Published : 2013-02-05 20:16
Updated : 2013-02-05 20:16
Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-hee won a high-profile inheritance lawsuit last week against his siblings demanding more than 4 trillion won ($3.6 billion) in stakes in key companies of the country’s largest conglomerate. A Seoul court allowed him to keep his holdings in question, which his elder brother and sister claimed were hidden from them after the death of their father and group founder Lee Byung-chull.
The practical winners of the legal battle, however, may be the lawyers involved in the litigation, especially those for the Samsung chairman. It is said among legal circles that the lawyers on both sides will be paid up to 10 billion won, with the entire amount to be covered by the siblings who lost the suit. Lee’s lawyers are expected to receive extra rewards for winning the litigation. According to the usual practice applied to civil suits, they are supposed to get 10 percent of the astronomical amount at stake, though some legal professionals say the percentage will probably be lower as Lee was the defendant.
The handful of lawyers grabbing such fortunes are more than envied by most of their colleagues, who have been driven into economic difficulties by intensifying competition. The number of lawyers across the country, which stood at 14,172 as of last August, is set to increase continuously with graduates from 25 law schools beginning to enter the legal market last year.
What is worrisome is that a growing number of lawyers have been tempted into committing fraud and other crimes to survive or, more deplorably, to make a fortune. According to figures released by the prosecution last week, 319 lawyers were accused of fraud from 2008-2011. The number was more than double the figure recorded in the previous eight years. During the period of 2008-11, 112 lawyers were investigated on suspicion of fabricating documents, while 82 and 65 others underwent questioning for embezzlement and breach of trust, respectively.
The most common type of wrongdoing committed by deviant lawyers is to take additional money from clients in return for false promises to influence judges or prosecutors to handle their cases in a favorable manner. It is also not rare for lawyers to embezzle settlement money or induce individuals with scant legal knowledge to enter into a litigation that has little chance of success.
Lawyers now need to discard their sense of privilege and try to offer a variety of legal services at more reasonable fees. This attitude fits the purpose of introducing the law school system, which produces more than 1,500 legal professionals annually.
Lawyers should adapt themselves to the increasing social demands that more people be given easier access to more diverse legal services. Any lawyer who fails to keep up with this trend will be left out and behind.
More than 8 million legal disputes are estimated to take place every year in the country. Of them, merely 200,000 cases are proceeded with the help of appointed lawyers. This suggests that lower legal fees would lead to greater demand for services from lawyers.
The minimal per case fee of 3 million won usually requested by lawyers is too high a threshold for working-class and low-income people to look to their assistance. Lawyers should try to find ways to cut fees by saving costs and reducing reliance on law brokers. It will be of help to expand and improve online systems to match clients with lawyers who can offer services they need at the most reasonable price.