Korea’s top six local firms recorded a 20 per cent increase in their collective turnovers in 2012, despite a recent influx of foreign rivals into the market.
Kim & Chang, the largest Korean firm by lawyer headcount and revenue, saw the strongest growth. According to an estimate by Korean business publication Invest Chosun, the turnover of the firm’s legal services division was KRW430bn (£250m), an increase of 43 per cent on the previous year’s estimate of KRW300bn.
Later this month The Lawyer will publish the inaugural edition of The Lawyer Asia Pacific 100, an in-depth analysis of the top Korean firms such as Kim & Chang and other leading independents in the Asia Pacific region. It will also include detailed coverage of each firm along with key data such as lawyer numbers, key clients and significant mandates in 2012.
As the Asia Pacific 150 will reveal, compared to its top-tier rivals, Kim & Chang is organised closer to a conglomerate of services providers than a traditional firm, with business lines consisting of legal services, intellectual property and patent services as well as tax and accounting. Its non-legal services income is thought to have been around KRW330bn in 2012.
Bae, Kim & Lee (BKL), Lee & Ko and Yoon & Yang all saw a double digit year-on-year growth in their 2012 turnover. BKL reported 12 per cent increase to KRW190bn, making it the second largest firm in Korea by both revenue and lawyer numbers. Lee & Ko and Yoon & Yang both achieved a 13 per cent jump, with revenue 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 unchanged at KRW130bn.
Kim & Chang’s senior partner Kye Sung Chung, who chairs the finance department, said all areas of the firm’s practices grew in the past year, in particular antitrust, dispute resolution, cross-border M&A and investment and intellectual property.
In M&A-related legal services last year the firm was ranked top in South Korea (by deal volume) by Thomson Reuters, which recorded the firm’s involvement in 63 deals with a total value of $10.8bn.
In addition to transactional advice, the firm’s IP and dispute resolution groups have also had a busy year. Notable work included filing an invalidation action against a Korean company on behalf of Google and representing Apple in its smartphone and tablet patent disputes against Samsung.
For BKL the M&A, securities and finance and dispute resolution groups form a large part of its practices. According to finance and securities partner Eui Jong Chung, these three groups all experienced a strong year in 2012.
Recently, the firm elected regulatory and litigation partner Kang Yong Hyeon to take over the managing partner role from corporate veteran Yong Suk Oh, who stepped down after 10 years at the helm. Under the new leadership, BKL hopes to expand its practices in the litigation and contentious regulatory areas, which the firm expects to be much more important for clients and Korean firms.
For Yulchon, Yoon & Yang and Shin & Kim, the main growth areas in 2012 and the coming years are in competition and antirust, regulatory investigations and enforcement, as well as white collar crime. The firm has also been building up these areas with a number of lateral hires including the recruitment of retired judges, prosecutors and officials from key regulators such as the Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC).
“Given the globalisation and growth of the Korean economy, the demand for both legal services in Korea and advice on outbound investment by Korean companies will continue to increase greatly,” said Yoon & Yang’s founder and managing partner Hoil Yoon. “It’s in the interest of everyone to have an open legal services market. There will be some more competition than in the past between Korean firms and foreign law firms for outbound work and later, eventually, for inbound work. But this increase in competition will result in the positive effects of increasing overall quality of legal services available in Korea and, at the same time, will make law practice more fun.”