Squire Sanders

Squire Sanders sets up stall in Seoul

Squire Sanders successfully joins the rush to open offices in Korea following the country's decision to open its legal sector to foreign competition.

Squire Sanders has opened an office in Seoul, after its application to practise in Korea was approved by the justice ministry, the global law firm said in a statement yesterday.

It will be led by Joon Yong Kim, a US-licensed lawyer who was admitted as a foreign legal consultant by the justice ministry in July, and the firm will focus on M&A and other transactional work, as well as litigation and arbitration. Other areas are likely to include infrastructure projects, intellectual property and anti-trust and trade disputes.

The move follows agreements signed by Korea and the US in March this year and with the EU in July 2011, which allow foreign firms to establish a physical presence in Korea and eventually practise domestic law, after years of exclusion.

So far, 17 overseas firms have put in requests and other successful applicants include Clifford Chance. Some barriers will remain in place, such as time qualifications for setting up joint ventures with local firms and practising Korean law. In part, those temporary restrictions are meant to protect the domestic legal community.

“We will be able to represent Korean companies [including mid-market companies] in key markets throughout the Asia-Pacific region, the US, South America, the Middle East and Europe,” said Kim. “And, with an office in Seoul, we will also be ideally placed to advise our global clients on Korea-related work,” he added.

Squire Sanders has advised a range of Korean companies in the automotive, chemicals, communications, construction, energy, electronics and steel industries, from its international offices, including Tokyo, Beijing, Los Angeles and Washington, for nearly 30 years.

Founded in 1890, Squire Sanders has around 1,300 lawyers in 37 offices located in 18 countries. During the past year, it has grown its presence in Asia-Pacific, adding offices in Australia and Singapore, expanding its operation in China with senior hires, including eight new partners, and it now has a total of 124 lawyers across the region.

In Seoul, Kim will be joined by corporate partner Edward Ghiyun Kim, who is relocating to Korea from Squire Sanders’ Tokyo office. He will concentrate on corporate transactions, M&A, project finance and commercial matters. Other Squire Sanders lawyers are also applying to practise in Korea and will move to Seoul during the next few months.

For several years, the Korean authorities have been keen to expose various professions in its domestic market to foreign competition. These include medicine, education and accountancy as well as law. However, opposition from vested interests and their National Assembly representatives have often stymied those ambitions.

The rapid expansion of Korean companies in international markets in recent years, and the consequent legal issues that sometimes arise have forged closer ties between corporate Korea and global law firms. Those linkages have made the break into the closed shop of domestic lawyers that much easier.

“We have been watching developments in Korea for some time,” said James Maiwurm, Squire Sanders chair and global CEO in a statement. “With an export-orientated economy, driven by multinational conglomerates with interests in sectors where we have considerable experience, such as energy, infrastructure, automotive, shipbuilding, electronics, finance and securities, it was an obvious market for us to consider.”


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