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Seoul, South Korea. Credit: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg

Bae, Kim & Lee has been steadily growing for three decades, but 2018 was a special year for the Korean firm. For the first time in its 33-year history, its gross revenue broke 300 billion Korean won (about $273 million), boosted by headline-grabbing deals and work for the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. In a year when all the major Korean firms did well financially, BKL stood out.

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In 2018, 635-lawyer BKL reported $279 million in revenue, a 14.1% increase, placing it at No. 163 in the Global 200, up seven places from the prior year. BKL isn’t the only Korean firm in the Second Hundred; 662-lawyer Lee & Ko made its debut in the Global 200 this year at No. 166, with $263 million in gross revenue. And 988-lawyer Kim & Chang, the largest firm in Korea, was in the Global 100 for the fourth straight year, ranking 53rd with $901 million in revenue. Three other major Korean firms that are not in the Global 200—Shin & Kim; Yulchon; and Yoon & Yang—had revenues between $128.5 million and $187.6 million.

As a group, the six firms, known as the Big Six, collectively grew their revenue by 9% in 2018. All but Kim & Chang (3.6%) rose by double digits. Four of the group—Kim & Chang, Lee & Ko, Shin & Kim and Yulchon—also saw significant increases in lawyer numbers (see this year’s Asia 50 for more). But BKL and Yoon & Yang were able to achieve revenue growth without greatly expanding head count. Last year, BKL’s revenue per lawyer grew 12.3% to $439,000, while Yoon & Yang had RPL of $342,000, up 17.6%, the largest increase among the six.

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John Kang, The Asian Lawyer

John Kang covers the business of law in Asia and Australia from Hong Kong. Email him at [email protected]

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