Herbies keen on South Korea launch

Herbert Smith has emerged as a hot favourite to be among the first international firms to open an office in South Korea after sending a high-level delegation of M&A and energy partners to explore opportunities in the country.

Hong Kong-based corporate partner Caroline Sng said the firm was weighing up options to increase its presence in the burgeoning market, which is in the process of lifting restrictions on foreign firms.

“In Asia our expansion is mainly driven by where clients want us to be, and Korea’s been mentioned a few times,” Sng said. “We’re definitely looking at it and we’re open to opportunities, but haven’t taken any ­decision yet.

“It’s a slightly difficult jurisdiction and being on the ground’s very important – you need critical mass and you need to invest a certain amount of time and management before it pays off.”

Delegates visiting South Korea included head of the firm’s Asia energy practice Anna Howell and Hong Kong-based energy partner Hilary Lau.

South Korea has been a focus of increased attention from international firms since the signing of an EU-South Korea free trade agreement in February, allowing European law firms to establish branch offices in the country to offer foreign and international legal advice from July.