Posted on June 29, 2011 at 6:06 PM
US-based law firm, Paul Hastings, is planning an expansion to South Korea, citing the increase in M&A and capital markets activity that we have seen in the past few years.
However, this expansion (their destination is Seoul) has not been so easy to pursue. Due to the current restriction on foreign law firms in South Korea, Paul Hastings must wait to expand into the ever-growing South Korean market.
"As soon as it happens it will be a bit like Tokyo, where we were among the first in - as soon as we're able to be in Seoul we'll be there," said the Chair of Paul Hastings' London office, Ronan O'Sullivan, to thelawyer.com.
They do face a small problem of being the first one's in Seoul; in February of this year, the EU and South Korea signed an agreement that allows European Union law firms to establish branches of their firm in the country. Beginning in July, these firms will be able to advise clients on international and foreign issues.
There was a US and South Korea agreement signed in 2007, but neither country has yet to ratify it. This allows the EU-based firms to have a sort of "first-mover" advantage, however, with an agreement between South Korea and the United States looming, US law firms are becoming ready to make the move into Seoul. DLA Piper is also planning on launching an office in South Korea within 5 years of a US-South Korea deal.
If the analysis is correct, and an agreement is signed by the United States and South Korea soon, then I expect to see firms gradually move into Seoul, especially if the M&A market and capital markets continue to expand. If there is not a deal done soon however, the European-based law firms will be able to gain a head start on the US firms waiting for an agreement. With a delay on the US-South Korea deal, and EU-firms are quick to move over to Seoul, the American firms that are awaiting the deal could lose out on lucrative potential clients. For Paul Hastings and other US-based law firms, hopefully an agreement is reached soon.
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