Clifford Chance in Korean liberalisation drive

Clifford Chance is spearheading an attempt to lobby the South Korean authorities for liberalisation of the country's legal market.

Foreign firms are currently forbidden from establishing permanent offices in the country or practising local law.

James Walker, head of Clifford Chance's Korea practice which is based in Hong Kong, says the firm recently persuaded EU trade commissioner Sir Leon Brittan to raise the issue with Korean officials during a visit to the country, made as part of an EU trade mission.

Early reports indicate that the Korean authorities, which have proved receptive, are prepared to discuss the matter further. “The tone is very positive at the moment,” said Walker.

“The British embassy in Korea has subsequently confirmed that it now has a remit to take up the issue with South Korea's Ministry of Justice.”

The results of the talks are keenly awaited by the Asian offices of many other UK firms that stand to benefit.

Many UK firms in Asia have sharpened their focus of late, given the huge opportunities for international investors created by the financial crisis, which sent the value of the national currency, the won, spiralling in November 1997.

Recently Clifford Chance advised in the mergers of several Korean banks, requested by the country's Financial Supervisory Committee as part of a wider restructuring of the country's banking system.

But at present, foreign firms have to conduct their Korean operations from other bases in the region, generally either Hong Kong or Tokyo.