South Korean lawmakers last week ratified the free trade agreement first negotiated with the U.S. government more than four years ago. The accord, which is likely to take effect Jan. 1, allows American lawyers to enter a market where more than $119 billion has been raised from debt and equity sales this year, from $92 billion in 2005.
Cleary Gottlieb and Los Angeles-based Paul Hastings LLP, which has also declared its intention to open a Korean office, may beat their European rivals into Seoul. While the EU’s free trade accord with South Korea came into force on July 1, no foreign law firms have set up offices in South Korea, according to Lee Ki Young, of the Justice Ministry’s international legal affairs division.
European and U.K. firms are lacking in qualified lawyers to send to Asia’s fourth-largest economy because most Korean- speaking lawyers working for international firms are U.S.- trained, said Evan Jowers of Kinney Recruiting.