Exclusive: Latham & Watkins to open in Seoul

Latham & Watkins will become the latest international firm to enter into South Korea, having submitted an application for a foreign legal consultant office.

As part of the preparation for the Seoul launch, the firm has also signed a lease in the One IFC tower in financial district of Yeouido.

The firm already has an established South Korea practice with a focus on banking and finance and projects. It is currently overseen by Tokyo office managing partner Joseph Bevash.

In Hong Kong, the firm has a number of native Korean lawyers including newly promoted corporate counsel Helena Kim and banking and finance counsel Sungjin Kang.

Existing Korean clients include The Export-Import Bank of Korea (K-EXIM) and Korea Trade Insurance Corporation (K-SURE). In 2013, the firm advised the two financial institutions in connection with a US$1.6 billion facility for Saudi Electricity Company to finance a new oil-fired 2,640MW power plant in Jeddah South in The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

“Seoul is a vibrant business and financial hub with strong and growing importance across the region and globally,” said Latham chair and managing partner Bill Voge. “We have more than two decades of experience working with a number of key South Korean market players and we are committed to supporting our South Korean clients.”

A source at Latham & Watkins indicated the firm has no plans to practise local law, although South Korea will open up its legal services sector further. As part of its free trade agreements with the EU and the US, its legal services market is due to enter into the third phase of its liberalisation this year, allowing foreign lawyers to enter into partnership with, and employ, South Korean lawyers.

It is understood that the decision to launch in South Korea follows a review on the firm’s Asia strategy, which was conducted last year and is expected to result in a stronger push in the region. The Seoul office will be the firm’s sixth in Asia.

Over the past two years, several international firms have set up base in the country, including White & Case, Milbank Tweed, Hadley & McCoy, Stephenson Harwood and Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom. Other firms have opted for local tie-ups, including EY Law’s alliance with Apex Legal, Taylor Wessing’s alliance with DR & AJU and Bird & Bird’s alliance with Hwang Mok Park.