Going global on a ‘virtual platform’ of networks
From Sept. 22 to 27, 6,000 to 8,000 lawyers from 130 different countries will descend on Coex in Gangnam District, southern Seoul, to attend the annual conference of the International Bar Association. It will be Seoul’s first time hosting the most prestigious international gathering of lawyers. To lead up to that special event, the Korea JoongAng Daily is running a series of interviews of managing partners of South Korea’s leading law firms to hear how they’re embracing globalization and what it means to the legal industry to think beyond borders. - Ed.
When Park Jae-peel was elected managing partner of Barun Law earlier this year, one of his main priorities was how to deal with litigation.
In Korea’s cutthroat legal market, Barun Law had developed a competitive edge in litigation by recruiting former judges and prosecutors, promoting itself as Korea’s leader in that field. Yet Park, who himself was a judge for 22 years before joining Barun Law in 2009, thought the PR strategy came with a high cost.
“I asked myself, ‘Can this really be something to be proud of these days?’” said Park. “People saw us as Korea’s best in litigation, but the negative result was that was our clients thought that was the only legal service we could provide, which definitely wasn’t true.”
Park made some bold changes within Barun Law to attract business outside the courtroom. One of the things he did was to restructure the firm into more specific groups and teams, and to blur the line between lawyers who mainly cover litigation and those who deal with corporate counseling in order to enhance interactions between lawyers in both fields.
In a recent interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily at Barun Law’s office in Gangnam District, southern Seoul, Park explained the new endeavors his firm is taking on these days and how it’s pursuing global work without physically having any foreign offices yet.
The following are excerpts from the interview.
Q. What’s Barun Law’s globalization strategy?
A. We currently don’t have any physical foreign offices, but we have great partnerships with numerous law firms in various regions across the world, including in North America, Europe and Southeast Asia, where we either send our lawyers to handle work related to Korea and Korean companies or plan on doing so in the near future. Our lawyers work on a “virtual platform” to connect our law firm with our international clients.
We’re currently doing market research on whether we need a foreign office, and I think a conclusion will be reached two to three years from now. For now, our globalization strategy is basically to help our clients with whatever legal help they need and to gain knowledge about foreign markets through our lawyers working and studying overseas.
How’s that coming along?
In the United States, for instance, we have a great relationship with a society of Korean-American certified public accountants, and our lawyers studying in California have been cooperating with that group for over 10 years now. They’ve given us some cases, and with the help of their personal connections, our lawyers have been providing legal assistance to many Koreans in and around Los Angeles and San Francisco.
What kind of legal assistance are we talking about?
One example would be legal disputes over inheritances. We’ve come to realize there are many Koreans who left their fortunes here before immigrating to the United States and end up arguing with their offspring about who gets what and how much. In 2012, we established a research group within Barun Law called the Inheritance and Trust Research Society to study related issues.
I’m aware you have many embassy clients. Can you name a few?
We’ve worked with numerous foreign governments and their embassies in Seoul, including those of the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Brunei, among others.
What legal work do you do for them?
Barun Law is advising the U.S. government on real estate and regulatory matters related to the establishment of a new chancery and diplomatic compound in Seoul. We advised on the complex land swap agreement that was negotiated with the Korean government, a deal that enabled the United States to secure a site for its new diplomatic compound in Yongsan District, central Seoul. We are currently advising on the construction phase and multipurpose redevelopment of the new site.
For Canada, we advised the Canadian Embassy on all aspects of the development and construction of the Canadian chancery and staff accommodations in Jeong-dong, central Seoul, including advising on land acquisition, zoning variations, the construction of the building and various postconstruction issues. We also advised the Canadian government on the purchase of a new official residence for the Canadian ambassador to Seoul, the sale of the old official residence, as well as the sale of other diplomatic residences.
With New Zealand, we advised the New Zealand Embassy on a wide range of labor and employment law issues, ranging from routine advisory work to legal analysis of employment management issues. In addition, we have represented various New Zealand government entities in connection with labor and employment issues in Korea.
Speaking of the new U.S. Embassy building, is there any progress on that? The embassy signed a memorandum of understanding with the Korean government in April 2011 to relocate its building, but construction hasn’t begun, right?
To be frank, we’re dealing with government entities so they don’t move with the same speed as the private sector. So this has been moving at a slow pace for some time. Obviously, I can’t provide too many details other than to say that what the concept of the redevelopments would look like and what the new diplomatic compound would look like have evolved a bit over time. The actual groundbreaking has not occurred, but on the other hand, certain preparatory work to clear off the property and other things like that have occurred.
So basically, the relocation work is still ongoing?
Yes, it’s ongoing and I expect it to be ongoing for some time in the future. It’s moving at its own pace. It involves different parts of the Korean government, and when a government like that of the United States - and other governments as well - moves forward on these projects, it’s also balancing its priorities with those of various countries around the world. So we’re dealing with all those moving pieces now.
I heard Barun Law has something called the Emerging Markets Research Society. What’s that?
Our lawyers get together to share knowledge on emerging markets around the world by having each member of the research society cover a certain country and study ways to expand personal networks in that area. The society holds a regular meeting four times each year through which members share new information on their country’s history, culture and business prospects.
How has your former career as a judge helped you in your current role as managing partner of Barun Law?
A judge is a person who makes a final decision, and in order to do that, I had to look at cases from various angles to ensure I made the right call in the end. A ruling has tremendous impact not just on people in the courtroom but also on their families and everyone around them - and when a case was related to a social issue, I also had to consider possible social reactions.
While working on a collegiate bench, I also had to reach a consensus with two other judges, meaning I constantly had to discuss and debate with them to hammer out a final conclusion. And working as a managing partner now, those experiences have helped me look at legal cases with a wider perspective and bridge any opinion gaps between our lawyers.
BY LEE SUNG-EUN [email@example.com]