Jones Day has sought to take advantage of a trend for Korean outbound investment with the hire of a Paris-based partner to its Korea practice.
Philippe Li is joining Jones Day’s Paris office from leading Korean law firm Kim & Chang, where he was a Seoul-based foreign attorney. Li will focus his practice on representing Korean companies looking to invest overseas. He will also act as the firm’s Korea practice coordinator.
The French-qualified Li began his career in Paris with DS Avocats but has subsequently spent most of his career in Korea, where he worked for two other firms before joining Kim & Chang in 2002. At Kim & Chang, Li largely represented French companies doing business in Korea.
Li says Jones Day, with its many offices in Europe, the U.S. and Asia, is the perfect platform for him to switch to an outbound practice. The time is right too, he says, because Korean companies, and not just the giants like Samsung and Hyundai, are starting to look abroad in earnest.
“The domestic market has limitations for the top 20 or 30 Korean companies,” says Li. “They realize the Korean market is no longer big enough.”
Korea still bans foreign law offices, so most foreign firms that have Korea practices base their key people in Hong Kong or, in some cases, Tokyo. Paris is a somewhat rarer choice.
Li says it is useful for him to be in Paris to maintain contact with French lawyers and companies. He also says a European base will make it easier to coordinate with lawyers experienced in Africa or South America, two destinations where he says Korean companies are expected to become more active.
Li’s European qualifications are somewhat unusual; most top Korea lawyers at international firms are U.S.-qualified. It’s been an issue for British firms eyeing a Seoul opening that most of their Korea teams are led by American-trained lawyers. A Korea-European Union free trade agreement expected to become effective in the next few months would allow EU firms to open offices, but only staffed by EU-qualified lawyers.
Li says that kind of move is not in the cards for him at the moment. “We will observe the market,” he says, “but right now it is not on the agenda for us to open a Seoul office.”