Seoul, Korea.
Seoul, Korea. (Photo: ESB Professional/Shutterstock.com)

White & Case has added an international arbitration partner to its Seoul office.

Jun Hee Kim was most recently general counsel overseeing international legal matters at the world’s largest shipbuilder, Hyundai Heavy Industries Co. Ltd. Kim was in charge of dispute resolution, compliance and legal risk management at Hyundai Heavy Industries and its global subsidiaries.

Before taking on an in-house role at Hyundai Heavy Industries in 2012, Kim practiced international arbitration with Korea’s largest domestic firm, Kim & Chang, for nine years, and worked both as counsel and arbitrator on arbitration cases concerning the construction, engineering and shipping sectors.

Kim will be the fifth partner in White & Case’s two-year-old Seoul office. The U.S. firm launched in the Korean capital in 2015 by moving Korean practice head James Lee from Los Angeles and construction disputes specialist Mark Goodrich from London; transactions partner Kyungseok Kim joined the firm from Linklaters. Subsequently, the firm also relocated finance partner Ji Hoon Hong from New York.

Currently, 23 U.S. firms and four U.K. firms are operating a physical office in Seoul, where they are barred from hiring qualified Korean lawyers and from practicing Korean law.

This year marks the fifth anniversary of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement that enabled U.S. firms to open representative offices in Seoul. (The U.K. firms are under a similar agreement between Korea and the European Union.) Some foreign firms had hoped that by 2017 they would be allowed to enter joint ventures with Korean law firms—an arrangement commonly used in Asian jurisdictions that enables de facto local law capability.

In 2016, the Korean Legislature passed a law slapping the Korean part of the joint ventures with a number of requirements, including a three-year-existence. The new regulations effectively killed the idea of foreign firms having a so-called captive Korean firm.

With five partners, White & Case now has one of the largest on-the-ground presences in Seoul among global firms. Others with a sizable Seoul office include Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and Paul Hastings.

So far, international firms have hardly made a dent in the Korean legal market. Large Korean law firms, led by Kim & Chang, still dominate the market in a big way. During the first nine months of this year, Kim & Chang was the top M&A legal adviser on Korea-related deals, with $4.4 billion in volume, according to Bloomberg LP; that compared it to the $4.6 billion from the rest of the top 20 legal advisers combined.

Kim & Chang, which reported 860 lawyers and $815 million in total revenue, placed 49th on this year’s Global 100 survey. It was the only non-verein Asian firm to make the list.