A free trade agreement (FTA) between South Korea and the European Union was approved by the European parliament last month, smoothing the way for foreign law firms to open representative offices in South Korea once the agreement is ratified in July, Legal Week reports.
Two years ago, The Am Law Daily examined whether or not ratification of the FTA would benefit U.K. or U.S. firms. The consensus was that neither would have an advantage over the other, although U.S. law generally prevails on cross-border emanating from South Korea, which remains in the American sphere of influence.
Many large U.S. firms -- such as Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker, and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett -- have expressed interest in having a presence in South Korea, which moved ahead with a planned deregulation of its markets for legal and professional services in late 2009. Those firms also can draw on the services of a large population of Korean-American lawyers.
An FTA signed between the U.S. and South Korea in April 2007 eventually foundered in Congress over concerns that it could hurt the struggling U.S. auto industry. Another accord was signed in December, but awaits congressional approval and ratification in South Korea.
Liberalization of the South Korean legal market is set to take place in three stages, according to Legal Week. Firms will first open representative offices in the country to advise clients on non-Korean law. By July 2013, those firms will have the right to enter into cooperative agreements with Korean firms and advise on legal issues involving a mixture of domestic and foreign law, Legal Week reports. Lastly, EU firms will be able to invest in local firms and hire Korean lawyers by July 2016.
The alliance deal with two-partner C&G Partners in Ulaanbaatar will be managed by DLA's Beijing office, Legal Week reports. DLA Asia-Pacific managing director Alastair Da Costa told Legal Week that Mongolia received substantial amounts of investment from neighboring countries like China and Russia, and that the firm is targeting local work in the mining, capital markets, banking, and project finance sectors.
Last year Hogan Lovells became the first Am Law 100 firm to establish a presence in Mongolia by agreeing to an alliance with GTs Advocates in Ulaanbaatar. Legal Week reports that the alliance grew out of a referral relationship between GTs and legacy firm Lovells.
This report is part of The American Lawyer's expanded coverage of the Asian legal market -- which also includes a new weekly e-newsletter, The Asian Lawyer. Click here for more from The Asian Lawyer and to sign up for a free subscription.