American lawyers aren’t the only ones struggling with jobs in this economy. Today we get news from South Korea, where the unemployment rate for lawyers is typically close to zero. Last year, only three of the lawyers that passed the bar exam in South Korea went jobless. This year that number jumped to 34. Those that do find jobs are facing salaries as low as half what a new attorney would have received a decade ago, and those hanging out a shingle on their own end up paying finders fees to “brokers”.
One reason for the traditionally low number of unemployed lawyers in South Korea is the difficulty of their bar exam which has a pass rate of about ten percent. As harsh as that seems, it used to be worse. In 2002 the pass rate was increased to graduate 1,000 lawyers per year. Part of the rise in jobless rates for new lawyers might be attributed to an increase in the number of lawyers without a corresponding increase in need.