Required Traits of a Great Criminal Lawyer in Korea: Hiring a Defense Lawyer in South Korea

There are few great criminal lawyers working in Korea, because of the nature of the Korean criminal justice system and other realities.

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

As I mentioned in a post entitled Criminal Defense Lawyers in Korea: Who to Hire – Who Not to Hire:

“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)”

Here are a few signs that you may have hired a good Korean Defense attorney.

  • Your lawyer is operating based on a success/contingency fee (bonus for not going to jail).  If your Korean lawyer is not operating based on a contingency/success fee he may not be motivated to win the case.   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 lawyer doesn’t work for one of the ubiquitous firms working for foreign clients.  Some of these firms are more concerned with their reputation than yours.   Many are notoriously bad in criminal cases.
  • Your Korean lawyer is between the age of 40 and 60.  If the 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.
  • You talk directly with your Korean lawyer every time you meet the lawyer.   If you lawyer is directing you, consistently, to talk with a less experienced lawyer – run.  The less experienced lawyer is likely, only, doing the work and the more experienced lawyer is simply a rainmaker.
  • Your Korean lawyer has great 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 many 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 Korean 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 contacts you often, meets you in jail often and leads the conversation.  A lawyer that never speaks, never contacts you and never visits you 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 speaks, but, also, listens when you talk.  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 seems busy, but not overwhelmed.  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.

Sean Hayes may be contacted at:

Sean Hayes is co-chair of the Korea Practice Team at IPG Legal. He is the only non-Korean to have worked as an attorney for the Korean court system (Constitutional Court of Korea) and one of the first non-Koreans to be a regular member of a Korean law faculty.

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