Bird & Bird launches in Korea via local alliance

Bird & Bird has signed a cooperation agreement with South Korean firm Hwang Mok Park, blazing a new trail for international firms to tap into the market.

Bird & Bird (2Birds) has become the first international firm to tie-up with one of Korea’s top 10 firms by lawyer numbers, although the strategic alliance is on a non-exclusive basis. The deal will give the UK firm access to Hwang Mok Park’s 100 lawyers in Seoul. 

Under the reciprocal arrangement, 2Birds will become the preferred referral UK firm for Hwang Mok Park and vice versa. The firms will also conduct joint marketing activity, joint training programmes for clients, knowledge sharing as well as staff secondments.

“Korea has one of the world’s largest technology-driven and knowledge-based economies and is an important market for Bird & Bird’s core industry focuses,” said the firm’s CEO David Kerr. “We think the cooperation agreement approach fits our Asia strategy better and can offer our clients a fuller range of Korean legal services, compared to the foreign legal consultant office route.”

It is understood that 2Birds already has more than 100 Korean companies as clients but is aiming to further grow the base through the alliance with Hwang Mok Park.

For the Korean firm the relationship will give it access to a wider global network and a broader base in the technology sector. The firm is already a member of Lex Mundi.

“Through the agreement, we will actively seek opportunities to service Bird & Bird’s clients from around the world and will become a capable outbound business partner to Korean companies,” said Hwang Mok Park managing partner Mok Kun-Su.

In addition, Mok noted that the liberalisation of the Korean legal market had brought significant changes and competition to the market place.

“It’s a good time for us to partner with an international firm. If a firm stands still and doesn’t evolve with the fast changing market, it won’t survive,” Mok said.

The association is being seen as a precursor to a full merger, which can only go live under the Korea-European Union Free Trade Agreement (FTA) from July 2016.

Since Korea opened its legal services sector under its FTAs with the US and the European Union, about 20 international firms have entered the market via setting up a foreign legal consultant office (FLCO) (2 January 2012).

Of those 20, four are UK-headquartered firms: Clifford Chance (16 July 2012), DLA Piper (7 January 2013), Herbert Smith Freehills (13 March 2013) and Linklaters (2 May 2013). Most recently, Stephenson Harwood hired Korean partner Michael Kim from DLA Piper in preparation for its Seoul office launch (7 February 2014).

The Korean deal is 2Birds’ latest expansion in Asia Pacific. Last year, the firm stuck a similar deal with Australian TMT boutique Truman Hoyle (22 March 2013). It also has a similar cooperation agreement with Chinese firm Lawjay Parnters and Malaysian firm Tay & Partners.