Chambers Global South Korea International Capabilities

South Korea: International & Cross Border Capabilities

In the International & Cross Border Capabilities sections, Chambers highlights the law firms which are identified by clients as the best and most user-friendly to work with when matters involve international aspects, that require the lawyers to consider, manage and advise on issues which are going on across different countries and jurisdictions.

All the firms listed in the South Korea section offer strong abilities to serve clients who are seeking a legal team with significant resources in South Korea, but also the ability to excel in international work.

Frequently, the firm’s specified have been picked out by clients for their strengths in some or all of the below:

• coordinating advice on connected transactions, court procedures or regulatory issues in different countries as a lead counsel;
• providing global reach and giving clients access to top quality legal advice in all the markets they need help;
• providing seamless and integrated legal services to clients, which create a user-friendly experience across borders; and
• helping clients in international matters through specific knowledge or experience of sector or industry practices worldwide.

Global Trends in South Korea:

The Korean legal market is at a very exciting moment of globalisation. For many years the Korean government has promoted the outbound expansion of Korean companies and particularly outbound investment into South East Asia, especially Vietnam, continues to flourish.

Independent Korean firms:

Korean law firms are on track to becoming international players in the Asian market. The large Korean independent firms all benefit from close links to major Korean conglomerates, which are actively investing abroad into the US, Europe and Asia. Many of these firms have opened offices in China and Vietnam and some have also opted to build a presence in Myanmar, to respond to the trends of outbound and inbound investments.

Gaining experience in managing cross-border legal issues, some Korean firms increasingly take the role of a lead counsel, coordinating local firms in other jurisdictions, particularly in mid-sized outbound matters which originate in Korea or that see the firms representing large Korean corporations. The Korean firms also display a growing capacity to attract foreign clients directly, particularly from Asia.
However, inbound work remains the predominant focus of international strategy adopted by Korean firms, with many using their strength in local law governed matters to assist in international transactions alongside foreign and international firms. The independent practices also continue to nurture relationships with overseas and international firms with referrals from abroad also acting as a key source of cross-border work.

International firms:

The international firms that have done well in the South Korean market are typically those which have managed to develop close links with some of the major Korean conglomerates. Many of the international firms in Korea have also chosen to maintain relatively small teams in Seoul, which focus on a particular niche or core area of expertise and few operate on a full-service basis. The most common approach towards cross-border work amongst international firms in Korea has been for the Seoul office to team up and pool resources with other Asian offices, as well as London or US.

International firms originating from the UK have been especially successful in energy and infrastructure projects, leveraging their global platforms and wealth of experience across Asia.

There are also several firms in Korea that originate from large US practices and have focused on developing strong M&A and capital markets capabilities in Korea. Examples include Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, which has stood out for its strong grip on the local market. Others have grown practices in Korea by gaining a strong relationship of trust with particular clients, such as Paul Hastings, which frequently represents the Samsung Group.

All international firms typically rely on a network of Korean experts, either Korean-speaking foreign qualified lawyers, or Korean-qualified professionals based in their other offices, typically across the US, UK and Asia, with Hong Kong and Singapore frequently being seen as locations with close ties to the Korean market.