More shady lawyersAs our lawyers increasingly suffer from financial hardships due to the economic slowdown, corruption is becoming more rampant among that socially respected class. In sharp contrast with the past, lawyers are actively committing fraudulent practices rather than being passively engaged in them as enablers. It is time for the government to come up with measures to help preserve the integrity of that exclusive club and avert potential damage for their clients.
The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office yesterday arrested a lawyer on charges of embezzling 500 million won ($473,484) from the executives of construction, design and inspection companies under investigation for their suspicious deals in the four-rivers restoration project. The prosecution said the lawyer cheated the executives by promising them a successful settlement of the case in return for the money. But he turned out to have no personal connection with the prosecutor - contrary to his explanation that the prosecutor was his schoolmate at the Judicial Research and Training Institute - and didn’t do anything for his clients.
In September, another lawyer was sentenced to two years in jail by the Seoul Central District Court for taking 600 million won from the families of a detained defendant in exchange for lobbying prosecutors and judges. The charges on which the court has recently handed down a guilty verdict for lawyers are quite diverse, ranging from a refusal to return compensatory payment to clients to an empty promise to let clients get an investment from Indonesia’s ruling families to even a delivery of cigarettes to inmates in return for money.
Crimes by lawyers continue to increase. According to a Law Times’ analysis of crime statistics, a total of 544 lawyers were indicted for various criminal offenses last year, and 44 percent were involved in crimes such as fraud or embezzlement - a 45 percent and 65 percent increase compared to 2010 and 2011, respectively. This has a lot to do with a drastic decrease in clients due to an oversupply of lawyers since the launch of the law school system, which pours out as many as 2,000 lawyers into the market. Our lawyers’ associations must conduct a survey of what’s happening to their members together with the Legal Ethics and Professional Conduct Council. They also need to devise realistic ways to provide jobs for junior members.
Lawyers have a mission of “advocating human rights of the people and embodying social justice,” as stipulated in Article One of the Law on Lawyers. If this situation continues, it could breed public distrust in the profession itself. They must wake up.