- Alumna Jin Sun-mi, Labor Attorney Dedicated to Protecting the Human Rights of Workers with Diligence and Sincerity
We often think that people in legal profession are rigid and formal. Some legal professions, however, need to focus more on people’s story than the law. Labor attorney’s job is to protect the human rights of workers. Alumna Jin Sun-mi (Division of Law, class of 2001) is a certified labor attorney with 15 years of experience, and she is currently CEO of a labor law firm, Yulsun. She is also a labor attorney advisor at the Center for Media Responsibility and Human rights, and a member of Information Disclosure Deliberation Committee under the Ministry of Employment and Labor. As Sookmyung has been a staunch supporter she can count on, she has been supporting the rights of workers. Let’s listen to her story.
1. Hello. Before beginning the interview, please introduce yourself.
Hello. I’m Jin Sun-mi. I’ve graduated from the Department of Law at Sookmyung Women’s University in 2005 and School of Law in 2008 of the same university. I passed the qualification examination for certified labor attorney when I was graduate student in 2007 and have served as labor attorney for 15 years since then.
2. Could you explain us about the job of labor attorney?
Basically, a certified public labor attorney is an expert in protecting human rights of workers in industrial sites. Also, a labor attorney provides counseling and training regarding legal issues faced by workers in the workplace with expertise in conflict mediation. It’s the only certified labor law expert by the government. And a labor attorney’s job is defined in the Certified Public Labor Attorney Act. We help protect rights of workers in various places such as the Ministry of Employment and Labor, labor relations commissions, the Korea Workers’ Compensation and Welfare Service under relevant labor laws. Some labor attorneys work for companies providing counseling and consulting services on personnel and labor management. Taking the lead in helping labor relations management or rational conflict mediation at the request of unions and companies is an important activity of labor attorney as well.
3. What are the competencies and attitudes a labor attorney should have?
I believe that sincerity matters the most. As you know, labor attorneys take care of people, not just punching numbers. Various interests of multiple stakeholders and complex issues are intertwined. All matters should be considered based on understanding on people and for that, you need to be sincere. That sincerity leads to the integrity and devotion to clients. Also, labor attorneys should be adaptable to respond quickly, preventing conflicts. Understanding on human nature and being empathetic are important qualities as well.
4. When I think of people working in legal fields, a rigid image pops up in my head. It sounds like labor attorneys have to be more approachable than the imagination.
Right. That part is particularly important. We deal with people and there are no fixed answers like a mathematical equation. So, abilities to communicate, understand, and be empathetic are all important. Such elements should be combined together to result in the integrity to deal with cases painstakingly.
5. You obtained your bachelor’s and master’s of law degree at Sookmyung Women’s University. As you received both degrees at Sookmyung, you must have taken many law lectures. Which class was the most memorable?
I took a lot of classes as I chose law as the intensified course of major. Among them, the class of Professor Lee Uk-han was the most memorable. He was very popular, and I believe that it would be the same today as he was. I met him after I failed to pass the qualification examination for certified labor attorney in the second round of the same year by one point. He encouraged me by saying, “Although you missed the chance by one point this year, you will pass the exam by receiving ten points more next year.” I was able to focus on preparing for the exam again thanks to his kind words and passed the exam by scoring about ten points above the passing mark. Professor Lee was truly my savior.
A big difference is in that CEO should take care of the business and management of the company as well other than the duties of labor attorney. One thing you should know is that labor attorneys are certified experts and work independently unlike ordinary office workers. They have different working system as a labor attorney takes charge of each case until it is completed. I worked for companies as a labor attorney for about three years before founding a labor law firm at the age of 29 in 2010. When I worked for a company, I carried out assigned duties only. I have more duties as I have to take care of the firm as the CEO, run the office, and work as an attorney. I have to work both inside and outside of the office. It means I have heavy workload and I need to be responsible. However, I am very satisfied with the options I have. That I can adjust my time freely, make decisions on which cases to take, and leading my own life.
7. You are currently serving as a director of the Center for Media Responsibility and Human Rights while working as a labor attorney. What makes you interested in the role of the media in protecting human rights?
I was a law-specialized member of a viewer committee of KBS from September 2018 to August 2022. I provided my opinions on KBS programs regarding the field of labor each year. Which made me have an interest in the media responsibility in protecting human rights. And then I was appointed as a director of the Center for Media Responsibility and Human Rights with a recommendation of an acquaintance. The Center for Media Responsibility and Human Rights is an organization for civic media that advocates the rights of people who were damaged by media reports. Main activities of the center include counseling and seeking remedies for victims of media reports, issuing claims of disclosing information, advocating rights of media users. The center also plays a role in revising media-related laws. Also, it provides human rights training for journalists for their contribution to human rights enhancement. And both teenagers and adults can receive media human rights education at the center. I appear on the YouTube channel of the Ministry of Employment and Labor, and concurrently served as a director and was elected as the vice president of the Korea Certified Public Labor Attorneys Association from 2018 to 2021. As I was carrying out several duties at the same time, I was not able to fully focus on the activities of the center these days. Taking this interview as an opportunity, I should renew my commitment to the center.
8. You are playing many roles in various areas, labor attorney advisor, committee member, etc. It seems that you should divide a day into minutes to do the activities given to you. What is your secret of time management, if any?
If someone asks me what the most precious thing to me is, I always say that it is time. I value time the most. I woke up at 5 AM every day in the morning and started my day by organizing things to do on that day since I was an undergraduate. As I have a lot of outside meetings, I have to organize things by hour for double-check so that there’s nothing I miss. As I mostly work outside the office, morning hours are particularly special to me as I can concentrate on my work. I made it as a habit to do exercise each day during lunch time since the age of 20, and which made it possible to build the physical strength that I need to live a busy and fulfilling life. Waking up early in the morning and exercising during lunch time are the two things that I made as a routine. I believe that thanks to such habits I can manage my time more efficiently.
9. What was the most memorable case or experience that makes you proud of yourself while working as a labor attorney?
The case assigned to me for the first time after I became a labor attorney was the most memorable. It was a case of an apartment security guard. He was an old man aged almost 70. I faced difficulties as he kept on changing his statement while I was checking on the fact. At that time, the apartment management office said that the security guard cut the roses in the flowerbeds at the apartment buildings several times so the office warned him. The office also insisted that the guard voluntarily submitted his letter of resignation after they gave him advice to resign. I met him several times to have interviews and he said, “I wrote down my letter of resignation following their words and I had to erase and write again and again due to misspelling.” Based on his comment, I argued that his resignation was forced and involuntary. Thus, it was an unfair dismissal. Which led to reconciliation of conflict by the labor relations committee and a satisfactory result.
His family came to me to thank me at that time, and I still remember that moment. It was the first year that the public labor attorney system was implemented. Had it not for such system, he and others in marginalized groups would face difficulties in seeking remedies against the infringement of rights as they had to appoint certified labor attorneys at their expense. Therefore, the case was even more meaningful to me.
10. What kind of experience will you recommend to students who want to become a labor attorney?
I think that it would be helpful for them to work as interns at labor law firms while preparing for the exam. Working at labor law firms provide intensive experience in area of human resources management compared to other part time jobs or working at ordinary companies. I know many people who passed the exam while they work at labor law firms.
11. What does Sookmyung mean to you?
To me, Sookmyung is my hometown, something that I can count on and want to protect. I keep it in my mind that I am a Sookmyungian to conduct my duty and I will always remember that in the future as well. Thank you for giving me an opportunity to be interviewed.