Patricia Goedde

Publication Date

Spring 2009

Document Type


First Page



The nature of public interest lawyers in South Korea has transformed in recent decades. Under authoritarian rule in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, a sparse group of human rights lawyers defended the rights of political prisoners and laborers. With transition to democracy beginning in 1987, these lawyers formed a professional affiliation called Lawyers for a Democratic Society (Minbyun). As citizens' groups and social movements blossomed in the 1990s, civic-minded lawyers began to support more specific causes such as women's rights, consumer protection, environmentalism and economic justice. In 2002, Roh Moo-hyun, a Minbyun lawyer was elected President. However, public interest lawyers appear to have faded from public view since the advent of a liberal-democratic administration. This Article asks a number of questions with respect to the transformation of public interest lawyers from the 1990s to date. What makes a "public interest lawyer" in South Korean society? What role do they have in public interest law groups? What new implications have arisen for public interest lawyers during and after a reformist government? Why does it appear that public interest lawyers have faded from public view? This research intends to show that public interest lawyers in South Korea have gained social and political empowerment during the democratization process, and thus have become more effective, lower-profile institution-builders with respect to advancing the practice of public interest law.

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