Justice ministry to work on ending feud between bar association and its members over use of legal counseling app

SEOUL-- Justice Minister Park Beom-kye said Tuesday the ministry was working to help defuse tension between the bar association and its members who provide legal aid through a mobile counseling application.

While meeting with reporters outside his office in Gwacheon, south of Seoul, the minister said that he had ordered the ministry to look into whether there is a way to settle conflicts between the two parties.

His remarks came a day before the new rule by the Korean Bar Association is scheduled to go into effect to ban its members from using the mobile app LawTalk, an increasingly popular service that has helped people find lawyers since its launch in 2014.

Calling the service unlawful, the association says that the app serves as a paid broker, an act prohibited under South Korea's Attorney-at-Law Act. Law & Company Co., the operator of the app, counters that its service is a legal advertising platform.

The minister agreed with the company.

"It is not my personal opinion. Working-level officials went over the issue of legality, and I was briefed on the results," he said, adding "Prosecutors have also investigated the issue multiple times before and did not bring any charges."

He added that he understood "some of the concerns expressed by the bar association," such as the potentially growing control and power of legal service platforms over its lawyer members going forward.

Amid a yearslong tit-for-tat battle, the association changed its rule in May to prohibit lawyers from joining online advertising platforms. The revision is set to take effect Wednesday.

For their part, 60 lawyers who were featured on the app filed an injunction with the Constitutional Court in June to stop the new rule from taking effect. The court decision has yet to come out.

As of the end of July, nearly 3,000 lawyers, or more than 10 percent of the country's 24,000 lawyers, provide legal services on the platform.

At a media briefing last month, Kim Jung-wook, president of the Seoul Bar Association, said complaints had been filed against around 500 lawyers over alleged violations of the Attorney-at-Law Act, which could result in disciplinary measures.

As the minister suggested, the ministry could step in to nullify the association's Code of Ethics for Attorneys, based on which the revision was made.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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