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A growing legal field

Aug 25, 2018
Credit : GMI Post


Traditionally, the “Big Five” Korean law firms dominated the legal landscape. In 2012, after the government signed free trade agreements with the United States and the European Union, smaller, and even foreign, law firms found a place in the market, with the number of lawyers significantly increasing and international firms setting up shop.

Kim & Chang is Korea's largest and most specialized law firm with a premier global practice. Based in Seoul, it is a full service law firm with over 1,500 dedicated professionals, advising the world's leading companies and financial institutions.

But to survive, firms had to identify their strengths. KL Partners chose to specialize in cross-border litigation and international arbitration. Coming from one of Korea’s “Big Five,” Managing Partner Kim Beom-su recalled: “We saw the need for experts in specific practice areas and thus focused only on international dispute resolution and corporate M&A.”

Seoul’s push to be the next hub for international dispute resolution among Northeast Asian countries puts the firm in a strong position.

For Kim, recent events in Korea proved its capabilities to be such: “Transparency is one of Korea’s main strengths. How Koreans react to wrongdoings only shows how Koreans value justice and how the country is capable of indicting and litigating even those who are in power.”

Lee & Ko Managing Partner Kim Jae-hoon

Coming from another “Big Five” firm, Tek & Law founder Ted Koo went on with opening his own law firm in 2012 and now sits at the forefront of Korean innovation.

“Tek is for technology. We are highly experienced in data protection, biomed, and fintech,” Koo

What sets Tek & Law apart is its focus on and expertise in blockchain and cryptocurrencies.

“Many are very interested in the new wave, but they aren’t quite sure what to expect in terms of government policies and regulations. We have found a niche area here in providing consulting services on this exciting but complex technology,” Koo said.

“We are the best in this area, and we have a strong potential to help foreign clients navigate their way through Korea,” he added.

Bae, Kim & Lee (BKL) Managing Partner Sungjin Kim

Meanwhile, traditionally strong firms aren’t letting their guard down. One of Korea’s original “Big Five,” Bae, Kim & Lee (BKL) has the largest geographical footprint among all Korean law firms, with seven locations abroad. Its international bases cover Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Yangon and Dubai.

In its effort to assist companies through the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it also recently opened an office in Pangyo, Seongnam City, Korea’s so-called Silicon Valley.

Its strong foundation domestically helped power its success in international business.

Managing Partner Sungjin Kim said: “Our offices abroad are all client-led. We moved with our clients and thus expected more outward work from Korea.”

At the same time, BKL has seen more inbound work coming in, which now accounts for 70 percent of its business. The firm experienced 40 percent growth between 2014 and 2017.

Korea’s largest law firm, Kim & Chang, also sees the value in having offices abroad. Having set up its first overseas office in Hong Kong, the firm has recently opened its new office in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

“We find that an international office can be a great source of servicing existing clients more effectively while also enabling us to reach new and interesting work and clients,” Senior Partner Kye Sung Chung said.

As Korean companies look to find new growth opportunities through overseas M&As and investments, it will also expand into emerging markets, particularly in Southeast Asia and Russia.

At the same time, given Korea’s attractiveness as an investment destination, it expects an increase in inbound work too.

“Korea is the only country that has signed FTAs with the world’s three largest economies – the U.S., the EU, and China, as well as the ASEAN countries. For many multinational companies, Korea is a strategic market to enter into other key markets, such as China,” Chung said.

Korean firms’ dedication to client satisfaction and commitment to enhanced quality have allowed them to thrive and drive the economy along with them.

Named Managing Partner of the Year in 2017 by Asian Legal Business, Kim Jae-hoon heads Lee & Ko, another of Korea’s “Big Five”.

“When I entered the firm, we had four practice groups,” Kim recalled. Rising through the ranks, he saw the firm evolve and adapt.

With over 35 practice groups, Lee & Ko has become a one-stop shop for its clients.

It is recognized by international legal publications as top for all of its major practice areas.

“Because we have several practice areas, we get to form teams with a vast range of expertise, who can service our clients and guide them through different matters,” he said.

Lee & Ko’s story of growth mirrors that of Korea. “Our country went through a lot, and this allowed us as a nation to be equipped with the skills to face any challenge head on,” he added.

