Why preferential treatment is suspected in undergrad internship of presidential aide’s daughter

Posted on : 2024-06-10 18:05 KST Modified on : 2024-06-10 18:05 KST
An undergraduate internship at a prestigious law firm is at the center of allegations of preferential treatment for the children of powerful and well-connected parents
President Yoon Suk-yeol confers Kim Joo-hyun his certification of appointment as senior presidential secretary for civil affairs and justice on May 10, 2024. (pool photo) 
President Yoon Suk-yeol confers Kim Joo-hyun his certification of appointment as senior presidential secretary for civil affairs and justice on May 10, 2024. (pool photo) 

The revelation that the daughter of Kim Joo-hyun, the senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, interned at the prestigious Kim & Chang law firm when she was an undergraduate student has prompted allegations of special treatment as it’s unheard of for the country’s top law firm to offer an internship to an undergraduate student. The news has also drawn attention for its similarities to the case of the son of a high-profile judge who was granted an internship at Kim & Chang back in July 2009.  

The controversy surrounding nepotism in Kim & Chang started in August 2023, when the public found out that the son of Lee Gyun-yong, a Seoul High Court judge who was nominated by President Yoon Suk-yeol to serve as chief justice of the Supreme Court, was given an internship here in July 2009. Lee was a judge in the Gwangju High Court at the time of the internship. Like Kim Joo-hyun’s daughter, Lee’s son was also an undergraduate student when he was offered the position — an economics major at the University of Pennsylvania. Lee claimed that he had no involvement in his son’s selection for the internship, but the controversy continued. Facing additional accusations of tax evasion involving undeclared assets and suspicious transfers of wealth to his children, Lee ultimately was out of contention for the chief justice position. 

The case of Kim Joo-hyun’s daughter is remarkably similar. She was a junior at Korea University, majoring in media studies, when she was selected for the internship. Like Lee, Kim also publicly declared that he had nothing to do with her selection. However, someone who went to school with Kim told the Hankyoreh that “she told her friends, to everyone’s surprise, that she got an internship at Kim & Chang through her father’s connections, without having to go through the usual procedures of submitting a resume.” 

“This was back in 2008, when the financial crisis had made jobs scarce, so we all felt a little marginalized. But what could we do?” one said. 

“Any sort of professional experience is a big leap forward to undergrads,” said Lee Chang-hyun, a law professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. “In that respect, an internship at the country’s top law firm is a major advantage.”  

The revelations have brought attention to Kim & Chang’s penchant for offering internships to the children of high-profile legal professionals. 

Kim Joo-hyun was renowned as an “elite prosecutor” who directed prosecutorial affairs at the Ministry of Justice, where he had the power to influence investigations and prosecutorial appointments. In 2011, he was promoted to chief district prosecutor. In July 2012, when his daughter was given the internship, Kim was selected to head the Ministry of Justice’s office of planning and coordination. He was later made the Justice Ministry’s director of the prosecution service division and eventually became vice justice minister. In December 2015, he became deputy prosecutor general of the Supreme Prosecutors' Office under the Park Geun-hye administration. He resigned under the Moon Jae-in administration in May 2017, opting to open his own law firm.  

“If their fathers weren’t high-level judges or attorneys, they would have never been given unofficial internships at Kim & Chang,” said Jang Dong-yeop, who heads the People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy’s watchdog agency for monitoring public administration. 

“Just as with Lee’s son, Kim’s daughter could be said to be the beneficiary of special treatment for having a powerful father,” he added. 

“Internships for undergrads aren’t publicly advertised, as they’re only offered to a select few,” said an active attorney who asked to be identified by the surname Cho. 

“The internships allow law firms to forge connections with high-level judges and prosecutors, so it’s not a bad option for them,” Cho added.  

By Kwak Jin-san, staff reporter; Chai Yoon-tae, staff reporter 

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr

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