The PBEye was thrilled when the latest update of its global pro bono atlas, prepared by Latham & Watkins LLP*†, grew to include 71 jurisdictions. Imagine our delight when we learned we could add a 72nd – South Korea.
On December 14, 2012, PBI President and CEO Esther F. Lardent traveled to Korea to participate in the country’s first pro bono symposium. The event was hosted by Bae, Kim & Lee LLC and the Dongcheon Foundation, which serves as BKL’s pro bono arm and a resource for pro bono more generally throughout Korea. The goal of the symposium was to share knowledge about pro bono best practices in the United States and the current state of pro bono in Korea.
Top leaders from Korean law firms, officers of the Korea and Seoul Bar Associations, and other prominent leaders of the legal profession participated in the symposium and provided valuable insight into South Korea’s pro bono culture. Sessions focused on how the nation and its law firms could expand and coordinate pro bono services. The event also brought together pro bono coordinators from Korean law firms and representatives from public interest organizations such as Gong-Gam. We learned that attendees have followed pro bono developments in the U.S., including the activities of PBI as well as the pro bono efforts of U.S. law firms, for years.
Lardent gave the keynote address on PBI, its Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®,and pro bono trends and best practices, and spoke on panel presentations with Korean law firm leaders. David Lash from O’Melveny and Myers LLP* and Harlene Katzman from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett * - two U.S. firms that now have offices in Seoul – also presented at the symposium, providing invaluable insights on how to structure and administer successful law firm pro bono programs. Lash, Katzman, and Lardent spent a busy week in Korea, meeting with BKL’s leadership, public interest and law school leaders, and the media. Lash also conducted a well-attended session on pro bono service for BKL’s lawyers.
In addition to presentations and meetings, Lardent conducted extensive interviews with prominent Korean newspapers, including the Law Times and Chosunilbo, the largest newspaper company in South Korea.
It appears inevitable that the increasing number of Korean law firms and public interest groups would reach the current tipping point at which they are now committed to improving and enhancing the country’s pro bono culture and practice. The country appears to be in a perfect storm that will allow pro bono to expand – a solid and growing economy, a highly educated populace, a sharp increase in the number of law schools and law graduates, a surprising number of large and mid-sized law firms with sophisticated corporate practices, and the recent implementation of free trade agreements with the U.S. and EU that have liberalized the entry of global firms (14 at last count) into Korea.
We thank our hosts at Bae, Kim & Lee and the Dongcheon Foundation for their generosity in supporting PBI’s travel to South Korea, their hospitality and kindness, and their deep commitment to pro bono service. And look for a few of our new Korean friends at the 2013 PBI Annual Conference!
* denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®
† denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project