Korean legal advisor walks softly but carries big hammer
USAG HUMPHREYS – Her legal office colleagues call her The Humphreys Hammer but Silvia Lee insists she’s a quiet, kind, gentle person—unless she’s representing a c lient.
Lee has worked as a Korean Legal Advisor for the U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys Legal Office for about four months and in that time she’s established a reputation for competence, teamwork and toughness when dealing with difficult opponents in the local community.
Lt. Col. David A. Dulaney, the command staff judge advocate, said that Lee is a great member of the legal team, an incredible asset and passionate advocate for her clients.
“Very quickly we realized that Ms. Lee is one of the most pleasant people in the office, so nice and always smiling. But when she’s on the phone with an unscrupulous business practice outside the gate, she is absolutely a hammer so we’ve starting calling her the Humphreys Hammer.
Lee doesn’t disagree.
“I’m normally a very quiet person but if I have to achieve something—and this is not for me, it’s for my client—I want to do the best I can for my client,” Lee said. “When I have to do that, I try to nail it down so we can achieve our goal. So, that’s probably why I got that Humphreys Hammer nickname but usually, normally, I’m a very, quiet, kind, nice person.”
Lee didn’t set out to become a legal advisor for the U.S. Army, she planned to go into business. Her father suggested she attend law school to learn about the law and to develop practical and logical thinking skills. She didn’t have to become a lawyer, he said, but these skills could help her in business.
She attended Handong International Law School in Pohang and studied U.S. law and jurisprudence.
“As I studied law more and more I began to like the idea of becoming a lawyer and practicing the law and decided to take the bar after graduation,” she said.
When she graduated from law school Lee took and passed the Tennessee bar exam because the state recognized Handong’s curriculum and the Juris Doctor degree that it conferred on its graduates.
Lee planned to practice law but one of her professors suggested she study Government Procurement Law at The George Washington University in Washington D.C. because he knew she was interested in working in the defense industry.
But after three years of hard work in law school, Lee wasn’t ready for more. She applied though, was accepted into the one-year program and earned a Masters of Law degree.
Her legal education complete, Lee returned to Korea and worked for the Korean Ministry of National Defense as a transitional counsel and government procurement counsel. Her work included negotiations with American attorneys over issues related to the relocation of U.S. Army posts to Camp Humphreys.
She also worked for a Korean law firm reviewing international bid-related contracts.
Lee’s life turned one day when she was injured in a car accident on the way to work. At first she thought the injuries were not serious but a day after the accident she couldn’t sit up straight and had to leave work.
“As I was recovering I t hought about whether I should go back to the law firm or look for a new job,” Lee said. “While I was thinking about it I talked to one of my professors and he said ‘You probably can’t work as a full-time attorney and it’s hard to find part-time work in Korea as an attorney, so why don’t you volunteer as an attorney at USFK.’”
Lee worked with U.S. Forces Korea and the U.S. Army during her time with the ROK Ministry of National Defense, she felt she could help the American government with international legal work.
“I started as a volunteer attorney and I loved it, I loved all of the work I did at the international law division,” Lee said. “After a while the government opened a position and that’s how I applied for this job.”
At first she was concerned about the lengthy commute from Seoul to Humphreys, three to four hours per day. If she worked at Yongsan her commute would be ten minutes.
After her first day of work at the Humphreys Legal Office Lee knew she’d found a home; the long commute was no longer an issue.
“I really love working with the legal center here because of the people, they are so supportive, we’re like one family,” she said. “I really enjoy working here and serving our service members.”
Lee works Monday through Wednesday at Humphreys; Thursday and Friday she’s at the U.S. Forces Korea International Law division in Yongsan. She loves both jobs equally.
At USFK she negotiates with the ROK and other countries on behalf of the United States; at Humphreys she’s an advocate for the Soldiers, Civilians and Family Members who live and work here.
In her short time at the Humphreys Legal Center she’s helped a Soldier recoup deposit money a restaurant owner refused to give back and helped others with difficult landlords.
Dulaney said the unique skills and experience Lee brings to the job are a boon to her clients.
“This has been a fantastic opportunity for our clients who come into the legal assistance office,” Dulaney said. “They get the services of a Korean citizen who is also U.S. legal-trained and has an understanding of the needs of our clients, she has been fantastic.”
Lee demonstrated these talents when she helped a Soldier recover her privately-owned vehicle after a tow-truck operator took it away following a traffic accident. The Soldier tried to contact the insurance company and tow operator for more than a month to no avail. Finally she reached the insurance company and learned her car was not fixed. To compound matters, she was due to rotate back to the United States in three weeks.
The Soldier went to Lee for help.
“I was able to work with insurance company and called the Hyundai service center and got her car fixed,” she said. “I also got reimbursement for her transportation and gas fees and compensation for not having her carfor over a month. She was able to get all that before she PCSd. She was really satisfied, I was as well a nd it felt really good to help her.”
Lee hopes to work at Humphreys for as long as possible;Dulaney feels the same w ay.
“Ms. Lee is absolutely one of the greatest teammates we have at Client and Legal Services; she is fantastic as an individual attorney and supportive everyone in the office and has become a quick friend to everyone who works here,” he said. “We are so fortunate to have her as a member of our legal services team. We i ntend on keeping her a s long as we can.”
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