Clifford Chance’s Seoul office managing partner is leaving the firm as departures continue from the Magic Circle firm’s outpost in the South Korean capital.
Capital markets partner Kim Hyun-suk, who also heads up the firm’s Korea practice, is on his way out. Kim has been based in Seoul since 2012 when Clifford Chance opened its office there; he first joined the firm in Hong Kong in 2009 and became a partner two years later.
Previously, he practiced at U.S. firms Davis Polk & Wardwell in Hong Kong and Tokyo, and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in New York. Last year, Kim served as U.S. securities law counsel to Korean insurer Hanwha Life Insurance Co. Ltd. on a $1 billion bond sale.
Hong Kong-based capital markets partner Richard Lee will split his time with the Seoul office and co-lead the firm’s Korea practice with Seoul-based finance counsel Cho Bong-sang. In 2014, Lee was part of the Hong Kong capital markets team that advised Chinese property developer China Resources Land Ltd. on the sale of $1.15 billion worth of bonds; he also worked on Hanwha’s $1 billion bond sale with Kim.
Lee, also U.S.-qualified, joined Clifford Chance in Hong Kong in 2011 from Davis Polk and made partner in 2014. Earlier in his career, Lee was a staff attorney at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
U.K.-qualified Cho joined the firm in 2015 from Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy. In 2014, Cho was part of the team that advised Denmark’s export credit agency Eksport Kredit Fonden A/S and a group of local and international lenders on a $315 million financing for a wind farm project in the Philippines.
In 2012, Clifford Chance was among the first international firms to launch in South Korea, but the Seoul office and the firm’s Korea practice have seen several departures in the past few years.
Since 2018, at least four other Korea-focused lawyers left the firm: former counsel and Seoul office M&A head Kim Chee-kwan is now a partner at leading Korean firm Lee & Ko; former Seoul associate Kwangwoo Kim is an executive director of investment banking at Goldman Sachs; former Hong Kong associates Jackie Yang joined Korean firm Kim & Chang in Seoul and former Hong Kong associate Angela Ryu moved to London with Allen & Overy.
According to the firm’s website, Clifford Chance’s Seoul office has three counsel left: U.K.-qualified arbitration and litigation lawyer Yumin Kim, who joined the firm in 2017 from Kim & Chang and now serves as chief representative of the office; and banking and finance specialists Chang Hang-jin and Cho Bong-sang.
Simpson Thacher & Bartlett is another top international firm that recently struggled in Korea; it closed its Seoul office in November last year—the first global firm to do so—and relocated its Korea practice back to Hong Kong.
Korea liberalized its legal market in 2012 after the country’s free trade agreements with the European Union and the United States became effective. Clifford Chance is one of the five U.K.-originated foreign law firms registered in Korea. Currently, 29 foreign law firms have opened offices in Seoul.