Herbert Smith Freehills closes in on Seoul launch as UK partner gains licence

Herbert Smith Freehills has moved a step closer to opening its long-planned Seoul office, with London-based partner Tony Dymond receiving Foreign Legal Consultant (FLC) approval from the country’s Ministry of Justice.


Dymond’s FLC approval entitles the firm to officially lodge its application for a Foreign Legal Consultant Office (FLCO) certificate, the final regulatory approval needed for US and European firms to open an office in South Korea.

According to Dymond, the firm hopes to open the office early next year upon achieving all regulatory approvals.

Dymond, who focuses on dispute resolution, particularly on large scale construction projects, will relocate to Seoul to lead the office. It is understood that he is the second English lawyer to have received the FLC approval, following Clifford Chance counsel Brian Cassidy (16 July 2012).

HSF has also named Singapore-based corporate partner Lewis McDonald as another lead partner for the new office. McDonald is a transactions lawyer in the global energy and natural resources sector.

Initially, four associates transferring from HSF’s global network will join Dymond and McDonald in Seoul.

“Our focus in Korea, similar to all other international firms, will be on Korean companies’ outbound work. Having a presence in Seoul enables us to provide end-to-end services to these clients,” said Dymond.

One of the firm’s recent Korean deal highlights is its representation to Korea Electric Power Corporation and Sumitomo Corporation as sponsors in the $1.5bn (£931.6m) project finance transaction for Abu Dhabi’s Shuweihat 3 independent power plant project in 2011.

“The two pillars of our Seoul office will be dispute resolution and energy, resources and infrastructure investment. The two areas sit well with Korean companies’ legal needs when they go abroad,” said Dymond.

Herbert Smith’s recent merger with Australian firm Freehills (20 July 2012) also fits well with the combined firm’s Korean plans. The Australian firm has previously handled a number of Korean investments into Australia and restructuring work involving Korean companies.

“Australia remains an important destination for Korean investment. When we talk to clients in Korea, they’re attracted to what the merged firm has to offer. This is one area of synergy that has come out of our merger,” said Dymond.

So far, 10 international firms have been approved by Korea’s Ministry of Justice to open an office in Seoul (25 September 2012), with Covington & Burling being the latest one.

Compared to US rivals, UK firms generally have fewer Korean-speaking lawyers to spearhead the initial launch. However, Dymond is confident that the advantages of UK firms lie in the dominance of English law as the governing law in major global transactions.

“US firms have more Korean-speaking lawyers due to the historic, long association between the US and Korea,” said Dymond. “However, a large part of the transactions and projects around the world are subject to English law. That’s our advantage.”

Dymond also noted that HSF has Korean-speaking lawyers in its global network and will have Korean language capability in its Seoul office from day one.

DLA Piper and Linklaters are among other UK firms that are in the process of applying for an office in Seoul.

International firms with a FLCO certificate

Ropes & Gray
Sheppard Mullin
Richter & Hampton
Clifford Chance
Cohen & Gresser
Simpson Thatcher
& Bartlett
McDermott Will
& Emery
Paul Hastings
Cleary Gottlieb
Steen & Hamilton
Squire Sanders
Covington & Burling

Source: Ministry of Justice, Korea