Notebook: Korean top six firms show 20% revenue hike

Korea’s top law firms are growing and keeping it friendly with incomers – for now

It’s that time of year again when UK firms announce their financial results. While many are struggling to find the path to growth, firms in Asia present a clear contrast.

Korea’s six top law firms recorded a collective revenue of £657m for 2012/13, a whopping 20 per cent jump on last year’s effort, which was £525.6m, research by The Lawyer shows.

Kim & Chang, the country’s largest firm, saw the strongest growth. According to local reports, turnover at the firm stood at KRW430bn (£250m), an increase of 43 per cent on the previous year’s estimate of KRW300bn.

korea firms

Bae Kim & Lee (BKL), Lee & Ko and Yoon & Yang have also seen double-digit year-on-year growth in the past year.

BKL reported a 12 per cent hike to KRW190bn, making it the second largest firm in Korea by both revenue and lawyer numbers. Lee & Ko and Yoon & Yang both achieved 13 per cent jumps, with revenues rising to KRW153bn and KRW102bn respectively.

Yulchon saw its revenue increase by 8 per cent, to KRW124bn, while Shin & Kim was the only one in the group to have had a static year, with its revenue remaining at KRW130bn.

The firms’ performances are particularly laudable given the recent influx of foreign rivals into the market – Baker & McKenzie, DLA Piper, Greenberg Traurig and Linklaters, to name but a few. However, the big question is, can domestic Korean firms achieve a repeat performance in 2013/14 and the years beyond?

For now, the Korean top six insist it is a friendly game and there is little competition between domestic and foreign firms in Seoul. That can only last so long, though. Most expect to see rivalries initially in the outbound transactions of Korean companies and later in inbound work as the market opens fully in a few years.

The life of Korean firms will surely be different in future. Based on the experience of the liberalisation of legal markets in Japan and Singapore, the opportunities are there for everybody to seize.