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Future global legal hotspots: South Korea

Posted by: Laurence Simons 27/08/15

The Ministry of Justice has produced a revised draft of proposed laws which will open up South Korea’s legal market to European and American law firms, beginning July 2016 and March 2017, respectively. The disparity in dates is accounted to the fact that South Korea signed a free trade agreement with the EY in July 2011, eight months before it did the same with the US.

So what does this mean for the legal market? The Foreign Legal Consultant Act allows quite a broad range of interactive activities; not only will foreign firms be able to go into joint ventures with local practices, but they will also be permitted to hire regionally-based lawyers and practice some elements of local law. The new regulations will also permit “fly-in fly-out” work practices, enabling foreign lawyers to stay in South Korea temporarily for the mediation of international cases. This, naturally, is a huge draw for many law firms looking to expand internationally, especially into new markets. It is likely that there will be huge competition from the biggest organisations across the globe to root offices into the country and start practicing locally.

This marks the third of South Korea’s three-stage approach of liberalising its legal market. The first allowed foreign firms to set up in the country, but only as representative offices which provided only consultations services on international law. The second stage then raised barriers with fees, and allowed them to be split with local firms. Although the third stage will be the final one, it is important to be aware that it will not remove all restrictions – for example, foreign firms may not own more than a 49% stake in joint ventures – in order to protect the domestic market from being overrun by its international competitors.

So it looks as though a boom in legal activity is on the horizon for South Korea – an exciting prospect for lawyers looking to work internationally.