The law school bill passed Tuesday will drastically transform the method of training and selecting lawyers, shifting the focus from the state bar exam to universities.
In some cases, the law is vaguely worded, leaving many key issues undecided.
Under the new law, the current bar examination will be abolished by 2012. Starting in 2009 law schools will be established, becoming the new pathway for those aiming to be lawyers, judges and prosecutors.
The legislation ended a decade-old debate on whether the country should introduce the U.S. model, but its lack of details could spark a fresh round of conflict between schools, judicial circles and the government.
About 40 of the country's 97 universities with undergraduate law courses have invested a lot of money in the hopes of being selected as one of about 10 law schools. The government's selection process, therefore, will almost inevitably generate conflicts.
"All universities will go for becoming a law school. It's a life and death issue for them," Yoon Sang-il, publicity director of the Korean Bar Association, said.
The legislation is only the beginning of creating the new judicial system, he said.
"What standards will the government apply to selecting universities? And there are issues about creating the faculty and the number of students. There will be a big controversy," he said.
The idea for a law school dates back to the Kim Young-sam administration in the early 1990s. The globalization era spurred demand for diverse talent in judicial circles, and there was skepticism about the law programs. The uniform and narrow passageway from high school to law undergraduate courses and the bar exam deprived applicants varied of perspectives and wide general knowledge, critics said.
Japan, which had had a similar judicial system to Korea's, shifted to a law school system in 2004. The South Korean government submitted the law school bill to the assembly in late 2005.
But partisan interests held it up. The main opposition Grand National Party linked passage of the law school bill to its demand that the pro-government Uri Party revise the private school law.
With time running out after 22 months of delay, the Grand National Party stepped back and cooperated to put the law school bill to a vote on the eve of the closing day of the June extraordinary session on Tuesday. The bill passed 149 to 18 in the plenary session.
But the law fails to mention key controversial points such as the number of law schools to be established, criteria of their selection and the number of students and graduates. Those issues will be decided based on the future need for lawyers.
"The law school bill leaves many problems unresolved such as the number of annual admissions and the criteria for the establishment of law schools. These issues should be settled in a way that fits the circumstances of our society," Choi Tae-hyeong, another publicity staff for the Korean Bar Association, said.
SEOUL, July 4 (Yonhap News)