Once Envied, Korean Lawyers Now Struggle to Find a Job

In South Korea, the legal profession has been regarded as one of the highest paid and respectable jobs. But since the introduction of a three-year law school system in 2009 aimed at educating lawyers in specialized fields such as patents, medicine, and human rights, more than 2,000 newly-minted lawyers have entered the market. The total number of Korean lawyers was 16,547 in 2013, up 30 percent from 12,607 in 2011. Law school reform has been part of the preparation for the opening of South Korea’s legal market to foreign firms.

Article from Newsis:

Lawyers in Financial Straits Fail to Pay ₩60,000 in Membership Fee

A lawyer in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, took his own life after suffering from depression due to a decreasing number of cases. The suicide highlights the economic hardship in what was once the most promising profession in South Korea. A growing number of lawyers are reportedly failing to even pay membership fees for bar associations.

According to a Gyeonggi-based bar association, as of February 1st, 74 out of their 686 members have yet to pay membership fees for one month or more. Among those are ten lawyers who have outstanding fees for twelve months or more.

A lawyer dodges the bar association's request for membership fees

A lawyer dodges the bar association’s request for membership fees

If the ₩66,000 ($66) monthly membership fee is not paid, the bar association does not arrange legal cases for member lawyers and even could take the disciplinary action of expulsion from the association for lawyers who are seriously delinquent on payment.

The bar association blames increasing non-payment on a sluggish economy and subsequently a weaker demand for legal services.

Lawyers in Gyeonggi Province face increasingly heated competition for getting cases as more clients seek to take their cases to attorneys in Seoul and the first batch of law school-graduated lawyers pours into the market.

The Gyeonggi bar association reported that, 503 lawyers took on 2,391 cases for January of 2009, with per-capita cases averaging 4.76. In contrast, in January of 2014, 2,396 cases arrived on the desks of 687 lawyers, for an average of 3.77 cases per lawyer.

Over the past five years, the membership of the Gyeonggi bar assocation has swelled by 184 while there was an increase of just five current cases over the same period.

A lawyer in Suwon said, “More than a few lawyers find it hard to pay their female clerks and monthly rent, not to mention membership fees.” Once one of the highest paid careers, the legal profession now sees a widening income gap among fellow lawyers.

A bar association official said, “All lawyers are required to join the association. The failure to pay membership fees appears to come from a declining demand for legal services. I anticipate that competition among lawyers will become stiffer in order to attract clients.”

Comments from Daum:


Fees for legal service are too expensive! When I visited the office of a lawyer after seeing an ad for free legal consultation, they didn’t offer detailed help, saying that you need to pay if you want more aid. So I asked them how much I should pay to get more help, then they said the fee is ₩30,000 per hour. Thinking it too costly, I just walked out. I recommend lawyers serve as government-appointed lawyers if they are really cash-strapped.

paul smith: [responding to above]

Are you a street bum? Even tutoring for a middle- or high-school student costs ₩20,000 per hour. Open up some law books sometime. What a idiot!


If a house is not sold, the seller lowers the price in order to locate a buyer. If lawyers don’t get enough work, they will receive more cases when they lower their legal fees.


In the past, lawyers used to receive three keys from the bride’s family before marriages. Now they are just pitiful. [Note:The three keys were for a car, a house, and an office where he would work. The three keys are considered to be a dowry a bride had to bring to get married to a successful lawyer.]


If they are having a tough time, let them collect cardboard boxes in the streets.


I agree with the comment that big law firms should stop offering retired judges and prosecutors big money in order to take advantage of their connections and get favorable treatment in court.


Stop spitting out bullshit. When I went to the office of a lawyer for help, I ended up consulting with an assistant director of the office, not with the lawyer. And even he was really arrogant. Lawyers do not serve ordinary people, and that’s the real problem.


In the United States, lawyer as a career is common, and is in the same league as a licensed real estate agent or insurance planner.

Comments from Naver:


It’s a matter of pride. Would a person who passed a notriously difficult bar exam be willing to fry chickens for a living if he earned a lot of money? I guess not.[Note: Currently, there are two paths to becoming a lawyer in South Korea. One is to enter a law school and take a bar exam upoon graduation. The other is to pass a state-administered bar examination. The latter put no limit on age, diploma for applicants but is notriously difficult to pass. The exam is set to be phased out in 2017, thus making law schools only the way to become a lawyer.]


If a lawyer can’t earn money, he or she needs to take another career. If they’re unable to pay a ₩60,000n fee, stop practicing law. And why do they need a female clerk even when they don’t pay a small fee?

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  • Peter Pottinger

    Hard to shed tears for lawyers.

