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Dec 29, 2011

Hiring a Criminal Defense Attorney in Korea

In all cases, in Korea, where you are accused of a crime and you fear that you may be sentenced to time in jail, may be deported or the conviction may harm your future, hire, quickly, an experienced and proactive Korean criminal attorney prior to any interrogations by the Korean police or prosecution.

Sadly, few lawyers, in Korea, are useful for criminal matters, since few lawyers are proactive when it comes to matters concerning the Korean government, experienced in criminal matters for foreigners or willing to upset the status quo (aggressively engage the prosecutor).

Please do your future a favor,  forgo any options provided at no or low cost unless you have no other options.

If you can't afford an attorney, the court, normally will appoint an attorney to assist you.  In most cases, the appointment of the Korean government-appointed attorney will be useless for your defense/sentence, since the appointment will be after interrogations, after the decision of the prosecutor to indict and often is an attorney that will only be going through the basic processes necessary for him to complete the matter and go on to the dozens of other matters that he has in front of him.

If you are in the U.S. military, the military will appoint you an attorney.  Also, the attorney will be appointed too late in the investigation stage.   The attorney appointed, overwhelmingly, in the cases that I have seen will simply going through the motions.

The handful of attorneys picked by the military are some of the least proactive attorneys I have seen in Korea and want, in the majority of the cases, to simply be on the good graces of their bread-and-butter (a Korean employee of the U.S. military).  If you are convicted of a crime, you will be discharged from the military.   This was not true a decade ago, but the military, even for "minor" violations of law have been quick to discharge soldiers.

Signs that you May Have Hired the Wrong Korean Lawyer
  • Your Korean lawyer is not operating based on a contingency fee (success fee: not guilty/no time served in jail etc.).   The best arrangement is a discounted hourly fee combined with a success fee, since you will receive a bill noting what the attorney is doing and the attorney will be motivated to do work on the matter even when the chance of "success" is slim.
  • Your Korean lawyer is too young (Early 30s) or too old (70s).  The lawyer will, likely, not have the experience necessary to handle the matter or will, simply, not be handling the matter.
  • Your Korean lawyer is directing you, consistently, to talk with a less experienced lawyer.  The less experienced lawyer is likely, only, doing the work and the more experienced lawyer is simply a rainmaker.
  • Your Korean lawyer has poor English language skills.  Without someone fluent in English, you run the risk of never getting your side of the story heard. 
  • Your Korean lawyer has few non-Korean clients.  Handling criminal matters for foreigners is vastly different than handling a typical criminal matter for a Korean.  Often, deals can be obtained with the prosecutor in non-violent crimes for foreigners, that are unavailable to Koreans.  Also, violent and public crimes, often, need to be handled with a decree of media and cultural savvy, since judges and prosecutors are heavily affected when the victim is a Korean and the perpetrator of the crime is a foreigner. 
  • Your lawyer never speaks.  A lawyer that never speaks is, typically, not a proactive lawyer.  Criminal cases are best handled with strategy and a proactive counsel willing to engage the police investigators, prosecutor and judge.  If your lawyer won't speak to you, he won't be speaking to anyone else and will likely simply go through the process, receive a guilty verdict and the typical sentence.
  • Your lawyer seems not to be listening.  Too often, lawyers, ignore clients.  Great defense lawyers  in Korea develop great defenses by listening and responding to clients.  If you have a lawyer that is not listening, he will likely just go through the process, receive a guilty verdict and the typical sentence.
  • Your lawyer in Korea has too many cases.  If he seems too busy he probably is too busy.  Criminal cases, often, need a great deal of time.  If the lawyer is not able to spend the time to talk with you, you may never be able to get the attorney to provide the time necessary to handle the matter.
  • Your lawyer in Korea hates you.  Koreans are passionate people.  If the lawyer hates you, he will likely take your money and do nothing for you.    Passion, too often, can lead Korean lawyers to be less than reasonable.   As we know, this is not only a Korean trait.
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What do you think?
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SeanHayes@ipglegal.com
NY attorney Sean Hayes is the only non-Korean to have worked as a government attorney for the Korean court system.  He leads the Korea Practice Team at IPG.