Pro bono legal services in Korea
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
- Organization: The Korea Herald
For lawyers registered with the Seoul Bar Association, at least 20 hours of pro bono service are required each year or they should make an equivalent monetary donation to the Seoul Bar Association in lieu of unperformed services. In addition, the Seoul Bar Association has been offering free consultations since 1963 to Koreans and foreign workers residing in Korea. Currently, reports show roughly 800 free consultation cases, including 10~20 foreign laborer consultations, are performed each month.
A more prominent organization is the Korea Legal Aid Corporation (www.klac.or.kr), established in 1972 as a quasi-governmental organization supervised by the Ministry of Justice. With its nationwide service system, KLAC provides more comprehensive legal assistance such as free consultations and litigation support in connection with civil and family cases, criminal cases and other administrative rulings and constitutional cases.
KLAC`s eligible clients are those who cannot afford legal protection due to their financial difficulties. KLAC maintains a list of "eligible clients" which are generally thought to be underrepresented, such as farmers, fishermen, soldiers (including captains and lower ranks), recipients of the national merit reward, Korean nationals and foreigners whose average monthly income is 1.7 million won or less, juvenile heads of household and people with disabilities.
In the landscape of pro bono legal services, there is a distinguished and visionary organization called Gong-Gam (www.kpil.org), which translates as "sympathy," that was founded in January 2004. While it is a purely private organization, it is known to be the first ever non-profit public interest lawyers` group in Korea, being composed of five lawyers and a coordinator. Interestingly, the Fund for Non-Profit Public Interest Lawyers was created to support the lawyers in Gong-Gam who are truly dedicated to providing pro bono legal services in spite of their salaries, which are lower than the national average for white-collar workers.
The lawyers in Gong-Gam promote a "culture of human rights" by focusing on ensuring the rights of minorities and the underrepresented, and pursuing improvements in society by actively addressing the Korean social structure and institutional issues. They don`t just sit around the office, but proactively assist many women`s organizations, disabled people, migrant laborers, elderly and homeless people and other minorities.
The main contributors to the Fund for Non-Profit Public Interest Lawyers reportedly include an anonymous donor who contributed 150 million won, "One-Percent Donors," who donate 1% of their incomes, and law firms that sympathize with Gong-Gam`s purpose (including Hwang Mok Park).
Gong-Gam`s vision of helping the disadvantaged, with the effect of improving civil society, is catching on and support for the group is flourishing. Now is a good time to consider contributing to such activities in order to help the needy and benefit our society.
Cho Chi-hyoung is a partner and an attorney-at-law at Hwang Mok Park P.C., one of Korea`s leading law firms. HMP may be contacted at email@example.com or (02) 772-2700 - Ed.