Squire Sanders has joined Ropes & Gray and Paul Hastings in becoming the first group of U.S. firms to apply for approval to open a Seoul office. March 6 was the first day that American firms were allowed to file their applications at the Korean Ministry of Justice for a preliminary review of their foreign legal consultant offices.
Squire Sanders’ team in Seoul will be led by Joon Yong Kim, who will be relocating to Korea along with fellow partner Edward Ghiyun Kim from Tokyo.
“The opening of an office in Korea is a logical next step in our commitment to develop and grow our long-standing presence in the Asia Pacific region," said James J. Maiwurm, Squire Sanders chair and global CEO, in a statement. “Combined with our existing strength in China and Japan, as well as our recent expansion in Australia and anticipated opening in Singapore, the Korea office is an important part of Squire Sanders' Asia Pacific growth strategy."
Meanwhile, Ropes & Gray’s planned Seoul branch will be headed by partners William Yongkyun Kim, the chair of its Korea practice, and David Chun, an intellectual property litigator. The pair is expected to relocate from New York to Seoul shortly.
The new office will specialise in IP litigation, antitrust and competition law, mergers and acquisitions, life sciences and regulatory matters.
The Seoul office will fortify the American firm’s Asian presence along with its existing offices in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo.
Ropes & Gray counts LG, Hitachi-LG Data Storage, Samsung, Daewoo, Hyundai Motors, Hanjin and NCSoft as its clients in South Korea.
Commenting on the planned opening, Kim said: “Ropes & Gray has a fully functioning Korea team, with more than 30 lawyers who have worked with Korean clients on their transactions and in litigation. We have been eagerly anticipating the day when we could combine on-the-ground service with the extensive resources of the firm around the world.”
Liberalisation of the South Korean legal market was realised after Korea’s free trade agreements with the U.S. and E.U. were ratified in February and November last year.
Other U.S. firms, such as Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett have made their Seoul plans known. Chicago-headquartered McDermott Will & Emery also publicised its Korean move in February with the hiring of Jay Eizenstat, one of the key negotiators of the trade pact between the U.S. and South Korea.
European firms have made a headway into the country earlier than their American counterparts. For instance, UK firm Clifford Chance was among the first to file an application to open shop in Seoul. ALB
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