Two years have passed since the oil spill at Taean-gun. Yet, despite warm helping hands from all over the country, the oil-strained sea still wreaks havoc on the lives of the fishermen who made their living in Taean Haean Park, once known for clear seas and unpolluted soil. In the legal dispute that has risen between the fishermen and Samsung Heavy Industries, the owner of the ship which caused the spill, one of the lowest voices has been that of the Global Legal Clinic (GLC), representing the voices of the Taean residents. The GLC is not a professional firm, but one of a growing number of legal clinics operating out of university on nonprofit basis.
The GLC started last year as a pilot project at Korea University operated on a volunteer basis by ten undergraduate and three graduate students. Currently, it is engaged in three fields: legal assistance in the oil leakage accident, compliance with the prohibition on discrimination against the disabled, and human rights for foreign residents.
So far, the GLC has succeeded in persuading the Korean government to join the International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC) fund, which provides compensation for oil pollution damage resulting from oil spills from tankers, as happened in Taean Haean Park. concluded its treaty with the IOPC on February 2 this year so, from now on, residents who suffer oil pollution damage will get guaranteed compensation.
Due to its success this year, GLC will become an international legal consultation office affiliated with the Korea University Law School.
“If the previous GLC was more like a volunteer service, now, as it strengthens its characteristics, it will become a more professional service center by concentrating more concretely on its fields,” said Oh Ji-heon (Korea University, 1) who is the current president of the GLC.
Like the GLC, more and more legal clinics are being formed at Korean universities. Originally founded to provide students chances to experience real legal cases, clinics are like mini-law offices where the university students take care of legal problems brought by customers. Clinic students are assisted by professors with research in drafting legal arguments and in meeting with clients .The members of a legal clinic can stand at the bar under the charge of their professors and also can practice giving legal advice to companies as well as individuals.
Yonsei University is opening a legal clinic in order to foster practical service and contribute to civil society by providing free legal service. The Yonsei Legal Clinic gives both on-line and off-line legal advice. Answers to online questions are first provided by law school students, and then examined by professor at least once a week. If the answers given by the students are improper, the professors contact the clients and give them advice directly.
Handong University, the pioneer of the American law school system in Korea, also has its own legal clinic whose main role is to provide free legal advice to small and medium-sized companies.
According to Professor Choi Won-mog of the Ewha Law School, legal clinics are helpful and necessary for both law students and society. Choi said, “Korean Law education has concentrated on just memorizing legal provisions, but as legal clinics encourage practicality, they will open a new era of learning for students. Through legal clinics, students who major in law will accomplish their final aim, which is achieving a balance between education and experience.”