A detailed research finding has been published on the legal fees of public servants-turned-lawyers. The Korea Institute of Criminology conducted a study of 1,200 lawyers and clients to investigate irregularities in legal circles, and it was found that the average legal fee of lawyers who formerly served in judicial posts such as president of court, director of prosecutor office, chief judge, or chief prosecutor was roughly three times higher than that of other lawyers. The legal fee per case for former judicial officials stood at 15.64 million won, while that of lawyers from the Judicial Research and Training Institute was around 5.25 million won.
A significant share of the respondents said they had experienced such bias in person. Among 500 lawyers, 22% said they had either experienced or witnessed unjust favors dished out for former senior prosecutors or senior justices over the last 10 years, and of the 351 clients who hired public servants-turned-lawyers as their counsel, 46.4% said that they had benefited from the lawyers. The respondents were of the view that every stage of trials from small favors to major decisions was swayed by the culture offering favors to former public workers in judicial circles.
In 2011, a law was enacted to prevent counsels from receiving cases from institutes they formerly worked for more than one year until one year passes since their retirement at the said institute, and the Attorney-at-Law Act has been revised over six times, but the monopoly of legal fees has only deteriorated. The practice is an egregious foul that undermines the foundation of a fair society, inciting unjust competition in legal market. If the result of a trial is determined solely by the means to hire a lawyer with connections, the financial disparity among clients will also determine which body to arrest in a criminal case and how much damage to recognize in a civil action. It also erodes judicial justice, infringing upon the individuals’ right to a fair trial.
Above all, those in the legal and judicial professions must reflect on the fact that such undesirable practice was derived from the public distrust in judiciary. If judicial system is fair enough, there would be no incentive to offer more legal fees to the lawyers who have connections with judges and prosecutors in office. The research showed that the legal fees for former judicial officials tended to decrease over time, attesting to the fact that the high premium paid for them is based on the relevance of their connections rather than their competence in court. We must eradicate the practice where the entrenched interests are inherited through collusions between former and incumbent judicial officials. This should be the start point of judicial reforms.