Baker & McKenzie latest firm to apply for South Korea licence

Baker & McKenzie is gearing up to open an office in Seoul after beginning its application to South Korea’s Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

Following approval, which could take around six months, the new office will advise Korean clients on outbound legal matters such as acquisitions and the financing of overseas projects and enterprises, anti-trust matters and IP rights. The office will be led by transactional partner Nam Hung Paik, who is currently based in Bakers’ Hong Kong office, though it is not yet clear how big the team will be or if there are any lateral hires in the pipeline.

US firms have been jostling to launch a Seoul base ever since South Korea’s Free Trade Agreement with the US opened up the legal sector earlier this year (19 March 2012). Those to receive approval so far include K&L Gates and O’Melveny & Myers (15 November 2012), Covington & Burling (1 November 2012), Paul Hastings (25 September 2012) and McDermott Will & Emery (23 September 2012).

South Korean conglomerates such as Samsung, Hyundai and LG have become big buyers of foreign legal services in recent years. According to the Bank of Korea, Korean companies’ spend on services provided by foreign law firms has grown significantly in recent years, growing from $697m (£445m) in 2006 to over $1bn in 2010 (16 July 2012).

“Korean companies have been extraordinarily successful in expanding into international markets, and we look forward to continuing to assist them with their outbound aspirations”, said Bakers chairman Eduardo Leite in a statement. “After many years of working with Korean clients in many parts of the globe, we’ll now have the opportunity to service our clients more efficiently and effectively with a base in Seoul. We’ll continue to invest where our clients need us, and to provide them with the skills and experience they need in areas with the greatest potential for growth.”

In addition to applying to the MoJ for permission to open an office, firms wishing to enter South Korea must also get an office head approved as a foreign legal consultant by the MoJ and local bar association. The approved lawyer can then apply for the licence on behalf of his or her firm.

Earlier this year Bakers opened an office in Casablanca with a four-lawyer team from French firm August & Debouzy (25 July 2012).