By Susan Gluss
UC Berkeley School of Law today announced the opening of a new research center to study the political and legal systems of Korea, one of the world’s most powerful economies. The Korea Law Center launch comes on the heels of the U.S.—Korea Free Trade Agreement, which opens up the republic’s legal market to U.S. law firms. The agreement has accelerated interest in the East Asian state and marks an ideal time for Berkeley Law to expand its Korean programs.
As a sign of the center’s importance to Korea, the country’s outgoing prime minister, Kim Hwang-Sik, will serve as a senior advisor. Kim, who is also a former Supreme Court justice, will travel to Berkeley to meet with students and the center’s leadership.
“Kim’s advisory role indicates that this is not just a U.S.–driven research center. We really want to be responsive to what Koreans are interested in and the issues they grapple with daily,” center Co-Director and Professor John Yoo said.
The former prime minister said the center’s work dovetails with Korea’s current efforts at legal reform and will help the nation navigate difficult issues, from constitutional amendments to regional security.
“We’ve had an invaluable bilateral relationship for decades,” Kim said. “Many Korean students who studied here became the founders of prominent law firms in Korea. They’ve served as Supreme Court judges and professors at our top universities. The center’s research will be just as important as our country reforms its legal system.”
The new center is a natural extension of a relationship that’s spanned fifty-years: Berkeley Law was one of the first U.S. law schools to welcome Korean scholars and students in the 1960s. Today, a steady stream of Korean judges, lawyers, and government officials study here each year and a dozen or so Korean law students enroll in advanced degree and J.D. programs.
“Now that the Korean economy is booming, the country needs more lawyers,” said Korea Law Center Co-Director Laurent Mayali, who also directs the Comparative Legal Studies Program. “They’ve revamped their professional legal education system to mirror ours. They’ve studied our teaching methods and curriculum, and we’ve traveled to Seoul to advise them on legal reforms.”
Korea’s legal market is estimated at $3 billion and continues to grow. U.S. law firms and businesses need to understand Korean legal affairs to conduct international transactions and stay competitive, Mayali said.
The new center will enable students to learn about issues vital to Korea’s emergence as an economic powerhouse and network with leading Korean judges and lawyers. Hailey You ’14 moved here from Korea to attend Berkeley Law, and she’s been integral to the center’s launch.
“I met with the former Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court of Korea while helping out with the center. He is a very prominent figure in Korea, and I would not have had the opportunity to meet him at this point in my life were it not for the center,” You said. “I also find it equally rewarding to learn about the legal trends and issues of Korea that I would not otherwise be exposed to.”
Center research and conference
South Korea’s legal reforms will comprise the core of the center’s research, including the country’s adoption of jury trials and other facets of the American justice system. Related research will focus on the role of courts in protecting individual rights, the regulation of public health and safety, and the ability of independent agencies to control economic growth. The center will also examine the Dokdo Islands dispute between Korea and Japan, reunification of North and South Korea, and competing claims over ocean resources.
These topics and more will be fleshed out at the Korea Law Center’s first annual conference on April 18. Participants include academics from Seoul National University and Sogang University Law School, as well as Korean-American legal practitioners from top Silicon Valley companies. Justice Yang Chang-Soo of the Korean Supreme Court is a featured speaker.
The conference is co-sponsored by the Berkeley Club, an active group of law school alumni in Korea. Its president, Won Kyou Ryou, of the law firm Lee & Ko, will also speak at the event. Other co-sponsors include the local chapter of the Korean-American Bar Association, the Korean consulate of San Francisco, and Samsung Electronics.
In the fall, the center will offer a course on Asian legal systems, with an emphasis on Korean law. That singular focus attracted the attention of Youna Kim ’15.
“I believe that there is a growing interest in Korean law and institutions, as a result of increasing cultural, business, and political interaction between Korea and U.S.,” said Kim. “Even though there are many research centers on Chinese, Japanese and European law, it’s difficult to find research centers dedicated to Korean legal studies.”
The center plans to publish its conference proceedings in a new volume, “Berkeley Studies in Korean Law,” with a foreword by the recently retired president of the Korean Constitutional Court. It will be the first in a series of volumes on Korean law and the U.S.—Korean legal relationship.
The center’s advising faculty includes Korean-American professors Sarah Song, whose research involves political philosophy, citizenship, and migration; and Taeku Lee, an expert on civic life, political engagement, and race relations of Asians in the U.S.