BY ERIN WALCZEWSKI
Thirty-two Harvard Law School students spent this year’s spring break in South Korea on a trip sponsored by the Harvard Asia Law Society (HALS). The group, led by SeonJoo Yoon ’10, met with the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Minister of Finance, among other high-ranking government officials in their week-long exploration of Seoul and surrounding historical village areas, including Andong and Gyeongju.
“The purpose of the delegation each year is to introduce members of the Harvard Asia Law Society to the legal system and legal work environment of countries in Asia,” said HALS co-president Lane Morgan ’09. “HALS members are given the opportunity to visit with government officials and legal practitioners to study the legal system and to learn about work opportunities in the country.”
Toward that end, the delegation visited pinnacles of both law and business in South Korea. The group enjoyed a question and answer session about the Korean legal environment at Kim & Chang, a law firm that includes around 40 HLS graduates, making it the largest HLS law firm alumni group in Korea. “We were honored that HALS took the time from its busy schedule to visit our firm. We enjoyed having the opportunity to talk with such a talented group and getting to hear about the news back at the HLS,” said J.H. Cheong (LLM ’03), an attorney with Kim & Chang.
“Our members were also impressed with-and still talk about amongst ourselves-the questions and interest that we saw during the presentation session held at our offices,” said attorney Gene-Oh Kim (LLM ’06).
Trip delegates were introduced to other HLS graduates at a formal dinner sponsored by the Harvard Law School Alumni Association of Korea, a group that includes judges, prosecutors, and private attorneys, all of whom shared their perspective on law in Korea with the students.
Another focus of the trip was Korea’s remodeled legal education system. Until this year, law in Korea was an undergraduate degree, but the country has transitioned in the past few months to a graduate school law degree that more closely mimics the U.S. system. HLS students toured the new law school at Seoul National University (SNU), considered by some to be the “Harvard” of Korea. There, they met with Professor Ok-Rial Song, Vice Dean for Planning and Development, and with SNU’s very first class of 1L students to exchange ideas about the future of the country’s legal education system and bar exam, which is also undergoing major changes.
At the intersection of law and business in Korea was the group’s meeting with Edward Koo from the general counsel’s office of Samsung, one of the trip sponsors. The group toured the Samsung facility just outside Seoul and spent time in Samsung’s new product display room after hearing a presentation from Koo about the legal issues associated with representing one of Korea’s biggest companies and largest employers. “Korean multinational corporations are major clients of U.S. firms and I appreciated the opportunity to directly hear from the client side what corporations are looking for from their U.S. counsel,” said Morgan.
Participants expressed their surprise about the luxury of the trip, commenting on the caliber of the Korean officials who met with them, the private dinner at the residence of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the students’ stay in a five-star hotel in Seoul, and several gifts each participant received, including a new-model MP3 player for each of them from trip sponsor Samsung. Ella Shenhav ’09 described the value of an “incredible trip for a ridiculously low price” that came with a less tangible benefit as well. “I loved many parts of the trip, but the best part was spending a week with this amazing group of people that I’ve come to think of as great friends,” said Shenhav.
In addition to exploring areas of law and business, HLS students on the trip received an infusion of Korean pop culture when they met So Nyeo Shi Dae (“Girls’ Generation”), a nine-member girl group with a hit song high on the Korean pop charts. Popular comedian and game show host Kim Jaedong helped host the dance lesson the pop stars gave the HLS students, and spent several hours with the law students afterward.
Before returning to Cambridge, the group also visited the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), witnessed a mock wedding ceremony performed in traditional Korean style, attended a mask-dancing performance, visited a boarding school in the countryside, and toured the grounds of the Blue House, which is the executive office and residence of the President of the Republic of Korea.
All trip activities were planned and coordinated by SeonJoo Yoon, a dual-degree student in her second year at HLS who is also pursuing a degree from the Kennedy School.
“SeonJoo kept the group under control without being domineering, planned wonderful events but was also incredibly modest about her accomplishments, and helped us all learn a lot about the culture, history, and politics of South Korea while showing us a really fun time. I felt very lucky that SeonJoo had gone above and beyond with fundraising efforts so that she could bring non-HALS members on the trip,” said Abigail Burger Chingos ’09.
Yoon’s fundraising efforts included securing sponsorship for specific components of the trip from many of the entities visited on the trip, as well as general organizational support for HALS from Davis Polk & Wardwell and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett.
HALS recently held elections and voted Doreen Xia ’10 next year’s trip coordinator. Xia will lead a 2010 spring break delegation to Beijing.