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Country Report

Brief Overview of the Attorney System and the Korean Bar Association

I. The Attorney System

A. Attorney Qualification System

Presently in Korea, there are two systems of qualification to become an attorney: the National Judicial Examination (traditional) system and the law school (new) system (Article 4 of the Attorneys-at-Law Act). Since the introduction of the law school system in 2009, the number of new lawyers through National Judicial Examination has been gradually decreasing as National Judicial Examination has been temporarily running side by side with the law school system. This year is the last year for the National Judicial Examination to take place, as it will abolished after 2017. The law school system will be the only system of attorney qualification in Korea from then on.

i. The National Judicial Examination Qualification System (traditional)

Originally, to become a licensed attorney in Korea, a candidate must pass the National Judicial Examination (traditional), which is conducted by the Ministry of Justice, complete the two year training course at the Judicial Research and Training Institute, and then register him/herself to the Korean Bar Association. This year of 2017 would be the last year for the National Judicial Examination to take place.

ii. The Law School Qualification System (new)

The new qualification system was introduced in 2009. A candidate who has achieved a four year undergraduate degree, or has a court-approved education equivalent to a university degree, may apply to the law school program. He/she must complete the graduate level law school program of three years and pass the bar examination in order to register as a lawyer to the Korean Bar Association. In order for the new lawyer to begin practice and handle cases, the lawyer must go through six months of legal clerical work or receive legal training (Article 2 Section 2 of the Attorneys-at-Law Act).


II. Opening Legal Market: Entrance of Foreign Lawyers to the Domestic Legal Market

In order for a foreign lawyer to practice in Korea, his/her qualifications must be approved by the Korean Ministry of Justice (Article 3 Section 1 of the Foreign Legal Consultant Act (FLCA)). Then he/she must register with the KBA (Article 10 of the FLCA). Moreover, if a Foreign Legal Consultant wants to establish a Foreign Legal Consultant Office (FLCO) in Korea and begin practice, the FLCO has to obtain authorization from the Ministry of Justice and register with the KBA (Article 16 and 18 of the FLCA).

Korea has been opening its market to the U.S. and the E.U. by stages. The third stage for the E.U. began since last year in July, while the third stage for the U.S. began just this year in March 15th. The third stage of the opening legal market will permit domestic and foreign firms to establish joint ventures and employ domestic lawyers. The FLCO Act has been amended accordingly for the third stage.

〈Current Situation (as of June 1, 2017)〉
* Total number of members of the bar: 23,002 lawyers
* 128 FLCs (foreign members) / 27 FLCOs (22 U.S. firms / 5 U.K. firms)

III. Introduction to the Main Activities of the KBA

Under the Attorneys-at-Law Act, a lawyer must advocate for the fundamental human rights and has as a mission to pursue the fulfillment of social policies (Article 1 of the FLC Act). Thus, the KBA advocates for the basic human rights of the citizens and finds the duty to pursue for the fulfillment of social policies based on constitutionalism as the most important.

The KBA has also been expanding activities for the protection of rights and interests of the members as efforts are being made to cope with the changing legal environment (dealing with the increase of lawyers and the opening legal market) and strengthen the research function of the judicial system to improve the roles of lawyers.

A. Pro Bono Activities and Protection of Fundamental Human Rights

i. Legal Training and the Legal Aid Activities

The KBA has continually been holding open legal trainings and actively been developing on the legal aid programs for, not only citizens who are underprivileged, but also senior citizens, minors, handicapped, immigrant workers, North Korean refugee residents and other socially oppressed persons in Korea. It has also been supporting members to participate in these legal aid programs and activities.

The KBA Legal Aid Foundation has been founded since 2003 and continues to provide active legal aid to citizens in need.

ii. Human Rights Report Publication

Every year since 1986, the KBA has been publishing human rights reports based on the findings of human rights issues during our inspection of each human rights situation in Korea. The human rights report consists of the systematic organization of human rights records. The 2017 Human Rights Report has been published this year in February, which comprises of the following human rights issues:

▶freedom of expression, ▶educational rights, ▶environmental rights, ▶rights of foreign migrants, ▶rights of women, children and youth, ▶rights of disabled persons, ▶right to labor, etc.

iii. White Paper of North Korean Human Rights

Since 2006, the KBA has been publishing every two years the ‘White Paper of North Korean Human Rights’, which is distributed to international human rights organizations and related internal and external organs, UN, NGOs, and embassies to take role in reporting and ameliorating the current situation of the human rights in North Korea. The 2016 White Paper was published last year, while the English version has been issued this year in May.

B. Efforts of Constitutionalism

i. National Assembly Activities

The KBA, in order to advocate for a proper legislative direction in matters of enactment, reformation and revocation of each bill, have presented an annual average of 200 proposals regarding matters of legislative bills.

Moreover, in order to qualitatively evaluate the legislative activities of the National Assembly, the KBA launched the Legislative Evaluation Committee which comprises of 21 committee members and 5 professional members who are lawyers, professors, journalists, other professionals, representatives of non-governmental and corporate entities. In February of 2015, the Legislative Evaluation Committee published its first Legislative Evaluation Report having selected 16 laws to be covered in the report. It is currently in the process of making the second report.

ii. Advancing Towards Judicial Reform

The KBA has been contending to bring judicial reform in order to establish a 'legal system for the citizens' and resolve the distrust in the judicial system. Moreover, the KBA has been trying to advocate for the abolishment of a lethargic court system and for the increase in the number of justices of the Supreme Court. Emphasizing the need for checks and balances in the stages of indictment and prosecutorial investigations (which are before the court's ruling in criminal cases), the KBA is endeavoring to strengthen the right to counsel during suspect interrogations and pushing towards to introducing a prosecution evaluation system.

