Feb 28, 2009

Protect Yourself from Bad Lawyers in Korea

By Sean Hayes (Korea Times 2/27/09)

Too many Korean and foreign attorneys working in Korea are performing legal work that is often to a level so low in quality that it must be considered the work of incompetent attorneys. Many of the biggest and most respected Korean law firms even have attorney competency issues.

Throughout much of the world, clients believe the reputation of the firm is the deciding factor in the quality of representation, since the top graduates choose to work for firms with the best reputation.

In Korea, many of the best attorneys have little interest in working for the largest and most respected law firms and many of the top firms hire attorneys that are far from the top of their trade.

Therefore, when hiring attorneys, choose attorneys, not firms. Many of the most “respected” firms amongst non-Korean clients, don’t have the best attorneys and even hire and retain incompetent attorneys, partners, management and staff, and many of the best don’t work for large firms.

I have seen my share of competency and professionalism issues while working within the legal community in Korea. In the past seven years, I have had the pleasure to work with some of the world’s best attorneys, and also many attorneys that should not been practicing law.

For example, one Korean managing partner at one of the largest law firms advised that a client who was facing significant time in jail to pray to God for assistance.

A foreign attorney working for one of the most respected law firms was caught plagiarizing nearly an entire opinion letter from a fellow attorney’s Web site.

One of the major Korean law firm’s corporate team staff member was appointed as a team leader, while he only had experience with litigation issues.

And one noted partner at a respected medium-size firm was caught frequently sleeping during $550-per-hour billed conference calls.

These and numerous other examples should lead clients to be very careful when retaining attorneys.

In Korea, attorney competency comes from high-level experience - not education. Nearly universally, the best attorneys in Korea are attorneys with this quality, and those with the most have usually worked for the government.

The majority of the top graduates from the Judicial Research and Training Institute are selected and choose to become judges, prosecutors or public servants. These experiences in government allow them to garner top-level work experience at a young age, obtain significant personal contacts in government and earn high respect among their peers.

Normally, these attorneys, when they leave government, will not choose to work for Korea’s largest law firms, and those who do are often not given prominent roles at the firm, or roles that include assisting non- Korean clients.

The same experience issues may be found among many foreign attorneys. Many working in Korea have only a rudimentary understanding of many of the unique aspects of the Korean legal system and the manner in which Koreans do business because of the experience of only working within law firms.

Few foreign attorneys have garnered the experience necessary to do anything more than proofread opinion letters, draft English contracts and advise on the most basic aspects of Korean legal issues.

Any legal team that you retain, therefore, should include an attorney who has significant experience working for government and a foreign attorney with a profound understanding of the uniqueness of the Korean legal system garnered from more than just law firm experience.

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SeanHayes@ipglegal.com

Feb 25, 2009

Buy American Dance Goes On

by Sean Hayes (Korea Times 2/21/09)

The American stimulus bill is to be signed into law with a ``buy-American'' provision mandating that stimulus-funded programs only fund those that utilize U.S. manufactured goods.

Additionally, it makes it more difficult for banks, which received funds under the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), to hire immigrants.

In order to appease free-trade Republicans, President Barack Obama pushed for language noting that the United States will honor its international agreements. The language doesn't change the effect this bill will have on the superpower and the world.

The United States is a country built on the notion of political and economic freedom. With vibrant and robust free market capitalism and a political system able to react quickly to changing dynamics, it has maintained one of the most prosperous societies the world has ever known.

Because of our financial crisis, opponents of free trade were able to successfully fight to include in the stimulus bill the buy-American principle and other similar provisions in order to ensure the protection of jobs in industries that are unable to compete with external competitors. The opponents may ``save'' a few jobs, but the costs far outweigh the benefits.First, Brazil, China, India and the rest of the developing world have numerous public works and other projects that often are awarded to U.S. firms.

American companies like Caterpillar and GE strongly opposed the buy-American language, since they realize that these provisions put America at a competitive disadvantage. Will these countries, and the rest of the world, use this as an opportunity to not purchase U.S. aircraft, tractors, financial services, reactors and high-tech electronics?

If history is a prediction of the future, the Great Depression is a useful lesson. The Smoot-Hawley Tariff, according to the vast majority of mainstream economists, set off a trade war with Europe that led to a deepening of the Great Depression, the deterioration of U.S. industries, and a deepening resentment in Europe to the United States' reactionary response to a worldwide depression.Secondly, free trade benefits all buyers and sellers, while trade barriers benefit certain sellers at the expense of other sellers and all buyers.

The elimination of ``outside'' competition, as history has shown, leads to an increase in cost. An increase in cost leads to the inability to buy other services from other buyers.For example, in Korea, the same Hyundai car bought in the United States will cost a considerable amount less.

The U.S. consumer, thus, buys the Hyundai and has a gain over the Korean purchaser of the car. This causes the Korean consumer to have less disposable income and thus less power to purchase additional products.Who loses? Of course consumers lose, but let's not forget that other sellers lose. The other sellers, because of the reduction in purchasing power of the Korean consumer, lose the opportunity to sell.

Lastly, the world needs a champion for economic freedom. The United States has taken the lead in most of the last century, but it seems no other nation is capable or willing to champion the benefits of political and economic freedom. If the United States doesn't take the lead, who will?Korean President Lee Myung-bak has an opportunity to show Asia the benefits of economic freedom. He has vowed to reform the way Korea operates, but a great deal of his measures adopt the same top-down regulatory approach advocated by his predecessors.

The world has seen the benefits of free trade and economic liberties. Hopefully, it will not regress and lose sight of the benefits trade and economic liberties has garnered for customers and sellers.

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SeanHayes@ipglegal.com