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As South Korea’s legal market moves into its third stage of liberalisation, Elizabeth Broomhall looks at how the 19 international firms are faring in the market and what’s next for SeoulWhen the first group of foreign law firms rushed to set up shop in South Korea in 2011 and 2012, the move was met with a degree of scepticism. While some worried there wouldn’t be enough work to go around, others said a successful Korean practice could easily be manned from firms’ existing Asian offices, especially since the market had only partially liberalised.

Nevertheless, international outfits have continued to take an interest in Seoul, with Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom being the latest and 19th firm to open in the country in May this year and Bird & Bird entering via a partnership with local firm Hwang Mok Park in February. As it stands, most firms have been trying to tap the market for overseas litigation, outbound M&A and international capital markets work generated by Korean corporates, usually starting with between three and 10 lawyers. In line with the most recent regulations, they are also now permitted to co-bill and share profits with local firms on a project-by-project basis.

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