I got an e-mail from ATEK's President, Greg Dolezal. I'm a member of ATEK now, and am planning on becoming more involved. I'd rather not let that take over this blog entirely, but I would like to put some of my energy in that direction, and you'll hear about it here from time to time.
Meanwhile, there's an exciting program that I'd like to mention here: Kangnam Labor Law Firm, which has handled a large volume of labor cases by reference from ATEK, is testing a new program called "Legal Assurance" You can read about it, including the text of the ATEK member e-mail, at Chris in SK's blog, it's mentioned at Expacked, and explained further at Kangnam Labor Law Firm's own site. After reading up, here's the breakdown, as I understand it.
Basically, it works like health insurance: instead of paying tens of thousands for a surgery when you get sick, you pay a little each month, which adds to the pool of insurance payees, and when something big comes along, they draw from that pool to help you out with your surgery. In this case, 20 000 won a month pays into the monthly plan, which amounts to a retainer, and give you access to the law firm's services.
So why is this a good idea? Dollars and cents, readers.
See, the standard labor lawyer's retainer fee at Kangnam Labor Law Firm -- the fee you pay them before they start looking into your case -- is 600 000 won, to recruit their services. Then, if you win a settlement, the firm is also entitled to 30% of the entire settlement, on top of the retainer.
Doing the math on that, if your boss is trying to rip you off for 1 000 000 won, the retainer is 600 000, and then the firm gets 30% of the settlement on top of that. This means out of your million, 600 000 goes into the retainer, and another 300 000 goes to the firm as a percentage of your settlement, leaving you with 100 000 won - not even worth the effort. Basically, this means that for cases in which your boss is trying to stiff you for a smaller amount, it's just not worth going to a labor lawyer; your only choice is to cut your losses and look for a better job.
The next problem with doing things this way, is that lawyers don't get called into the case until the dispute has already "gone nuclear" as the law firm calls it -- not until things have gotten so bad between the teacher and the boss, that the teacher is actually willing to cough up 600 000 won - no small amount - to get it sorted.
The last problem with doing things this way is that a lot of English teachers in bad spots need a lawyer for the same reasons they can't afford a retainer: because they're not getting paid. How is one expected to pony up 600 000 won, when the REASON one needs a lawyer is because one hasn't been paid in two months?
So how does 20 000 a month help?
First, it means that you can access a labor lawyer without dropping 600 000; this means that you can have Kangnam Labor Law Firm backing you up in issues over smaller amounts - that big retainer means that until the amount in dispute is larger than 2 500 000 won, it's not really worth your while to call in a lawyer, but for 20 000 a month, you can have access to a law firm ready to mediate, negotiate, and support you in smaller matters as well.
Second, it means that rather than waiting until things have gotten really bad between an employer and an employee, you can bring a lawyer in sooner in the process, or get better advice sooner, and hopefully settle the matter before it has to go to court, which is better for everyone. Mediation is way better than lawsuits, it's faster, and less antagonistic, and there's less chance of totally fire-bombing your working relationship forever (if that's important to you). If there IS a problem that requires going to court, no further retainer is required, but the firm is there to advise you long before things get bad enough to consider going to court, and there to mediate issues rather than having to bring the hammer.
Third, it means that you can access the expert legal advice of a labor law firm whenever you need it, which could be worth a lot, not just in terms of a stronger negotiating position, but also in terms of peace of mind.
I'd say 20 000 a month is a small price for peace of mind. So who should sign up for this?
Well, at this point, the Legal Assurance Program is a trial balloon: they're doing a small-scale release, a "soft opening" to see how it works out, and to see if the model is viable. They might tinker with the model a bit before rolling it out on a larger scale. If it does work out well, I'd say anybody who doesn't trust their boss, anybody who's observed sketchy behavior from their employer, whose employer seems to be hiding something, who's had to fight for things they're entitled to, like health insurance, or who's been burned in the past, and doesn't want it to happen again, would be stupid not to sign up. Like health insurance or life insurance, anybody who's not sure about the security of their position would have much less to worry about if they signed up, and 20 000 a month is nothing: that's six bowls of jajangmyeon in Seoul, or a meal and a pint at Wolfhound, or three Long Island Ice Teas. I'm not sure exactly how limited this limited release is, or how many monthly retainers they're putting on the table at this point, but I hope they go to people that need them.
I predict that in the first group of people signing up, Kangnam Labor Law Firm will end up dealing with a lot of grievances, so that it won't pay for itself immediately; however, I think that once that initial burst settles down, it'll be well worth it for them, in revenues and in reputation among English teachers, and it'll be a huge boon for English teachers who aren't sure about the situation they're heading into.
I think it's awesome that Kangnam Labor Law Firm is trying out this system; I hope it works, and I hope we can see others like it. For those who have been asking what ATEK's done for them, lately, I'd say this is a pretty strong indication that, while ATEK hasn't been loud (though some of its critics have), it has been getting stuff done.
Go to the website and read more about the plan, and you're also free to write them if you have a question at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(by the way: I'm not a lawyer, and I'm not qualified to give legal advice. Don't take this as such. Instead, contact Kangnam Labor Law Firm where they actually know what they're talking about, rather than just reading stuff and putting it into pretty words.)