DLA prepares for Seoul launch

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

DLA Piper is one of around 20 firms believed to be applying to South Korea’s MoJ for permission to open a foreign legal consultant office in the country (10 September 2012). It is not yet known how far DLA’s application has gone or who will be leading the firm’s office.

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 Ministry of Justice and then the Bar Association. The approved lawyer can then apply for the licence on behalf of his or her firm.

Clifford Chance and US firms Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton and Ropes & Gray became the first three firms to receive permission to open in South Korea, accepting their certificates from the MoJ in July (16 July 2012).

Once approved, foreign firms can establish offices in South Korea and advise on law from their own jurisdiction, as well as on international issues, but not Korean domestic law. After five years in the country firms are permitted to enter joint ventures with local firms and hire local lawyers.

The rush to open in South Korea follows the market’s liberalisation through the Korea-EU and the Korea-US Free Trade Agreements, which were ratified in 2011 (19 March 2012).

DLA Piper has had its eyes on Seoul for a long time. In 2009 the firm boosted its ties with South Korean ally Lee & Ko by seconding one of its lawyers there for six months to work on the referral relationship (9 March 2009). According to Bloomberg Global’s M&A legal advisor rankings, DLA Piper rose to seventh in South Korea by deal count in 2011, up 22 places on the previous year.

A spokesman for DLA Piper commented: “We can confirm that DLA Piper is in the process of applying to the South Korean Ministry of Justice to open an office in Seoul.”