Legal professionals are facing an employment crisis due to a rise in the number of law schools in the nation over the past decade, with those who have passed the bar examination finding it difficult to gain employment, Minister of Examinations Tung Pao-cheng (董保城) said.
Taiwan has an abundance of law school graduates entering the job market each year, “but the supply exceeds demand,” Tung said.
“This reflects a big disparity between the higher education system and the requirements of the nation’s workforce,” he added.
He said the problem began with colleges and universities setting up new law schools and legal studies courses in the past 10 years.
“This led to a large number of law students, with law now being the 18th-largest major study program in post-secondary education. These law schools produce about 5,000 graduates each year,” Tung said.
Tung said that two to three decades ago, only 30 people passed the bar examinations at the most. Since then, the pass rate has risen to more than 10 percent of students, which has resulted in nearly 1,000 aspiring graduates passing the bar each year.
“This led to a significant increase in the number of qualified lawyers, but they are underemployed, as they cannot find jobs in the legal field,” he said.
More of them end up as what are known as “straggling lawyers” — referring to those who have passed the bar and have a license to practice, but are unable to find jobs in a legal firm.
Taiwan Bar Association chairman Lin Kuo-ming (林國明) said the problem originated with the Ministry of Education, which relaxed the regulations and permitted the establishment of more law schools.
The Ministry of Examination made the problem worse by raising the percentage of students who can pass the bar exam each year, Lin added.
According to data from the Ministry of Examination, about 13,000 lawyers qualified last year to practice law, but only about 7,000 of them are registered as practicing lawyers.
It is still a highly sought-after profession, because top attorneys receive high salaries, with some earning up to NT$1 million (US$33,300) per month, Lin said.
However, Lin said the average salary for lawyers has been on a downward spiral in recent years. The average monthly salary for a practicing lawyer is about NT$90,000 to NT$100,000, according to figures from the Ministry of Labor, while trainee lawyers earn about NT$30,000 per month.
To alleviate the oversupply problem, the Ministry of Examination instituted a new system whereby those who pass the bar can work at government offices. However, the program is limited to those who have a lawyer’s qualification certificate and have worked in the legal industry of at least two years.
Lin said the new system is totally inadequate to deal with the problem.
“Even when law graduates obtain a lawyer’s qualification certificate, they have to go through an apprentice period at a law firm,” Lin said. “But there are not enough trainee opportunities for the new lawyers and they cannot easily get a start in a firm. This creates a vicious cycle, and the standard and quality of legal professionals will steadily decline.”
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