Law firms in Korea

International law firms set to open in Korea

Three foreign law firms have won approval to open offices in Seoul as a result of free trade deals signed last year with the EU and US.
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Korea: No longer closed for business
<div style="text-align: left;"> Korea: No longer closed for business </div>

Korea has finally opened the door to international lawyers. On Monday, the first three foreign law firms — Clifford Chance, Ropes & Gray, and Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton — won approval from Korea’s justice ministry to open offices, ending years of waiting.

A host of others are in the queue to set up shop, including US firms such as Cleary Gottlieb and Simpson Thacher, which have a long history of advising top-tier Korean clients on issuance in the international capital markets, as well as on cross-border mergers, acquisitions, private equity deals and financings.

For now, that will continue to be the only kind of work they can advise on. Foreign firms can open an office and put their plaque on the wall, but they will not be able to offer advice on Korean law. In 2014, they will be allowed to form joint ventures with local law firms and by 2017 they will be able to merge with local firms, hire local lawyers and offer full-service advice to Korean clients.

However, most firms will be happy just to have an office in the country, instead of operating a Korea team out of Hong Kong.

“Our on-the-ground presence will allow us to be closer to our clients, as well as the many Korean law firms we have worked with over the years,” said Hyun Kim, head of Clifford Chance's Korean practice, who will continue to be based in Hong Kong for now, though is applying to be registered as a foreign lawyer.

The office will be headed by Brian Cassidy, though it is assumed Kim will eventually take over. The practice will continue to focus on capital markets, M&A, banking and finance, and arbitration.

The other two firms both come from the US, which has strong ties to Korea. Ropes & Gray has said that its Seoul office, which will be led by William Yongkyun Kim, will focus on advising Korean companies on corporate transactions, intellectual property, litigation and arbitration, and US government regulatory issues.

Kim became the first foreign legal consultant to be registered by the bar association on June 18.

Seth Byoung Soo Kim, chair of Sheppard Mullin’s Korea practice, will lead the new office. He was previously based out of New York and Los Angeles. The firm will concentrate on banking, finance and antitrust work.

All three firms have applied for registration with the Korean Bar Association, which is the final step needed before opening in Seoul.

The relaxed rules are a consequence of free-trade deals Korea signed last year with the EU and US, and which came into effect in March this year.

¬ Haymarket Media Limited. All rights reserved.
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