U.S. firms are continuing to eye the recently relaxed foreign law firm market in South Korea, with K&L Gates becoming the latest firm to announce it received the appropriate licensing for an office in Seoul.
The Korean Ministry of Justice granted final approval last week of K&L Gates’ application to operate a foreign legal service office in Seoul, the capital of the Republic of Korea.
K&L Gates will officially open its office in the country in January 2013 after registering with the Korean Bar Association in the coming weeks.
The Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement went into effect in March, opening South Korea’s legal market to U.S. firms for the first time. Since then, a number of Am Law 200 firms have expressed their intention to enter the market, continuing their Asian expansion beyond just China to include places like Singapore, Vietnam and now South Korea.
“We very much appreciate the expeditious processing of our application by the Ministry of Justice,” said Peter J. Kalis, K&L Gates chairman and global managing partner, in a statement. “Korea’s economy is one of the largest both in Asia and throughout the world. The country’s export-fueled growth of the past decades has led to the more recent, and increasingly robust, trend of foreign investments overseas by its companies and financial institutions.
“We believe that our Seoul office will provide these outward-looking Korean business enterprises, wherever their destinations may be, with ready access to the resources of a single law firm that is both global and local at the same time.”
Current K&L Gates New York partner Eric Yoon will serve as the Seoul office’s chief representative. Yoon has practiced law for more than 20 years in the areas of financial services regulation, mergers and acquisitions, financing and private equity investments.
David K.Y. Tang, K&L Gates’ managing partner of operations in Asia, noted in a statement that South Korea is one of the few countries in the world that has both widely distributed wealth and a large, well-educated population base.
The Seoul location will make for K&L Gates’ 42nd office worldwide. K&L Gates has been expansion-minded in recent months.
In August, the firm announced it was in talks to merge with Australian law firm Middletons. If approved, K&L Gates would have more than 400 lawyers across 11 offices in the Asia-Pacific region, the firm said. The merger would result in K&L Gates having offices in: Beijing; Brisbane, Australia; Hong Kong; Melbourne, Australia; Perth, Australia; Seoul; Shanghai; Singapore; Sydney; Taipei; and Tokyo.
K&L Gates opened an office in Milan in February, a location in South Carolina in December 2011 and in Sao Paulo a month before that.
K&L Gates isn’t the first U.S. firm to launch in Seoul. As The Legal Intelligencer affiliate The American Lawyer reported earlier this month, O’Melveny & Myers and Paul Hastings recently opened in South Korea, following on the heels of Covington & Burling’s expansion into the market. Ropes & Gray and Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton opened in the summer. There were a total of 16 U.S. firms that applied for a license from the South Korean Ministry of Justice and the Korean Bar Association to start offices in the country, The American Lawyer reported.