Shearman & Sterling has confirmed it will open an office in Seoul, pending regulatory clearance.
The New York-based Am Law 100 firm has applied with the South Korean Ministry of Justice to set up a foreign legal consultant office in Seoul. The firm is expecting to receive an approval within this year, said Singapore-based projects partner Anna Chung, who will relocate to head Shearman & Sterling’s office in the city.
The initial Seoul team will have three lawyers and focus on executing project finance transactions. The new Seoul team will also work closely with lawyers based in other offices on Korea-related arbitration, antitrust and funds matters.
Chung joined Shearman & Sterling’s London office in 2006 from Australian firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth. She made partner at Shearman & Sterling last year and worked in the firm’s Shanghai office from 2008 to 2011.
Last year, Shearman & Sterling advised lenders and export credit agency Korea Trade Insurance Corp. on the financing of a $545 million coal power plant in Indonesia. The deal was led by a Singapore-based projects team that included William McCormack, the firm’s Asia regional managing partner, and Chung.
A Seoul office will be Shearman & Sterling’s sixth outpost in Asia, after Hong Kong in 1978, Tokyo in 1987, Beijing in 1993, Singapore in 1995 and Shanghai in 2007.
Shearman’s preparation to enter Asia’s fourth-largest economy comes as a major U.S. rival seeks to exit. Simpson Thacher & Bartlett is preparing to close its six-year-old Seoul office by the end of this year, making it the first large global firm to do so since South Korea opened up its legal market in 2012. Simpson Thacher already relocated its Korea practice to Hong Kong earlier this year, where the firm’s current Korea practice head, Jin Hyuk Park, is based.
Including Simpson Thacher, there are 28 foreign firms currently in Seoul—22 of which are U.S. firms. One of the more recent entrants is Latham & Watkins, which launched a Seoul office in 2016 focused on projects and corporate work.
The first batch of U.S. firms to launch in Seoul came in 2012 after the ratification of a U.S.-Korea free trade agreement. Foreign firms are not allowed to practice Korean law unless they agree to form restrictive joint ventures with an established local law firm. So far, none of the foreign firms has established such a joint venture.
*Correction 9/21: A previous version of this story stated there were currently 29 foreign law firms in Seoul. There are 28. A correction has been made to reflect that. We regret the error.