K&L Gates and O’Melveny & Myers are the latest US firms to land on the ground in Seoul after receiving final approval from the Korean Ministry of Justice.
The two US firms are the latest to get the green light after South Korea opened its doors to international firms at the beginning of the year. K&L Gates New York partner Eric Yoon is set to lead the firm’s new office, which will formally launch in January 2013, while of counsel Jinwon Park and Sungyong Kang will lead for O’Melveny. The pair joined the firm earlier this year when O’Melveny announced its ambitions to open in Seoul, with both understood to have joined from Korean law firm Shin & Kim.
US law firms have been jostling to be the first to launch a Seoul base ever since South Korea’s Free Trade Agreement with the US opened up the legal sector earlier this year. Others to receive approval so far include Covington & Burling (1 November 2012) Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, Paul Hastings (25 September 2012) and McDermott Will & Emery (23 September 2012).
“Korea’s economy is one of the largest both in Asia and throughout the world. The country’s export-fuelled growth of the past decades has led to the more recent, and increasingly robust, trend of foreign investments overseas by its companies and financial institutions,” said K&L Gates chairman Peter Kalis in a statement. “We believe that our Seoul office will provide these outward-looking Korean business enterprises, wherever their destinations may be, with ready access to the resources of a single law firm that is both global and local at the same time.”
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.
In August this year K&L Gates announced merger talks with Australia’s Middletons (17 August 2012), a move that represents significant expansion across the firm’s Asia-Pacific region according to a firm spokesperson.
“With Korea as one of Australia’s largest trading partners, K&L Gates’ new Seoul office represents a particularly important development in the firm’s continued expansion in the Asia-Pacific region,” a spokersperson for the firm said in a statement.