    • Mighty曹

      Especially those for criminal defense.

      • Jabbadenhutt

        Yes, because who cares about innocent until proven guilty right?

        • Mighty曹

          Sarcasm aside, I do believe in ‘innocent until proven guilty’ but not for those who defend cases like this where the defendant is obviously caught committing a crime.


          This defense attorney says, “We will do what we have to do to defend this case aggressively,” meaning he will find ways to lie/manipulate the system.

          • bigmamat

            Right understood and cell phones and CCTV has changed a lot of things. Let’s be mature about this, even though there is video evidence of someone’s involvement in a crime doesn’t mean that criminal defense lawyers are guilty of doing anything but their job. Their job isn’t just to get the guilty off it’s to see that they are fairly represented. The idea that someone has questionable morals because they choose to be a criminal defense lawyer as say a corporate lawyer is simplistic and childish.

          • Mighty曹

            I should’ve said “most, if not all, defense attorneys” but that doesn’t change the fact how they twist the truth. I’m not saying I’m against legal representation and fair trial and due process in our judiciary system. I’m all for that. I’m just against the lawyers who knowingly ‘misrepresent criminals. What’s so ‘immature, simplistic and childish’ about that?

          • bigmamat

            Because it’s simplistic and it’s about the perception you have that lawyers twist the truth to get people off. The fact is that where I’m from lawyers aren’t getting too many people off of anything we’ve got 2.5 million people in jail. You must be thinking about O.J. The reality is that most criminal defense lawyers end up getting their clients to plea or end up with not much more recourse than to mitigate sentences.

          • Mighty曹

            You must be living in a perfect innocent world spared from corruption and injustice I can only envy.

            I already restated that most defense attorneys. Why are you continuing to argue that I have categorized all the same? OJ case was well known only because it was a high profile case involving a celebrity. If you think there aren’t similar cases among common folks then you are really out of touch with reality.

            Having said that, I also believe there are over zealous prosecutors who have had defendants wrongly incarcerated. That’s when a good, honest, dedicated defense attorney is appreciated more than ever.

            Simplistic schimplistic. Is it too complex for you to understand my distaste for unscrupulous lawyers?

          • bigmamat

            I actually don’t have a very good history with lawyers myself. I actually agree that lawyers are predatory. Certainly in the U.S. being a lawyer can be very lucrative. I used to have a real respect for the law until I had to deal with it personally. I would still like to think that some people become lawyers because they love the law and want to help people. Same as with doctors, wanting to heal people, but it seems those professions are now populated with people that are mostly interested in making money.

          • Mighty曹

            What’s sad is that some (not all) aspiring law students do enter law schools with the mindset that you described, love of the law and to help law abiding citizens. Somehow that shifts to money for various reasons. Primarily the sheer pressure to perform. And law firms only see ‘billable hours’ in the so called performance scale. Winning a case here and there also helps.

            Care to share your experience with lawyers? What happened?

          • bigmamat

            Divorce….need I say more….

          • Mighty曹

            Oh, I hope it wasn’t a drawn out ‘battle’. :D

          • bigmamat

            No it was a long time ago but still not cheap. Getting married is for suckers.

          • Mighty曹

            Hey it’s not that bad. I’ve tried it three times. haha…
            I hope you had no children involved in the divorce.

  • Mighty曹

    Now even the snakes feel insulted to be in lawyers jokes.

    • reality check

      True that!

      • Mighty曹

        I object!

  • Mighty曹

    Q: What’s the difference between a jellyfish and a lawyer?
    A: One’s a spineless, poisonous blob. The other is a form of sea life.

    • Claude

      Q: Why does California have the most lawyers and New Jersey the most toxic waste dumps?
      A: New Jersey got the first pick.

      • Mighty曹

        Ouch! LOL

  • Claude

    I don’t mean to stereotype but I thought the Koreans solved their differences with a good old fashioned brawl? I’ve never seen so many fist fights in such a short period of time than my stint in Seoul.

    • d-_-b

      It all depends on where you went and what time you went there.
      I lived in Korea more than 15 years but have never seen a fist fight right in front of my eyes.

    • China

      korea die!

  • cqn0

    Supply and demand, bitches. For once, lawyers are feeling what it’s like to get smacked by the invisible hand.

  • Michael Madders

    Same story with lawyers (or prospective lawyers) in most other countries.

    • Topper Harley

      I have a love-hate relationship with lawyers.A lawyer made her pro rata legal fees for me pro bono and the legal fees cost a lot at the time.Other lawyers screwed me big time including legal aid.