Korean law firms geared for "5G" economy

Aug 25, 2018
Credit : GMI Post


Amid fast-shifting economic and political winds in Korea, leading law firms like Bae, Kim & Lee LLC are taking dynamic strides to adapt. And these successful strategies are exemplified by BKL’s 500 lawyers.

Outward bound: As Korean industry pivots to Southeast Asia and other regions for manufacturing and new markets, BKL opened offices in Dubai, Hong Kong and Vietnam in 2015 and in Myanmar in 2016, on top of long-established offices in Beijing and Shanghai.

Rapid specialization: BKL has been quick to master and gear up for newer, expanding areas of regulation in Korea, such as fintech, data privacy, anti-corruption, environmental and biotechnology. When Kakao Bank launched as Korea’s first internet-only bank in 2017, BKL led the way with its experts in areas like data security and financial regulation. With business-specific teams ranging from ecommerce to renewable energy, BKL has seen its work swell by 30 percent since 2014.

Targeting innovation: Alert to looming changes, BKL had already formed a blockchain regulation team long before the recent cryptocurrency surge.

In 2018, the firm branched into the Pangyo “techno-valley” outside Seoul to serve the burgeoning cluster of high-tech leaders and startups. With each passing month, legal advisors in Korea face a “brave new world.” Firms like BKL are rising to the challenge.

Leading the way in legal services

Aug 25, 2018
Credit : GMI Post


Multinational corporations rely on legal advisors who offer precise advice framed both by global perspectives and deep local market knowledge. Since its founding in 1977, Lee & Ko has become the go-to law firm in Korea for clients seeking innovative and business-focused legal solutions to navigate the complex, crossborder issues.

Starting with four practice groups, Lee & Ko has since expanded its specialization to more than 35 practice areas. And over its 40-year history, the full-service law firm has orchestrated some of the groundbreaking resolutions to many transactions, disputes, and advisory engagements involving businesses in Korea and elsewhere in the world.

In recognition of the firm’s industry-leading capabilities and commitment to excellent service, Lee & Ko has consistently topped the rankings of various renowned law firm research and evaluation groups in all practice areas, such as corporate law, M&A, banking and finance, capital markets, dispute resolution, intellectual property, tax, antitrust and competition, and employment.

Market commentators attribute Lee & Ko’s continued success in delivering client satisfaction to the comprehensive expertise of the firm’s lawyers and the seamless collaboration among its specialized practice groups.

Managing Partner Kim Jae-hoon agrees: “Close coordination among our teams is crucial to delivering the best results for our clients.” With its people focused on different, highly specialized fields, Lee & Ko leverages each of the teams’ expertise and creates a task force for each of its cases. This allows the firm to approach matters from multiple angles and find the best solution.

With that, the firm has positioned itself as a one-stop service that can handle any deal, project or case in a manner that is both cost effective and practical.

While South Korea remains a major player in the international stage, Lee & Ko is able to assist any foreign corporation that wants to enter the market, as well as South Korean company seeking to expand outside the country.

Currently, most of its inbound cases come from the United States, Europe and Japan, while Vietnam grabs the most interest for most outbound South Korean companies.

“As Korea and the world transitions into more advanced technologies and industries, we are ready to further lead in our industry and help our clients, regardless of their needs,” Kim said.

Tek & Law: the proactive advisers

Aug 25, 2018
Credit : GMI Post


As data traverse multiple borders each day, the need to protect important personal information from potential breaches and cybercrimes has become a fundamental need. With the emergence of blockchain technology, the world is negotiating a new field of business opportunities, while facing unfamiliar vulnerabilities.

Against this backdrop, a Seoul-based law firm, Tek & Law, has positioned itself as leading experts in this challenging landscape. Its main clients include blockchain, biomedical, and financial technology companies that have built businesses successfully thanks to the firm’s specialized expertise in those fields.

“We also provide services to Chinese investors who want to invest in Korea and to Korean companies that are making inroads into the broader Asian market. As regulations that apply to these areas have yet to be concretely put into place and thus, are interpreted differently many times, a lot of risks are being generated. Tek & Law’s significant competitive edge lies in our ability to cater to the specific needs of our clients,” Managing Partner Ted Koo said.

With the surge of cryptocurrencies and initial coin offerings (ICOs) around the world, Tek & Law is again able to showcase its expertise in diagnosing government regulations and policies and provide invaluable advice to its clients.

South Korea 2018 was prepared for and originally printed in Foreign Affairs magazine.

PDF of the printed report

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