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Jobs not a given for new crop of lawyers

Preference is now for high-paying positions at big law firms
Jan 16,2019
Korea’s new crop of lawyers are having trouble finding work.

Some 112 young men and women who studied law, passed the bar exam and enrolled in the Judicial Research and Training Institute in 2017 finished their two years Monday and were awarded certificates.

Usually, students at the training institute have lined up jobs as lawyers, prosecutors or judges before graduation day. But for this year’s batch, only 47.32 percent have set jobs, according to the Judicial Research and Training Institute Monday. Last year’s rate was 50.32 percent. “The reason for such a low employment rate is the poor economic situation, a lack of hiring at public institutions and the fact that law institutions prefer people that already have experience,” said an official from the institute. “[But] we expect everyone will find a job in a few months’ time.”

Last year’s graduates were 98 percent employed by August, eight months after graduation. But according to a lawyer who attended the institute a few years ago, just because most grads find jobs doesn’t mean they are the jobs they desired in the first place.

“The significance of the low employment rate before the trainees complete their training means that they weren’t called in to places of their first choice,” said the lawyer.

Many of this year’s graduates are applying to high-paying law firms as opposed to public sector jobs in the Justice Ministry or the judiciary. The valedictorian and salutatorian of the class have landed jobs at Kim & Chang, Korea’s largest law firm.

“The trend for employment has changed,” said an official from the Judicial Research and Training Institute. “In the past, the valedictorian and salutatorian of the training program would seek jobs at the Supreme Court. Nowadays, they want to work at high-paying law firms

That could be a problem for Korea’s judicial system.

“Ever since it became legal for lawyers to cross over and become prosecutors and judges, I have heard that courts feel like they keep losing potentially bright minds to law firms,” said a lawyer based in southern Seoul.

“Not many people will voluntarily move to a judicial position after being at a high-paying law firm like Kim & Chang for seven years,” said the lawyer.

This brain drain was noted by Supreme Court Chief Justice Kim Myeong-su at the graduation ceremony on Monday, who encouraged the young lawyers to contribute to society.

“I have heard that with the increasing number of people who earn the qualifications to practice law each year, there is a problem for some to find a place to practice their profession,” Justice Kim told the graduating class. “However, there are many positions in which one can use their skills to help others. What is most important is to adopt a sympathetic attitude towards those who are in trouble.”

BY LEE HOO-YEON [jeong.juwon@joongang.co.kr]