      • Michael Madders

        Yeah sure I understand that. I have a law degree, I am not a lawyer, nor do intend on becoming one. But the legal lobby is too strong in many countries, it is usually the last industry to change, probably because most legislators were lawyers themselves at one time. Makes things more expensive and rigid.

  • China

    come to china

  • bballi bballi paradise

    The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.

    (2 Henry VI, 4.2.59), Dick the Butcher to Jack Cade

    A knave; a rascal; an eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow,
    beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave; a
    lily-livered, action-taking knave.

    (King Lear, 2.2.14), Kent

  • linette lee

    So it’s really easy to study in law school in South Korea? Only 3 years? What kind of laws do they have in South Korea? lol. In USA it’s so hard and they have to do internship. JFK Jr failed his bar examine in NYU. So hard. I think lawyers look so nice. They are all in suit and tie at work all the time. When I was a teenager watching the TV dramas I wanted to marry to a lawyer. lol.

    • chucky3176

      You really have no ideal what you’re talking about. Three years? lol.. no. Yeah, three years in class, but it will take many more years to pass the state’s law exam which is extremely difficult. Very few out of the many who attempt the take the test, ever make it. They have entire buildings full of one room shared rooming houses where students spend several years, doing nothing but studying for the state law exam all day. Compared to Korea, the American law students have it extremely easy.

      The problem with Korea is that 85% of the young people who go to university (which is by far the highest level in the entire world), all want to become doctors, lawyers, and government civil workers. Too many college educated people, going for very narrow career choices, all becoming unemployed because there’s just too many people competing for the same careers. They should blow up at least half the colleges and bring down the number of “I’m-just-too-good-and-too-educated-to-do-this-kind-of-low-level-job” crowd.

      In the mean time, jobs that require a few drops of sweat, are going begging because nobody wants them. I was chatting online with a ethnic Korean Joseonjok from China the other day, and she said she absolutely loved her life in South Korea because of the cleaner air to breath, and she can pick and choose whichever jobs she preferred, and doesn’t want to go back to China. Her salary is not greaty for South Korean expectations, but it’s far more than she ever got paid in China, and get this – she makes much more than 3 million South Korean university grads who makes zero. That’s right, zero. Zero because they’d rather sit on their asses and leach off of their parents, rather then take those jobs.

      • bigmamat

        So who made them study 20 hours a day and told them that if they got a top notch education they could work for the gubment or some big company. Their fucking parents, that’s who. Welcome to the modern world ROK. Free market capitalism and 5th century social mores collide to create a perfect society full of over educated deadbeats. People too timid and browbeaten to tell their parents to stuff it yet are now to educated to work a real job. I think the old fucks are getting exactly what they deserve.

      • linette lee

        That is your school system fault. Students are required to maintain certain grade average to pass and move on to next semester. If they fall under they will be kicked out of the program. Many first or second year medical school students never made it to the end of the program. IT’s better to let these students go instead of waiting for them to finish the whole program. They weren’t smart enough to pass state tests after finishing the program anyway. If you are saying so many law students pass the program but having hard time passing the state exam then something is wrong with the law school program.

      • linette lee

        And whose fault is that? Those crazy a55 Asian parents that push their kids to study 20 hours a day Monday to Sunday brainwashing their kids. They grow up thinking if you are not professional then you are a loser. I bet most of these parents are not professional themselves.

      • Serious Man

        You say grads choose to leach off of their parents, but would those parents not feel disappointed if their child ever accept one of those low pay jobs? If I accept that job, I know I would be subjecting my parents to vicious ridicule by their friends. Not gonna do that to my parents.

    • d-_-b

      Before the law school was founded, Korea had just a bar exam, and it was literally the craziest and the most difficult exam in the nation. Only the top 0.02% was given the chance to work in the law-related careers. There were many top school students who were in their 30’s and 40’s still struggling to pass the exam. (And many of them eventually took their lives due to depression) Statistics say that the ones who passed the exam on average studied 18 hours every day for 5 years.

      • bigmamat

        There is no profession even a doctor that should require that kind of studying. I don’t know what Koreans are studying for but these tests they take must be ridiculous beyond belief. There is no amount of studying that will make you a good lawyer or doctor without a certain amount of practical experience and critical thinking. Teaching to the test is one way to get good test scores but it’s practical application is limited. Certain occupations need more than just a regurgitation of facts.

        • d-_-b

          Yup. That’s why they introduced law schools but the new system failed miserably (the poor can’t afford to pay the tuition. There are more law students than what is needed etc) and the law firms came up with their own way of evaluating new recruits. So now we have lots of loser lawyer wannabees in debt.

