Clifford Chance has become the first U.K. firm to announce it has applied to open an office in Korea.
"We have consistently indicated our interest in opening an office in South Korea, and we're now going through the necessary processes to make this happen," Peter Charlton, Asia managing partner for Clifford Chance, said in an email.
A number of U.S. firms, including Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, and, earlier this week, McDermott, Will & Emery, have already announced plans to open offices in Seoul. But Charlton, citing a statement from the Korean Ministry of Justice, said Clifford Chance was the first and, so far, the only foreign law firm to have filed a formal application. Charlton declined to comment on the timing of an office opening.
The Korean legal market opened to international law firms last year with the passage of free trade agreements with both the United States and European Union. The EU FTA passed several months before the U.S. one, so U.K. firms like Clifford Chance could potentially have beaten their U.S. counterparts into Seoul.
But Korea practices at British firms are usually led by U.S.-qualified rather than U.K.-qualified lawyers, and, prior to the passage of the Korea-U.S. FTA in November, such lawyers would not have qualified under the Korean foreign legal consultant statute.
Clifford Chance's Korea practice is led by U.S.-qualified consultant Hyun Suk Kim, who is currently based in Hong Kong. The firm declined to comment on whether Kim would relocate to Seoul or to comment on other potential Korea office staff.