S.Korea: Foreign envoys protest limits on foreign law firms

Envoys representing the US, UK, EU and Australia have protested the current bill on the opening of Korea's legal market in a joint statement, prompting criticism from Korean lawyers' groups of their 'intervention in domestic affairs.'

The four ambassadors have relayed complaints about Korea’s regulation of foreign firms, particularly clauses banning foreign law firms from owning a stake of more than 49 per cent in a joint venture with a Korean firm and requiring them to retain more than three years of experience in the local legal industry. They asked parliament to seek a solution satisfactory to all the parties involved before legislating the vote. 

Opportunities and limitations

The Justice Ministry proposed a revised draft of the Foreign Legal Consultant Act last August, in order to implement the final stage of the legal market liberalisation under the free trade agreements with the countries in question. Under the revised bill, the foreign firms may set up joint ventures with Korean counterparts, hire Korean lawyers and partially practice domestic law as the final step. But they cannot represent clients in Korean courtrooms, own a more than a Korean firm in a joint venture or handle domestic cases related to labour, inheritance and government affairs. 

A ‘violation’ of sovereignty

The Korean Bar Association described the envoys’ actions as ‘clearly a violation to South Korea’s sovereignty,’ while the Seoul Bar Association called it ‘an intervention in domestic affairs’ and vowed to send formal complaints to the foreign embassies.

More time to review bill

Refuting the accusations, Rep. Lee Sang-min, head of the parliamentary legislation and judiciary committee, described it as ‘old-fashioned’ to bring up the issue of sovereignty when South Korea has signed free trade agreements with several countries. He added that he would take more time to review the bill in the committee to prevent possible diplomatic clashes, with the foreign envoys planning to have a meeting with an official from the Justice Ministry to discuss the issue later this week. Source: The Korea Herald


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