Lawyers aren’t all badA court handed down a ruling yesterday that Kia Motors make up for damages suffered by its customers because of a deceptive advertisement about airbags. The judgment particularly attracts our attention as it was the fruit of efforts by a special committee on public interest litigation under the umbrella of the Korean Bar Association. The conclusion again reminds us of the responsibility of our lawyers.
Judge Park Hyung-soon of the Seoul Central District Court said that the plaintiffs, including a man surnamed Kim, suffered substantial damages as a result of Kia Motors’ hype that curtain airbags were installed in the third row of Carnival, a minivan manufactured by the company. In the ruling, the judge ordered the car company to pay compensation in the range of 250,000 to 1.15 million won to each of 25 plaintiffs out of a total of 27. This undoubtedly set off alarm bells in big corporations guilty of misleading their customers.
The lawsuit was originally filed by a special committee for public interest as the first such case in March 2011. Suits done for the purpose of the general public are often done “pro bono” - the lawyers volunteer their time. In other words, it’s a litigation by lawyers for customers who experienced harm in using manufactured products but don’t have the means to get proper compensation for their suffering. The lawyers usually donate their time. The most noticeable impact from the practice is that it can help correct wrong practices committed by large enterprises, national agencies and local governments.
The reason why the Korean Bar Association has turned to public litigation is not unrelated to their rather poor reputation for making money at the expense of their clients. In these cases, they’re doing good for their clients and making no profit. We believe some lawyers take pains to find ways to donate their talents for good causes amid ordinary citizens’ low regard for them largely because of the privileges they receive after their stints as prosecutors or judges. They’re also accused of only doing their best when they are making a lot of money.
Lawyers are in a good profession to advance into the political realm. But they must move beyond merely seeking their own private interests. If they don’t sweat for the underprivileged, they will lose their footing and prestige in the society. That’s why the Korean Bar Association should continue to dedicate itself toward the goal of a better society. We hope they stand in the forefront of helping people regain their innate rights by looking for more cases to work for the public good in the future.