Bold steps are needed: law experts

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Bold steps are needed: law experts

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Two men talk in late June at the information desk at Kim & Chang, the largest law firm in Korea, as the date of July 1 when the EU-Korea FTA takes effect was drawing near. Competition for clients is expected to intensify as a consequence. By Cho Mun-gyu


At 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, the mood was somber at the press center of the Korean Bar Association. Shin Young-moo, chairman of the group, read a statement to present the association’s plan to deal with the opening of Korea’s legal service market to European firms. The 67-year-old veteran lawyer’s face was solemn and his voice was deep.

“Starting July 1, the EU law firms will enter Korea as the Korea-EU Free Trade Agreement takes effect,” Shin said. “We will cope actively with the market opening by entering overseas markets and improving global competitiveness.”

The Korean Bar Association, the largest lawyers’ group in the country with nearly 11,000 members, said it will try to use the marketing opening as an opportunity to excel.

The key element of the association’s plan is the Korean firms’ aggressive entering of overseas markets. The association said it will provide support for Korean lawyers to expand their operations outside the country by providing information on foreign law firms as well as clients, such as foreign companies and Korean firms’ overseas businesses, and offer other necessary assistance.

To this end, the association set forth a specific goal: with the opening of the Korean market completed in July 2016, the association will strive to have Korean lawyers working in all Asian countries by that time.

“The British and U.S. legal service markets are too hard to compete with, but Asia has the potential to grow with economic development,” said Shin. “We will help small law firms open overseas offices and help them form alliances with foreign firms.”

Experts said Korean lawyers must expand their horizon to survive the competition.

According to law professors at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Korean law firms should turn their focus to Asia and the Middle East.

With Korea’s export-driven economy, conglomerates will likely choose global law firms to use for their overseas networks. To prepare for losing clients, Korean law firms should enter foreign markets more aggressively, said the Hankuk University advisory team of Professors Choi Seung-pil, Choi Chul and Chung So-min.

They said Chinese and Vietnamese markets are particularly attractive because Korean companies are already operating there and the countries’ cultures share some similarities with that of Korea. Preparing to compete against U.S. and British law firms in Asian markets is a key step for survival, they said.

Shin, of the Korean Bar Association, said the opening of the Korean market will be an opportunity, not just a crisis.

“Starting in 2013, Korean firms will be allowed to form partnerships with foreign firms and starting in 2016, joint ventures will be allowed,” he said. “When the time comes, foreign firms will try to join hands with Korean firms. Because major law firms are too big for such activities, small and mid-sized firms will have the opportunities. And it will be a great opportunity for them because international deals have long been dominated by large firms in Korea.”

The association also promised efforts to improve Korean lawyers’ global competitiveness. Supporting education in foreign languages and international law at law schools and offering opportunities for Korean lawyers’ participation in international conferences and global organizations are being promised by the association.

Law experts from Hankuk University said Korean lawyers must learn from the advanced systems of the European firms. The “best friend policy” of the leading British law firm Slaughter and May was cited as an important strategy to learn, the professors said.

Instead of opening overseas branches, the British giant forms partnerships with the best law firms around the world to provide attractive services to corporate clients, the experts said, advising Korean firms to use similar strategies.

The professors also said Korean law firms should invest more to improve their competitiveness by learning from European firms. Specializing in particular fields is also important, they said, referring to the case of British law firm Allen & Overy.

The company assigned professional supporting lawyers for each team and they created databases of their specialties based on years of experiences, the professors said. The firm also operates the “University of Finance,” an in-house education program to educate lawyers. Foreign languages are also provided, the professors said, urging Korean firms to invest more on their human resources development.

Korean lawyers are also advised to move out from their decades-long tradition of authoritarianism, the experts advised. They said improving communication with clients to better serve them is the key, asking lawyers to remodel their services to accommodate the customers’ needs.

The experts also said the management structure of law firms should be more transparent. They said competitive lawyers will increasingly leave the firms if the management continues to lack transparency.

The lack of transparency will also work against an attempt to merge with other law firms, the professors said, noting that global law firms have decision-making processes based on partnerships.

Annual reports on the firm’s operation are also published to share the information with employees, the professors said, adding domestic law firms must learn from such practices.

The Korean Bar Association also pledged to react strongly against unlawful operation of foreign firms.

