South Korea’s retired judges and prosecutors practicing law have taken about three times more cases on average than practicing lawyers in Seoul over the past seven years, according to data. During the same period, the Attorney-at-Law Act was amended six times and the Improper Solicitation and Graft Act was enacted to stop the unfair practice, but the number of cases they take has risen twice the average ordinary lawyers are given with.
Such reality where former judges and prosecutors receive privileges associated with their past experience is something that all people in a legal profession should be ashamed of. The unjust practice could still exist because of a belief that incumbent judges and public prosecutors would lean towards their former colleagues, and of wrongful collusive ties between them as seen in the so-called Chung Woon-ho gate. Beyond providing convenience, this is a crime that can cause direct harm to those who entrusted the proceedings to lawyers not having served in public posts. The victims may be citizens who cannot afford high legal fees, a country, or the people. Allowing privileges should not be considered a “respectful treatment,” but an obstacle standing in the way of achieving legal justice.
Moreover, the practice also undermines the quality of legal services. Lawyers can only deal with a limited number of cases due to time constraint, so taking too many cases would lead them to build a not-strong-enough case or plead in an abnormal way. Furthermore, not a few judges-and-prosecutors-turned-lawyers are surreptitiously involved in a case by putting their name as an adviser or consultant, hurting the transparency and fairness of judicial proceedings.
To correct the situation where former judges and public prosecutors take almost all cases, the legal circles need to change its closed culture in which personal relationships are considered crucial including school ties, regionalism, and close bonds developed with colleagues at the Judicial Training Research Institute. In addition, the courts and the prosecution should be given an independent right to investigate the reported cases suspected of the unfair practice and impose a punishment.
This is also an issue not only those in a legal profession but also all public officials should caution against. Private firms have hired retired public officials from regulatory organizations at a high salary, while public organizations have tried to keep their rights to regulate, all of which is aimed at benefiting from privileges associated with retirees’ former post. Therefore, all public officials need to bear in mind that doing their ex-colleagues a seemingly small favor is in fact a cheating and even a crime that threatens the fairness and trust of society.