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Clifford Chance has become the first foreign law firm to submit a preliminary application to launch an office in South Korea, with the magic circle firm potentially opening in the country this year.
The firm confirmed that it had applied to the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to register as a foreign legal consultant.
The application is the start of a formal process that will involve a second application stage before a base on the ground can go live, but a 2012 launch is understood to be likely.
Clifford Chance Asia-Pacific managing partner Peter Charlton said in a statement: “We’ve had an active and substantial Korean focus for over 30 years. We have ambitious plans for our Asia-Pacific operations, and the Republic of Korea is an important part of those expansion plans. We’ve consistently indicated our interest in opening an office in Korea, and we’re now going through the necessary processes to make this happen.
“We respect the MoJ’s application processes and it would be inappropriate to comment any further on the timing, structure or composition of a possible office until these are concluded.”
A statement from the ministry said that Clifford Chance submitted the application in December last year and that applications take two to four months to process. It also said that it had not received any other applications from foreign law firms, despite a number of US firms’ plans to open in the country.
As reported earlier this week, McDermott Will & Emery is laying the ground for a launch in South Korea, with the US firm sending its New York-based Korean practice chief to Seoul (14 February 2012).
The country’s Free Trade Agreement with the EU has made Western law firm launches in South Korea possible (2 January 2012).