Foreign law firms start to come into Korea

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Foreign law firms start to come into Korea

Two international law firms are planning to open branches in Seoul, the first cracking open of Korea’s protected and insular legal profession.

According to Korea’s Ministry of Justice yesterday, the British law firm Clifford Chance submitted an application to the ministry last December to open a branch in Seoul in the wake of the Korea-EU free trade pact, which took effect last July.

With roughly 3,200 hired attorneys and 29 overseas branches, Clifford Chance is the third-largest global law firm and the first to apply to work in Korea.

“Clifford Chance is the only European law firm that applied for an office in Seoul after the Korea-EU FTA was enacted,” the ministry said in a statement, “And other European law firms are still keeping watch on the current situation.”

On Tuesday, Chicago-based McDermott Will & Emery issued a statement on its Web site saying it, too, will open an office in Korea.

“McDermott’s office in Seoul represents a strategic alignment of opportunities for the firm,” said Jeffrey E. Stone, co-chair of McDermott Will & Emery, according to the statement. “Korea is a vibrant economic market, but one where, due to legal restrictions, there has been little international law firm presence to date. We believe we are on the leading edge of what promises to be a wave of new activity in South Korea.”

McDermott said Lee In-Young, a native Korean partner of the firm, will be the director of its Seoul office.

Lee said in the statement that their American firm won’t compete with local players.

“The new McDermott office in Seoul will focus almost exclusively on work that is outbound from Korea,” Lee said. “Any work inbound to Korea will be handled in close consultation with local Korean firms. We do not seek to provide any Korean law advice to any clients - internal or external.”

Local firms are starting to sweat.

“The competition will become fierce among lawyers domestically and internationally,” Gweon Oh-chang, a lawyer at Kim & Chang, Korea’s biggest law firm, told the JoongAng Ilbo. “We could be engulfed by them.”

Im Seong-u, a lawyer at major firm Lee & Ko, said, “Those foreign law firms will say, ‘We won’t hurt you’ at the beginning, but they will.”



By Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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