Seoul march continues

With Baker & McKenzie and Linklaters becoming the latest international firms to arrive in Seoul, the capital city of South Korea now plays host to over 20 foreign firms.

Like many of its US rivals, Linklaters already has a Korea practice team in its existing network. The magic circle firm today announced the relocation of a four-strong team from Hong Kong to spearhead its new base, with capital markets Hyung Jung Ahn leading the practice.

Although Korea remains a promising market in Asia for international players, it is an unspoken truth that the volume of transactional and advisory work in Korea has hardly grown over the past year. As a matter of fact, local firms have started shifting their focus from transactional practices to competition and regulatory.

Demands for legal representation in cartel and unfair competition investigations and prosecutions, as well as tax litigation and white collar crime are said to be the main drivers for growth at the big local firms. However, these growth areas remain barred for foreign lawyers.

While most international firms entering into Korea are initially targeting Korean outbound investment, the competition from local firms shouldn’t be underestimated. After all, they have enjoyed long-standing relationships with clients and have been recruiting foreign-qualified Korean lawyers for many years. Most importantly, they are also determined to ensure their fair share of the growing outbound market.

Now the market has opened up and international firms are racing for a position. But the harder question is how to make a good business case out there.

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