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No. of law school applicants hits record high

Aug 22,2019
The number of applicants for the law school entrance exam in Korea has spiked to the highest-ever level.

The number of applicants for the Legal Education Eligibility Test (LEET), a requisite for law school admissions in Korea, reached 10,291 this year, according to the Seoul-based education institute Haneul Education Corp., which analyzed data provided by the Korean Association of Law Schools that organizes LEET annually.

The number was an increase from 9,753 last year and the highest ever since the test was established in 2009.

The spike comes as no surprise when taking into consideration that the previous rote-based bar exam has now been completely scrapped, leaving LEET as the sole option for prospective lawyers.

Under the previous system, anyone could apply to take the bar exam. Those who passed then had to attend two years of mandatory training at the government’s Judicial Research and Training Institute before becoming lawyers.

The bar exam still exists in Korea. However, now prospective lawyers must sit LEET, graduate law school and then sit the bar exam.

Another factor that may be contributing to the record-high number of applicants is the crass state of youth unemployment in the country.

“It’s so difficult to get a job these days,” said a 24-year-old man surnamed Lee who recently took LEET. “Trying my hand at law school is a more reasonable option, even if one is not guaranteed to pass the bar exam in one try after graduating from a law school.”

The number of unemployed people aged between 15 and 29 preparing for a test of any kind - including for jobs at conglomerates, media companies and the national civil service exam - reached 714,000 this year, according to Statistics Korea, a 14 percent increase from last year and the highest ever since 2006, when the government agency started keeping track.

“Trying to get into a conglomerate or a public company? I’d say your chances are as slim as trying to pass through a hole in a needle,” Lee said. “It seemed to me a safer option to try three years at law school and a license to practice law.”

“Becoming a lawyer may no longer mean that one is guaranteed a high income and a jump on the social ladder, as it used to mean in the old days in Korea,” said a 25-year-old man surnamed Kim, a graduate of Yonsei University in western Seoul, who began his first semester at a law school last year. “But I still decided to try it because the title lawyer still gives the feeling of a relatively more stable life.”

There are others like Kim who began to prepare for law school during their undergraduate studies.

“More and more students are studying hard in their first and second years of their undergraduate studies to get the GPA needed for law school admissions,” said Han Young-soo, professor of law at Ajou University in Suwon, Gyeonggi. “They decide to go to law school early on in their undergraduate studies because job prospects appear quite dim.”

The number of LEET applicants started out at 9,693 when the test was established in 2009, then dipped to 6,980 in 2013. It has been on a steady rise since then, rising to 8,385 in 2014; 9,400 in 2018; and to 10,291 this year, according to Haneul Education Corp.

BY JEON MIN-HEE, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]