Lee, who is the managing partner of Korean law firm DR & AJU, joined the firm in 2010. He ascended to the leadership role in 2018. A criminal and civil litigation expert, Lee was earlier a judge of both the Seoul Central District Court and the Seoul High Court. He was also the spokesperson for the special investigation team during a political scandal in 2017.
ALB: Tell us about your role. What does the average day look like for you?
Lee: I am the representative attorney of DR & AJU, primarily in charge of management of the firm, and am responsible for the overall management of the firm, together with attending to various litigation matters to a certain extent. The management of the firm includes financial management such as sales, PR and so on. HR management issues such as bringing in talented individuals, and planning on how DR & AJU should allocate its resources to prosper in challenging conditions and environment. My litigation work includes consultation with clients and appearing before the court for major cases. My average day would be myself coming to work in the morning and consulting clients in my office or participating in various meetings related to management, and then having meetings with clients during lunch and dinner.
ALB: What have been some of your highlights from your time in charge? And what are some leadership lessons you have learnt?
Lee: I have been the representative attorney of DR & AJU since 2018. During this period, we have seen the legal industry in Korea declining, due to the excessive supply of attorneys each year and the decline in the overall revenue of the legal industry. Furthermore, this decline has been exacerbated since the outbreak of COVID-19. So, my main focus at the moment is strengthening the financial structure and financial security of DR & AJU. However, even during such hard times, we have been actively recruiting talented attorneys, thereby increasing the number of attorneys at DR & AJU by more than 20 percent. In addition, as the person in charge of management, I have focused on building an environment so that our attorneys can maximise their abilities; such efforts include having direct consultation with clients by myself, appearing before the court in person and actively meeting and pitching to potential clients, thereby taking the initiative and leading by setting an example (which is also my motto).
ALB: How would you describe your strategy for the firm?
Lee: As the seventh-largest law firm in Korea, our goal is to have more than 300 attorneys with revenue of more than 100 billion won ($90 million) within the next three years, thereby becoming one of the largest law firms in South Korea. To achieve such a goal, DR & AJU is strategizing by focusing on its strengths, including bankruptcy, international transaction and litigation, criminal litigation, tariff and so on, so that other sectors can strengthen their competitiveness in the meantime.
ALB: What are some of the big challenges the firm has been facing in the past few months, and how are you looking to tackle them?
Lee: For DR & AJU to become a major law firm, we are in a moment of transition where the overall system has to be transformed from an individual attorney centred firm to a structure/system centred based firm. We need to restructure the management of DR & AJU focusing on its systems to move forward. We are planning to restructure the firm by the end of 2020 and concentrate on taking major strides in 2021.
ALB: How do you feel the pandemic will reshape not just the way your firm operates, but also the legal services industry in Korea?
Lee: I expect that not only the legal system but human society as a whole will be reshaped due to the pandemic. The legal industry in Korea will also be forced to introduce the un-tact system for hearings and consultations, etc. In particular, there is a chance that the volume of international transaction/litigation may shrink to a certain extent. DR & AJU is preparing for the post-COVID-19 era by improving and preparing necessary systems within the firm.
ALB: How important is law firm culture, according to you? What kind of internal culture are you looking to foster?
Lee: I think a law firm culture, or the culture of any organization, is formed by the managerial board’s values being naturally pervaded throughout its members over a long period of time. In particular, the most valuable asset of a law firm is its members; therefore, the culture of the law firm which affects its members is the key to its success.
Based on such a vision, I believe that the most important, valuable, and “should-be-fostered” value of DR & AJU is the effective and smooth communications between its members, mutual trust stemming from such communications and active and effective cooperation between all parts and members of our firm.
ALB: On that note, how would you describe your hiring and talent retention strategy? What kinds of lawyers would make the best fit for your firm?
Lee: DR & AJU hires attorneys not based on their specs but their potential for development and sustainability. To hire such suitable attorneys, during the hiring process we focus on whether the individual has the potential to become an earnest partner/associate (for the potential and loyalty to DR & AJU), genuine counsellor (for communications) and meticulous analyst (for creative thinking based on meticulousness).
ALB Conversations is a weekly series of in-depth Q&As with leaders of law firms and in-house legal departments across Asia. If you are a managing partner or general counsel based in the region who is interested in being a part of this series, please send an email to email@example.com.