last year’s tvN drama “The Good Wife” heard similar cries of disapproval from the law school community due to a certain character who was a graduate from law school and just happened to have influential parents.

A rep from SBS said, “We don’t see this as a big problem since the character is based on a dramatic representation.”

The age-old judicial bar examination system has been the traditional method of being able to enter the legal field since its introduction in 1963.

However, the implementation of a Western-style law school system in 2009 is supposed to be the new standard, and the rigorous bar exams were planned to be phased out.

However, protests from those in support of the exams began to spread, as the high tuition fees of law school and lack of transparency in the admission process led those opposed to accuse the law school system of only benefitting the rich, with further accusations that law firms were hand-picking candidates from elite backgrounds.

The tuition for Yonsei University’s law school, which is among the highest of the 25 universities that adopted the program, is 9.7 million ($8,430) won per semester for this year.

Similarly, law school students have expressed frustration at the slow-pace of reforms and the delaying of the abolishment of the bar exams. With social stigma further stacking up against law school, enrolled students have been demanding that the government “keep their word” on its policies.

With a number of protests and strikes coming from both sides and the bar exam becoming effectively obsolete this year, the issue will be one for debate in the upcoming presidential election.

On Feb. 6, presidential frontrunner Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party said, “As a person who participated in the government that created the law school, it would be difficult to overturn state policies and go back to the bar exam system.”

Meanwhile, Seongnam Mayer Lee Jae-myung and competitor of Moon in the upcoming DP primaries advocated on Jan. 31 during a presentation that “the bar exams must continue to exist.”

The drama itself, while bringing attention to a possible political issue, has been enjoying high viewership ratings. The episode aired on Feb. 7 was the highest in its timeslot, recording 18.6 percent in ratings, according to Nielsen.

BY NOH JIN-HO AND CHUNG JIN-HONG [chung.jinhong@joongang.co.kr]




[법조계는 지금 드라마 ‘피고인’ 공방]

드라마 한 편 때문에 로스쿨 출신과 사법시험 출신 법조인 사이에 마찰이 일고 있다.

갈등의 발단은 SBS 월화 드라마 ‘피고인’이다. 16부작 드라마 ‘피고인’은 강력부 검사인 박정우(지성 분)가 가족을 죽였다는 누명을 쓰고 사형수가 된 뒤 이를 극복하는 과정을 담고 있다. 논란은 검사로 등장하는 ‘여민경(한지우 분)’을 둘러싸고 벌어졌다. 극 중 여민경은 ‘낙하산 로스쿨 검사’로 묘사된다. 드라마 홈페이지에서도 “아빠 빽으로 로스쿨 가고 삼촌 빽으로 로펌에서 경력 쌓은 낙하산 검사”로 소개되고 있다.

로스쿨 출신 법조인 모임인 ‘한국법조인협회’는 지난달 26일 “여민경의 캐릭터 묘사를 시정하라”는 공문을 SBS에 보냈다. 한국법조인협회 측은 “로스쿨 부정입학이나 부정한 로펌 입사가 일반적인 것처럼 묘사해 로스쿨 재학생·졸업생의 명예를 훼손하고 있다”고 주장했다.

그러자 이번엔 사법시험 출신 법조인들이 반발했다. 사법시험 출신 변호사 단체인 대한법조인협회는 6일 “로스쿨 출신 변호사들의 표현의 자유 침해행위를 규탄”하는 성명서를 냈다. 대한법조인협회 측은 “로스쿨 입학전형 및 취업 부정은 실재하기 때문에 묘사가 사실에 기초하고 있다”며 “한국법조인협회가 외압을 계속 행사할 경우 해당 방송사 제작진·출연자들에 대한 모든 법적 지원을 제공할 것”이라고 말했다. 앞서 지난해 8월 종영된 tvN 드라마 ‘굿 와이프’에서도 한 등장인물이 잘나가는 부모를 둔 로스쿨 출신 변호사로 등장해 로스쿨 커뮤니티 ‘로이너스’ 등에서 우려의 목소리가 나왔다. SBS 관계자는 “드라마의 극적 표현을 위한 설정이기 때문에 큰 문제가 되지 않는다고 본다”고 말했다.

노진호 기자 yesno@joongang.co.kr