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Legal Terms

Vocabulary RE: Legal Professionals

Again we are happy to welcome Yuna Lee and Darren Bean of  // today supplementing their post about types of legal professionals in Korea.


  • 행정사 = Administrative counselor
  • 노무사 = Labor counselor
  • 법무사 = General counselor
  • 변리사 = Intellectual property counselor
  • 변호사 = Attorney
  • 공증 = Notary
  • 공증인증서 = Notarization
  • 고용 = Employment
  • 노동 = Labor
  • 고용노동부 = Ministry of Employment and Labor
  • 특허 = Patent
  • 상표 = Trademark
  • 특허청= KIPO (literally, “patent office”)

So what do these terms mean?

Of those six people, only one can represent you in court (변호사). Three can do any actual filing or assistance in legal-related work (add 노무사 and 변리사). One stamps papers to make them more official (공증) and the other two can only help you fill out forms.

The attorney (변호사) is the highest qualified, who must have passed the bar exam, and completed training for attorneys. S/he can do the jobs of everyone else. S/he can appear in court, handle administrative hearings (labor, patent, or otherwise).

The labor and intellectual property paralegals (노무사 and 변리사) practice only in those areas—they can help with administrative hearings, but cannot go to court.

What is an administrative hearing? (행정 처리)

Well, it’s like a court proceeding, but held somewhere else. That is, the law gives power to a body other than the court to make a decision. For example, the Ministry of Employment and Labor (고용노동부) has the power to resolve some disputes dealing with employment (unfair termination, nonpayment of wages), and they do so through a hearing conducted by the Labor Board. This isn’t court but it does determine the rights of parties in a legal fashion—it’s a hearing by an administration, hence the title “administrative hearing.”

The 노무사 (labor counselor) can represent you at the labor board hearing, but not in court. S/he can’t handle any non-labor issues. And since the Labor Board will not consider things like housing, airfare, or other non-wage benefits, this is a bit of a limitation.

The 변리사 (intellectual property counselor) is about the same, but for IP. S/he can file trademark or patent applications with the Korean Intellectual Property Office (특허청) and assist you with the “office actions” that take place therein (disputes over filings) but cannot handle other matters. If you don’t already know the difference between a trademark and a patent (many people don’t) in English, you might want to learn that before you start asking about Korean law.

법무사s (general counselors) and 행정사s (administrative counselors) have a different license, and they are more general, but they cannot represent you in any hearing. They can help you fill out paperwork, and give you general advice, but they are not attorneys. On simple matters they can be very cost-effective so long as your matter is truly simple and routine. And while you may think it is simple and routine, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee that it is. Agreed-upon divorce? What if your agreement re: custody violates the law? How do you know if it does? Translation? The mistranslation of a single word can change the meaning of everything.

Let’s look at some example sentences:

  1. 특허를 특허청에 등록하려고 변리사를 고용했습니다.
    To register my patent with KIPO, I hired an IP paralegal.
  2. 고용노동부 행정 처리 전에 노무사랑 상담해햐 합니다.
    Before the Labor Board hearing, you should consult with a labor paralegal.
  3. 전 고용인은 임금을 안 줘서 변호사를 고용했습니다.
    My former employer didn’t pay my wages, so I hired an attorney.
  4. 법무사는 번역을 잘 못 하셔서 다시 번역할 때 변호사를 찾아겠습니다.
    The paralegal didn’t do the translation very well, so when the translation is redone I’m going to find an attorney.
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Darren Bean


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