International law firms expanding presence in Korea

November 9, 2013
The market entry of the international law firms was made possible by Korea’s ratification of free trade agreements with the European Union and the United States just last year. (Yonhap)

The market entry of the international law firms was made possible by Korea’s ratification of free trade agreements with the European Union and the United States just last year. (Yonhap)

By Kim Jae-won

International law firms are rapidly expanding their presence in Korea since the country opened its market just one and a half years ago. More and more Korean companies are turning to them for overseas court litigation and to strike merger and acquisition (M&A) deals abroad.

According to the Ministry of Justice, 16 foreign law firms are operating in Korea, after getting licenses from the ministry. They include American law firms Paul Hastings, Ropes & Gray, Sheppard Mullin, and U.K.-based Clifford Chance.

Among them, Paul Hastings is expanding its business realm in Seoul, carving out niche markets which Korean law companies are not familiar with.  “We have provided legal consultations to a wide range of Korean companies on their overseas business. Our key clients include Korean Air, Dong-A Pharmaceutical, Samsung Group, Hanwha Chemical, Kolon Industries, LG Display, Lotte Group and Hansol Paper among others,” said Kim Jong-han, chief representative of Paul Hastings’ Korea office.

Kim said that the Seoul office has six resident lawyers and two more attorneys are waiting for approval from the Justice Ministry. The company seeks to increase the number of its resident lawyers to between 15 and 20, he added.

Consulting on outbound M&A opportunities for Korean companies is another key sector in which foreign law firms are flexing their muscles. In October, Paul Hastings helped Samsung Electronics sell its shares of Seagate Technology, an American data storage company, worth $1.5 billion.

Korean outbound M&A deals have been increasing over the past years and are expected to gain further momentum. According to Merger market, the combined market value of Korea’s outbound M&A surged 13 percent to $8.8 billion last year from a year ago, when it reached $7.8 billion.

Ropes & Gray also said that its Seoul office has fostered ties with its Korean clients since its establishment in July 2012.  “We are strong in intellectual property work. We are also focusing on litigations involving arbitration, U.S. government regulatory issues and corporate transactions,” said an official from the company.

The firm has more than 30 lawyers who have Korean origins, including seven partners.

Advising Korean companies to issue foreign currency-denominated bonds at overseas capital markets or list them at foreign stock exchanges are other key businesses of foreign law firms.  Paul Hastings helped local outdoor wear maker Youngone issue global depository receipt (GDR) worth $114 million at overseas capital markets in February.

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  1. Pingback: Korean International Law Firm | Business info - Lawsuits

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