Clifford Chance has become the first U.K. firm to gain approval to open an office in South Korea.
The Magic Circle firm's application to open in Seoul was approved by the Korean Ministry of Justice Monday, with the firm's license to practice still pending approval from the Korean Bar Association. The Ministry of Justice also granted approval to U.S. firms Ropes & Gray and Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton.
Beijing-based energy and infrastructure specialist Brian Cassidy will relocate to lead the new office. Head of the firm's Korea practice Hyun Kim is applying for foreign registered lawyer status in the Republic of Korea, and will continue to be based in Hong Kong until his application is approved.
The news comes after free trade agreements between South Korea, the E.U. and the U.S. were signed last year, giving foreign firms the right to hire local lawyers after five years. Prior to that, foreign firms had been barred from having offices in Korea.
Hyun Kim commented: "Our on-the-ground presence will allow us to be closer to our clients as well as the many Korean law firms we have worked with over the years. We look forward to becoming an active member of the Korean legal community, while continuing to act as a trusted legal advisor to our Korean clients on a wide range of international legal matters."
Clifford Chance, Ropes & Gray, and Sheppard Mullin received preliminary approval from Korea's Ministry of Justice in May, with all three firms' nominated lead partners being approved as foreign legal consultants. In order to be registered as a foreign legal consultant individuals need to have at least three years' experience practicing the law of the country where their firm is based.
Other firms with plans to open in Korea include Linklaters, Herbert Smith, DLA Piper, Paul Hastings and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton.