Sunrise over Seoul, South Korea. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer has become the latest U.S. law firm to enter South Korea.

The Washington, D.C.-based firm received approval from the South Korean Ministry of Justice on Friday to open a foreign legal consultant office in Seoul, according to official records.

The Seoul office will be led by litigation partner James Lee, who has been based in Los Angeles since joining Arnold & Porter in December. Before that, Lee headed White & Case’s Seoul office, which he helped launch in 2015. Prior to moving to Seoul, Lee led White & Case’s global Korea practice from Los Angeles. In addition to disputes, the Seoul office will also handle mergers and acquisitions and private equity deals.

The office is registered on the 21st floor of the Seoul Finance Center in the city’s district of Jung-gu, according to the official records.

Legacy Arnold & Porter first established a dedicated Korea practice in 1981 and focuses on disputes and policy matters between Korean and American governments and companies. Since 2012, the firm has been representing the Korean government in a $4.4 billion investment treaty claim brought by private equity firm Lone Star Funds before the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes in Washington, D.C.; Korean law firm Bae, Kim & Lee is co-counsel on the case.

In addition to the Seoul team, Arnold & Porter also has a Washington, D.C.-based team focusing on Korea-related work. The three-partner team, led by U.S.-Korea trade policy expert Sukhan Kim, joined the firm in 2015 from Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. Before joining Arnold & Porter, Kim has been implicated for his involvement in a corruption scandal involving former South Korean president Lee Myung-bak, reported South Korean newspaper JoongAng Ilbo; Lee Myung-bak was sentenced to 15 years in prison for bribery and embezzlement in October.

Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer’s launch in Seoul follows that of Shearman & Sterling, which opened in November. Six years into Korea’s legal market liberalization, there are now 29 foreign law firms present in Seoul. Also last year, New York-based Simpson Thacher & Bartlett became the first global law firm to close its Seoul office and relocated its Korea practice to Hong Kong.

The Seoul office will be Arnold & Porter’s second office in Asia. The firm has an office in Shanghai, which it inherited from the 2017 merger with Kaye Scholer.

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