KLC | Public Interest Law Forum: GongGam Human Rights Law Foundation

Tuesday, February 2 at 5:00pm to 6:00pm

Virtual Event

KLC launched the Public Interest Law Forum, a guest speaker series that spotlights Korean and Korean-American public interest lawyers. This first event featured a panel of speakers: Pilkyu Hwang, Jirim Kim, and Yae-Ahn Park, attorneys with GongGam Human Rights Law Foundation, which is South Korea’s first public interest law organization.


We learned about the different paths each of them took to become a public interest lawyer as well as how the landscape of public interest law in Korea has changed in GongGam’s seventeen years of existence. Notably, more and more people in South Korea have been exposed to public interest law since the country adopted the graduate-level law school system, like the one we have in the United States.

When asked what they believe to be the most important non-substantive skills and traits for a public interest lawyer, the attorneys listed patience, creativity, and empathy. Patience is important because change often occurs slowly in public interest litigation and advocacy efforts. Creativity is necessary for attorneys who wish to challenge existing laws or to create new ones to protect vulnerable populations. Yae-Ahn Park, who received her J.D. from Columbia Law School, added that being a U.S.-trained attorney in Korea can be an advantage because she brings a different perspective to the issues GongGam is called to solve. Finally, empathy—the definition of the Korean word 공감 “gong gam,” which is also the name of the name of the organization—is essential to seeing clients as "ordinary people in extraordinary situations” instead of “extraordinary people.” One way lawyers can practice empathy is using their privilege as licensed professionals to listen to and amplify the voices of activists, who are the most experienced and committed to the cause but often are not heard by those in power or positions of change. This practice also builds trust.

One of the difficulties of working during the pandemic for these attorneys has been the inability to travel to disaster sites, where they would normally meet with the affected people to learn about the issues. The GongGam attorneys ended this discussion on a positive note, expressing that they are exploring creative ways to work with those affected by disasters to reduce their carbon footprint, as air travel is “one of the most serious factors” contributing to climate change.

We hope this is the first of many conversations between the Korea Law Center and GongGam. The KLC is collecting additional questions and/or comments from our registrants, and we will share the attorneys’ answers with you at a later date. Please send your questions by Saturday, February 27, to Research Fellow Sophie Paeng: paengb@lawnet.uci.edu.

The Korea Law Center would like to express gratitude to Research Fellow Sophie Paeng for her vision and leadership of the KLC Public Interest Law Forum series and to the Gong Gam attorneys Pilkyu Hwang, Jirim Kim, and Yae-Ahn Park for opening this series.

Event Type



Students, Alumni, General Public, Faculty, Staff



Centers, Korea Law Center
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