Clifford Chance, Sheppard Mullin and Ropes gain Seoul approval

Clifford Chance, Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton and Ropes & Gray have become the first three firms to receive permission from South Korea’s Ministry of Justice to open a foreign legal consultant office in the country.

Earlier today representatives of the three firms accepted their certificates at a ceremony held by the Ministry of Justice in Seoul, representing a milestone event in Korea’s initiative to open its legal services market to international law firms.

Clifford Chance was the first foreign law firm to submit a preliminary application to launch an office in Seoul (16 Febuary 2012), while Ropes & Gray and Sheppard Mullin handed in their applications on 6 March, when the Korean Ministry of Justice officially started accepting US firms’ applications (6 March 2012). However, the very first foreign LLP legal consultant office certificate was handed to US firm Ropes & Gray.

As part of the process, the three firms were also among the first to have obtained approval for the head of their respective Seoul offices to become a foreign-registered lawyer in Korea – counsel Brian Cassidy of Clifford Chance, partner William Kim of Ropes & Gray and partner Byoung Soo Kim of Sheppard Mullin (28 May 2012).

Before the three firms can open their offices in Seoul they need to obtain approval from the Korean Bar Assocaition for registration, which is the final step needed. It is understood that all three firms have already submitted their final applications.

The firms will only practise the law of their home jurisdiction, as permitted by Korea’s regulations governing international law firms.

“We believe there will be a significant increase in international global business in Korea following Korea’s Free Trade Agreements with the EU and US. We see a strong need for international legal representation in the market and the need has been driving firms to race to be the first to set up there,” said Kim at Ropes.

According to the Bank of Korea, Korean companies’ spend on services provided by foreign law firms has grown significantly in the past five years. The total amount was $697m (£445m) in 2006 and exceeded $1bn in 2010.