Covington becomes latest firm to open in Seoul

Covington & Burling has opened its third office in Asia following approval to launch in Seoul from the Korean Ministry of Justice and the Korean Bar Association.

Corporate partner William Park, a native of Korea, will oversee the office of five lawyers alongside senior counsel Daniel Spiegel. Park, who spent the first 10 years of his career practising in the US, first with Latham & Watkins and later at his own law firm Kwak Kim & Park in Los Angeles, joined the firm from local Korean outfit Apex earlier this year (12 March 2012).

Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe corporate associate Christie Tang, who was based in the US firm’s Hong Kong office, has also joined Covington as an associate ahead of its Seoul launch, which goes live today (1 November).

“Opening an office in Seoul will help us build the kind of long-term relationships that we’re looking for,” Spiegel told The Lawyer. “We also hope to develop deep friendships with local firms as we will no doubt work with them on a number of matters.”

The principal focus of Covington’s Seoul office will be advising Korean companies on US and European laws in the areas of intellectual property, antitrust and competition law matters, international trade controls and policy, and the regulation of food products, pharmaceutical and medical devices.

South Korean conglomerates such as Samsung, Hyundai and LG have been expanding and conducting business abroad for a number of years, becoming big buyers of foreign legal services. Samsung, for example, has instructed Covington to represent it in antitrust matters and patent litigation in the US.

“Intellectual property continues to be a huge issue in the global economy and is critically important for global companies,” Tim Hester, chair of Covington’s management commitee, told The Lawyer. “We also don’t conceive this simply as a relationship where we would be advising Korean companies on matters of US law. We see this as an opportunity to advise clients in cross-border matters throughout the world, including Africa and Latin America.”

Once approvals for foreign legal consultant offices have been obtained international firms are allowed to advise on the law of their home jurisdiction and international legal issues. After five years they are permitted to enter into joint ventures with local firms and hire local talent.

So far, 10 law firms have obtained approval to establish Foreign Legal Consultant Offices (FLCO), most recently Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, Linklaters and McDermott Will & Emery (23 September 2012). Herbert Smith Freehills is also preparing to open in the city (30 October 2012).