          • bigmamat

            Unemployment is a serious problem right now in the U.S and our next big economic crisis will very likely be centered around college debt. Korea seems to be heading in the same direction with rising unemployment. I’m fairly certain that my country is on the verge of a social, political and economic shift. Perhaps Korea is poised for the same.

          • chucky3176

            “Korea seems to be heading in the same direction with rising unemployment”.

            Actually the unemployment has been decreasing over the last 5 years to less than 3 percent now, after it hit the highest point at over 4 percent in 2009 when the world financial crisis hit. There are plenty of jobs in Korea, where there’s not even enough foreign workers to fill them all and as SME companies go bust because they can’t find labor. It’s just that the fresh out of university Koreans are very picky because they’re status conscious. The highest group of unemployed are the youth. I don’t think that lasts long because as they get older, and continue to stay unemployed, they get less picky and resign to their fate that they all can’t be a lawyer or a doctor or a government civil worker with life time guaranteed positions and pensions.

          • bigmamat

            So Korea has the need for more tech school graduates that’s a good thing at least the “blue collar” jobs are there. We don’t have them in the U.S anymore or people would be taking them. So if a foreigner has a skill say, an electrician or a welder, can they get a job in Korea? Can they make a living wage?

          • chucky3176

            Korea is still very much a blue collar country. Manufacturing still takes up a large portion of the economy. Take South Korea’s ship making industry for instance – you know the ones that make high tech $2 billion off shore oil platforms for companies like Shell. They can’t find Koreans in their 20’s and 30’s who wants to go into welding. The Korean welders that they have, are all old – in their late 40’s and 50s. These guys are paid top dollars, far more than than the stupid government office worker shuffling paper, because their skills are in high demand. But once these old welders retire, there will be no experienced Korean welders. The result of this will only mean more foreign workers to fill the empty spots. We’re now beginning to see a new phenomenon never seen before in Korea where foreign manufacturing workers who are getting higher pays than the native Koreans who don’t want to do the blue collar work.

            If South Korea doesn’t drop this university education system soon, and eliminate the education snobbery that robs so many people in terms of finances and happiness, it will never solve the problem of suicides and low happiness with life.

          • bigmamat

            Are you Korean? How is it you escaped the neo Confucian status panic? That’s what it is, isn’t it? A scramble to elevate one’s place in society. At least in the U.S. we have the illusion that everyone is equal even when we know it’s not really true. Damn I know a few young American guys that would love to have a good paying solid job. My son has two years of experience as an electrical apprentice but now he’s working for a painting contractor because he can’t find an electricians job. The pay sucks. I don’t know when he’ll ever be able to afford to live on his own. I’m thinking he’s going to have to move but that’s easier said than done. People don’t just get jobs anymore. My nephew had to move 5 hours away in another state. He wouldn’t have gotten that job but for being in the reserves and one of the guys he met at training helped him get it.

      • linette lee

        Spending years and finally finished the whole program but not able to pass the state exam. Not able to find a job in your field and stuck with a big college tuition loan. That is serious depression. So sad. Something is wrong with your law school and the state exam. The gov’t should step in and regulate. No state exam should be too hard for students who successfully passed the school program. Or maybe the school didn’t teach them what they need to know to pass. The program itself and the exam should be equally hard. If the student couldn’t make the grade they need to leave the program during their first year.

  • elizabeth

    Lawyers have skills that are quite versatile. They can work for corporations, in the media industry, education etc. The last time I was in Seoul, the economy didn’t look that bad. Lots of people shopping, wearing or using branded stuff and gadgets.

    Perhaps society could be more flexible and sympathetic to reduce the number of suicides.

  • bumfromkorea

    Ooh! Lawyer jokes! I love these, and so do my lawyer friends. Here’s our favorite:

    What’s the difference between a lawyer and a sperm?
    A sperm at least has one in 500 million chance of becoming a human being.

  • The Real Truth

    Before they enter law school, someone needs to gather all the students in a large hall and explain to them, that unlike in the past, these days lawyers will actually be expected to WORK HARD and will earn LESS money due to competition, among other things. What their parents pounded into their greedy little heads since birth is all wrong now. The economy has changed. We dont NEED so many lawyers. They arent necessary.

    When a market gets flooded with supply, guess what happens to relative demand? These fools expect to graduate and be treated like gods, handed big stacks of money and lucrative contracts etc. So many of them, not unlike a fair number of Korean doctors, have little to no interest in their actual jobs. They just want the title.

    Dont these so-called intelligent people have even the basic common sense to investigate a job market before deciding on a job? Many of them probably had their careers decided for them by mommy and daddy. Zero pity for these people. If they want more work, they’ll have to convince their fellow South Koreans to go out and commit more crimes, or something.

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