Law firm Linklaters has officially opened an office in Seoul, joining a rush by foreign firms to put lawyers on the ground in Korea.
The office will be led by capital markets partner Hyung Ahn, who will be supported by Stephen Le Vesconte, a partner in the firm’s banking and projects practice; Kyungseok Kim, a counsel in the corporate and M&A practice; and Hyo Young Kang as senior consultant.
Korea opened the door to international lawyers in July last year after signing free-trade agreements with the EU in July 2011 and with the US in March 2012. The first three firms to win approval from the justice ministry were Clifford Chance, Ropes & Gray and Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton.
Many others have since followed, but so far most of the firms have been from the US. Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and Squire Sanders & Dempsey all won licences in October last year. O'Melveny & Myers and Paul Hastings launched in November, while Greenberg Traurig opened in April and Baker & McKenzie did so earlier in May.
Besides Clifford Chance (and now Linklaters), the only other London-based firms to have won licences are DLA Piper and Herbert Smith Freehills.
Under the free-trade agreements, foreign law firms still face some hurdles, including a stipulation that their chief representative in Korea must have seven years’ experience in the firm’s home market.
For this reason, Linklaters’ official chief representative will be Le Vesconte, while New York-qualified Ahn will remain head of the firm’s Korea practice.
However, this obstacle is only temporary. Foreign firms will be able to hire Korean lawyers directly by 2016 at the latest and will be able to fee-share with them later this year.