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Kim Jong-un.

While the specter of North Korea waging a nuclear war has caused anxiety levels to rise in much of the world, foreign lawyers living and working in South Korea are less preoccupied with the possibility that North Korea will launch nuclear missiles targeting South Korea and its allies.

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Anna Zhang

Email: azhang@alm.com

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  • Cleary Gottlieb Steen

/uploads/sites/396/2017/10/NKorea-The-Sanctions-Conundrum-Analysis-Article-201710122326.jpg" width="558" height="372" /> <i>Kim Jong-un.</i>[/caption] While the specter of North Korea waging a nuclear war has caused anxiety levels to rise in much of the world, foreign lawyers living and working in South Korea are less��preoccupied with the possibility that North Korea will��launch nuclear missiles targeting South Korea and its allies. "A lot of us in Korea are more able to absorb the noise in the escalating rhetoric; weve seen that before," said John Kim, a U.S. lawyer and partner at Korean law firm Lee &amp; Ko. Jinduk Han, a��Seoul partner at Cleary Gottlieb Steen &amp; Hamilton, said lawyers working in South Korea have long been accustomed to living��so close to North Korea and the military threat that poses. "Life goes on, and work gets done pretty normally," said Han, a capital markets lawyer who advises the Korean government and corporations on global securities offers. While the tension with North Korea might affect the��pricing of some debt offerings, Han said he didnt see it having an impact on issuers willingness to do deals. Seoul is now home to 27 foreign law firms with offices ranging in size from one to more than a dozen lawyers on the ground. In addition, large domestic firms such as Kim &amp; Chang and Lee &amp; Ko also house sizable teams of foreign lawyers. Seoul, South Koreas capital, is��<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/14/world/asia/north-korea-missile.html" target="_blank">within easy reach </a>of North Koreas missiles, as is Tokyo, the capital of Japan. North Korea claims it possesses missiles that could even��<a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-missiles-russia/north-korean-missiles-will-be-able-to-reach-u-s-after-modernization-ifax-cites-russian-lawmaker-idUSKBN1CF0XP" target="_blank">reach the United States</a>��once theyre modified. Last week, <a href="http://www.38north.org/2017/10/mzagurek100417/" target="_blank">a hypothetical study</a> suggested that a North Korean nuclear��strike on just Seoul and Tokyo alone would kill approximately 2.1 million people and injure an additional 7.7 million. Since taking office in January, President Donald Trump has sidestepped diplomatic efforts in favor of using tough talk on Twitter and��in speeches to address the North Korean regime and its leader, Kim Jong-un. In September, after Trump told world leaders at the United Nations��General Assembly that he "will ... totally destroy North Korea" if forced, the communist regime said it interpreted the statement as��<a href="https://www.cnbc.com/2017/09/25/we-have-right-to-shoot-down-strategic-us-bombers-even-if-they-are-not-in-north-korean-airspace-nk-foreign-minister-says.html" target="_blank">a declaration of war</a>. Both Han, from Cleary, and Kim, from Lee &amp; Ko, said that people did recognize that Trump was an unconventional political figure and lacked predictability, but legal and business professionals alike said the threat from the North had always been around. In 2010, North Korea attacked the Souths Yeonpyeong Island, hitting military and civilian targets, killing four people, injuring 19 and setting off a military confrontation in which the South retaliated by shelling North Korean gun positions. The incident,��which led to world condemnation of the Norths actions, caused markedly��heightened tensions between the two Koreas, said Kim, who has been based in Seoul since 2009 when he joined Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. as in-house counsel from��Quinn Emanuel Urquhart &amp; Sullivan. "Right now, we are not seeing that level of security concern,"��Kim said. Ropes &amp; Gray Seoul office head William Kim also recalled that things looked really bad in the 90s when both sides of the Demilitarized Zone exchanged fire several times. Kim, who was based in Seoul as general counsel for Korean conglomerate��Daewoo Group between 1993 and 1997,��remembered the U.S. embassy sending out warnings. William Kim and Clearys Han are among the many foreign lawyers who moved to Seoul in recent years after working on Korea-related matters for more than two decades. Most of these international firm partners moved after the market liberalization as a necessary step to have a more immersed relationship with their��Korean clients. "Nothing has changed," said William Kim. "We still see Korea is a vibrant market for international firms." Ropes now has��four lawyers in Seoul. Last month, private equity partner��Jaewoo Lee��advised��Bain Capital on <a href="http://www.international.law.com/id=1202799108854" target="_blank">a $2.7 billion sale</a> of cosmetic maker Carver Korea Co. Ltd. to Unilever. Cleary is in the process of bringing three more lawyers to Seoul over the coming months. Han said the office would have 16 lawyers once everyone arrives. While U.S. lawyers in Seoul are not anticipating that North Korea��is on the verge of��starting a war, they are worried that the position of U.S. ambassador to South Korea is still vacant 10 months after Trump took office. "People are concerned because of the lack of leadership on the ground from the State Department," John Kim said, noting that several members of the U.S. embassy have left due to budget cuts at the��State Department. Trump has <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-southkorea-diplomacy/trump-plans-to-name-former-bush-staffer-cha-as-seoul-envoy-idUSKCN1B92WO" target="_blank">reportedly nominated Victor Cha</a>, a North Korea expert and former adviser to President George W. Bush, to be his Korea ambassador. But no confirmation hearing has been held. So far, foreign lawyers in Seoul remain calm. To be prudent, William Kim said his firm��had prepared a plan in case of an unlikely emergency. But he hasnt heard anyone being distressed by security concerns. "I dont see a sense of panic," he said. <

  • Cleary Gottlieb Steen

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