Republished from Perspectives Fall 2009
By Frank Jossi, a freelance writer based in St. Paul
Business lawyer and South Korea native Woodrow Byun (J.D. ’93) has long believed the Law School should continue to broaden and solidify its international ties, especially in Asian countries where booming economies have created a strong desire for degrees from American institutions. Among his goals has been to start an alumni group in South Korea, and on a trip to his home country in July 2009, he involved fellow alumni in hopes of igniting a movement toward that goal.
Byun met with more than 30 South Korean alumni in Seoul at an “expensive restaurant” selected by the alumni. When Dean David Wippman became ill during the trip, Byun stepped in to represent the Law School.
“The alumni really liked the meeting because not everyone knows each other and we had a chance to put them together,” Byun says. “Many of them are attorneys working for the government or large corporations that are household names, like Hyundai and Samsung. There’s another group that works as prosecutors or for financial institutions and large firms.”
No Law School dean has ever visited South Korea, says Byun, nor has anyone ever attempted to bring together alumni in the country. Representing Minnesota, Byun visited three of “the finest universities in South Korea” to feel out the potential for collaboration, such as semester exchanges or summer programs along the lines of what the Law School has done with Renmin University in Beijing.
The Law School has about 100 South Korean alumni, Byun says, many with significant posts, and their support could lead to future opportunities in two significant ways. One, alumni have been promoting the Law School and will continue to endorse it to Korean students looking for an American school with an international outlook and a strong LL.M. program. Second, the Law School could benefit financially at some point.
“I see a great potential for our graduates to help promote and publicize the LL.M. program to more students, and it’s a chance for the school to develop relationships with students who now work for large and important companies,” Byun says. “We have a Minnesota graduate who works in the general counsel’s office at Samsung, which manufactures half of all the flat screen televisions in the world. That’s an important company that could at some point make a contribution to the Law School. I’m not suggesting that is going to happen, but it certainly doesn’t hurt us to have alumni in these multinational South Korean companies.”
A tireless promoter of the Law School and of globalizing the student body, Byun would like to see continued efforts to start alumni groups in other Asian countries. The Law School needs to build its brand in Asia, and involving alumni is one of the best approaches toward that effort, he believes.
Law School Dean David Wippman agrees. “The Law School has long had ties to South Korea and looks forward to reinvigorating our relationships with alumni and prospective students there. These ties are part of a broader effort to enrich the educational experience at the Law School by expanding our global connections,” Wippman says, adding that he is grateful to Byun for helping so effectively in this effort.
It’s up to the South Korean alumni to form a chapter, but Byun expresses confidence that will happen. “We’re unique in that we built up such a large base of Korean students in such a short time,” he says. “I think the dean has a good plan for reconnecting with Korean alumni, who have been beneficiaries of the Law School and can now become benefactors.”