Cleary, Linklaters, McDermott and Paul Hastings prepare for Seoul launches

Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, McDermott Will & Emery, and Paul Hastings have gained approval from South Korea’s Ministry of Justice to open offices in Seoul, while Linklaters has become the latest UK firm to file an application.

Jong Han Kim
Jong Han Kim

The three US firms have received a foreign legal consultant office certificate and will file for registration with the Korean Bar Association to finalise the new office launch. Cleary and Paul Hastings were among the first group of US firms that announced plans to enter into Seoul at the end of last year (28 November 2011). McDermott’s new office will be headed by Korea head In-Young Lee, who was previously based in New York, and will be staffed with at least three lawyers initially (14 February 2012).

They were also among the seven US firms that submitted an application on the first day of applications (6 March 2012). The other five firms are Ropes & Gray, Sheppard Mullin, Cohen & Gresser, Squire Sanders and the Law offices of Park & Associates.

In July, Clifford Chance, Ropes & Gray, Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton became the first three firms to obtain permission to open in Seoul (16 July 2012). A few weeks ago, New York litigation boutique Cohen Gresser received its certificate.

Paul Hastings Korea head Jong Han Kim will relocate from Hong Kong to Seoul to chair the new office. The firm plans to open the base with about eight lawyers, including partner Daniel Kim, most of whom will relocate to Seoul from Hong Kong.

The firm’s Seoul office will focus mainly on representing Korean companies in international litigation and advising on cross-border M&A and capital markets transactions. Currently, the firm is representing four Korean companies – LG, Korean Airlines, Kolon Industries and a Korean Chemicals company – in various ongoing litigation cases in the US.

“We’re very excited about having an office in downtown Seoul. The most significant benefit is about being able to have meetings with our existing clients regularly and on a daily basis,” said Kim. “For me, it’s a 23-year dream come true. Since my career as a US lawyer started in 1989, I always wanted to come back to Korea to assist Korean companies in going overseas.”

Paul Hastings’ Seoul office will be located in the CENTER 1 building of Korea’s Suhadong CBD, which also houses five other law firms including Sheppard Mullin.

Cleary’s new office will be headed initially by partner Yong Guk Lee, who will relocate from Hong Kong to Seoul. The firm’s Seoul office will have five other lawyers upon its establishment. The firm’s head of Korea Jinduk Han is set to move to Seoul within three years.

“Having people on the ground here makes it that much easier to see our clients more often, even on short notice. Most of the firms coming to Korea have already had some Korea practice. I think it’s more about relocation of the base from which lawyers operate. By being here it will open up additional business opportunities for firms,” said Han.

In addition, Linklaters has become the latest UK firm to apply for an office in Seoul. The firm has submitted a preliminary application in relation to the establishment of a foreign legal consultant office in Korea. Herbert Smith has also confirmed that it has applied to open in Seoul, while DLA Piper is in the process of applying (18 September 2012).