“If foreign lawyers operate in Korea without proper registration or secretly hire Korean lawyers to subcontract their deals, they can be punished for criminal offenses,” Shin said. “We will open a complaint center this month to receive any reports about such illegal activities.”

The association urged the Justice Ministry and law enforcement authorities to strictly supervise the market. It also urged the government and the National Assembly to pay special attention to the legal market’s future, because it is closely linked to the country’s industrial competitiveness.

“Until now, Korean lawyers have been protected in the home ground,” said Shin of the Korean Bar Association. “But the era of unlimited competition has come.


By Ser Myo-ja, Koo Hui-lyung [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

한글 관련 기사 [중앙일보]
“한국 변호사 능력 뛰어나 법률시장 개방은 새 기회”
국제검사협회 초청으로 서울 온 송상현 국제형사재판소장

송상현 국제형사재판소(ICC ·International Criminal Court) 소장은 7월 1일 시행되는 한국 법률시장 개방과 관련해 “시장 개방은 한국 법조인들에게 새로운 기회가 될 것”이라고 전망했다. 국제검사협회(IAP·International Association of Prosecutors)의 특별초청으로 방한한 송 소장을 27일 서울 소공동 롯데호텔에서 만났다.

송 소장은 “네덜란드 헤이그의 ICC에는 재판관 18명, 직원 700명이 근무하는데 직원들 가운데 한국인은 단 한 명도 없다”며 “ICC 직원 채용 경쟁률이 700대 1 정도인데 우리나라 법조인은 떨어질 게 무서워선지 도전도 안 한다”고 말했다. 그는 “도전이 없으면 기회도 없다”고 덧붙였다. 다음은 일문일답.

 - 며칠 앞으로 다가온 법률시장 개방에 대해 어떻게 전망하나.

 “법률시장 개방은 세계화 시대에 필요한 결단이었다고 본다. 일부 걱정과 우려의 목소리가 있으나 나는 상당히 낙관한다. 개방 초기에는 진통도 있겠지만 그것 또한 미래를 위한 밑거름이 될 것이다.”

 - 왜 그렇게 보나.

 “우리나라 변호사들이 판·검사에 비해 업무 대응 능력이 뛰어나다. 국내 로펌 등 변호사 업계가 대비를 잘 해왔다고 보며 초기 진통을 잘 넘기고 나면 법률가로서의 실력과 능력이 크게 향상되는 계기가 될 수 있다. 어학 능력을 갖춘 변호사도 많다. 또 외국계 대형 회사가 한국에 투자하거나 진출하기 위해서는 한국 법을 잘 아는 한국인 변호사에게 법률자문을 구할 수밖에 없다.”

 - 국내 법조인들에게 당부할 말이 있다면.

 “도전정신이 부족한 게 아쉽다. 앞으로 ICC뿐만 아니라 다양한 국제사법기구에서 인턴 등 경험을 쌓으며 견문을 넓히는 게 더욱 중요해질 것이다. 특히 젊은 법조인들이 더 큰 국제무대에 자꾸 도전해야 한다.”

 - ICC소장은 어떤 자리인가.

 “1년에 지구를 10바퀴쯤 돈다. ICC는 반(反)인류범죄를 처벌하는 곳이고, 소장은 전 세계에서 자행되는 반인류범죄와 관련해 최고심 판결을 해야 하고, ICC의 행정을 책임지는 자리다. 회원국(6월 현재 115개국)과 비회원국, 지역별 협력기관 등을 방문해 국제형사정의 확립을 위해 힘쓰고 있다.”

 최근 ICC는 리비아의 민간인 살상과 관련, 무아마르 카다피 리비아 국가원수 등에 대해 반인류범죄 혐의로 체포영장을 발부했다.

 그는 IAP 부회장직을 맡고 있는 김준규 검찰총장의 대학시절 은사이기도 하다.

송 소장은 “대학 교수 때도 학생들에게 해외사법공조의 중요성을 자주 강조했다. 학생들 중에서 김 총장이 내 말을 잘 따라줬는데 이렇게 만나니 격세지감이 든다”고 말했다. 그는 “요즘같이 범죄가 국경을 초월하며 발생하는 시대에는 검찰조직도 국제 사법공조에 더 적극적으로 나서야 한다”고 말했다.

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