C. Obligation of Lawyers

Under the Attorney-at-Law Act, in order to increase lawyers’ ethics and expertise, a lawyer must take, per year, at least eight hours of Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) which includes one hour course on professional ethics that the KBA offers. The KBA determines the matters related to the length of period and the time calculation of the MCLE.

Accordingly, the KBA gives a period of two years to complete the MCLE of which each member must complete 14 hours of professional legal education and two hours of professional ethics.

The MCLE provided by the KBA consists of lectures of specialization and is generally held 1~2 times each month. For the convenience of the members, both physical walk-in classes and online-lectures are available. Legal education offered by other organizations outside of the KBA (academic conferences, seminars, etc.) may be considered as courses equivalent to the required legal education after the review and approval of the program by the KBA.

D. Training for the Successful Bar Takers

Under the Attorney-at-Law Act, for a person, who has successfully passed the bar examination, to independently establish his/her own law office or when an attorney wants to be considered as a member of a law firm or LLC law firm, etc., the attorney must be employed at least for the duration of six months in a law firm, national agency or a legal office which consists of an attorney/attorneys with more than five years of legal experience; or the attorney must take the legal education/training offered by the KBA. Therefore, the KBA offers also courses for attorneys who are not employed in law firms or in national agencies but in private practice.

E. Expanding the Scope of Lawyers' Activities

In order to expand the scope of work for lawyers in dealing with the increase of lawyers in the Korean legal market, the KBA has been actively endeavoring to establish various methods and systems to broaden the role of lawyers while strengthening the competency of Korea's legal practice. Organizing different forums, seminars, symposiums and other activities in cooperation with relevant entities, hard efforts are being made by the KBA to provide awareness while voicing the need for reformation and compliance to rules and regulations securing the activities of the legal profession. Moreover, the KBA has established special committees to deal with and bring into action various resolutions pertaining to expanding the legal scope and emphasizing the importance of lawyers to be introduced in certain areas of business, judiciary, and administration in securing impartiality in the system and compliance to the rule of law. The KBA is currently in support of and actively involved in strengthening the role of in-house counsels and securing entry for lawyers to enter the profession as compliance officers, judicial officers, apartment auditors, and other relevant positions in need of legal professionals for the benefit of the public interest.

F. Disciplinary Regime for the Legal Profession

The KBA will take disciplinary measures against any member who violates the Attorneys-at-Law Act and the bylaws of the KBA and/or the local bar associations, or who behaves in a manner unfit for lawyer’s dignity. The disciplinary actions are classified into the following five categories: permanent disbarment, disbarment, suspension of practice up to three years, fine for negligence of up to thirty million won, and reprimand. The Attorneys-at-Law Act clearly states the disciplinary reasons, kinds of discipline, and the disciplinary procedures (Article 90 of the Attorneys-at-Law Act).

Besides the above procedures, the Attorneys Disciplinary Committee of the Ministry of Justice may review a raised appeal against a disciplinary action given by the KBA Attorneys Disciplinary Committee (Article 96 of the Attorneys-at-Law Act). If in case the decision of the Attorneys Disciplinary Committee of the Ministry of Justice is dissatisfying to the appellant, he/she may file an appeal to the administrative court (Article 100 Section 4 of the Attorneys-at-Law Act).

〈Current Situation (as of December 2016)〉
Total Number of Disciplinary Action Claims in 2016: 206 cases

G.Participation to International Conferences and Cooperation with Foreign Bar Associations

The KBA has been continually involved in different programs such as the POLA Annual Conference, LAWASIA Annual Conference and other international conferences focused on the public interest, and have been actively participating in big international meetings hosted by the IBA, IPBA, and many others. Likewise, it has been sponsoring, as an international legal entity, related activities and encouraging its members to partake in such international programs; especially, in order to promote participation to international conferences, the KBA has been sponsoring registration and accommodation fees to our young attorneys.

Moreover, it has been continuously cooperating with bar associations and law societies from the U.S., U.K., Germany, Russia, Malaysia, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, and other nations and has been actively hosting joint seminars to share the interests of each respective legal profession. Additionally, the Young Lawyers Exchange Program has continued to successfully operate between several bar associations and law societies.

Furthermore, as the 2019 IBA Annual Conference will be held in Seoul, Korea that year, the KBA has been putting efforts to prepare and promote and big conference to invite lawyers and legal professional in various parts of the world to come and experience Korea. It is our hope to introduce the competency of the Korean legal profession to the international audience and engage our Korean lawyers to expand further into international practice.

H.Strengthening the Research Function of the Judicial System and the Legislation Research Institute

While coping with the changes in the legal profession (increase of lawyers and the opening of the legal market), the KBA is undergoing efforts to increase activities for the protection of rights and interests of our bar members as there are efforts to strengthen the general research functions of the judicial system.

To pursue these efforts further, the KBA established the Legislation Research Institute on September 9, 2015. The Institute has undergone the process of selecting research committee members and the research topic from the different legal issues to pursue their research function.