Asia Business Law Journal reveals Korea’s best private practice lawyers. Wilda Fong reports

To be one of Korea’s top lawyers, you have to have “in-depth legal knowledge, a willingness to engage in legal environments outside general practice, and an ability to effectively and efficiently communicate legal information to our company,” according to Gary Rudgers, senior regulatory manager of JR Simplot, USA, when describing John Kim, a partner at Lee & Ko. “Mr Kim has not only gained Simplot’s loyalty, but has developed valuable, trusting relationships with agencies and individuals … through his warm personality, which I believe allows him to quickly gain trust and loyalty of those around him,” he adds.

Hyun Suk Kim, partner at Clifford Chance, “has helped [with] finance, arbitration, and M&A, [and] has been performing well, is smart and self-managing,” according to Min Sung Kim, general counsel of Hyundai Oilbank in Korea.

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Dongeun Kim, president of Studio Pilate Franchising, USA, says you need to be “proactive, kind and focused on our industry and really get to know our business, to be in nominated as one of Korea’s top 100 lawyers and when describing Sean Hayes, attorney, IPG Legal.

Comments such as these, submitted to Asia Business Law Journal by the clients of Korean lawyers/lawyers practising in Korea, suggest that they not only look for lawyers with an extensive knowledge of the law, but also those who are client-orientated, have a great understanding of business needs and are culturally sensitive, sincere and are highly trustworthy.

In addition, most international clients seek out Korean lawyers who have a deep understanding of commercial affairs and be able to resolve complex legal issues.

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Spotlighting the individual

Korea remains one of the fastest growing industrialized developed countries in the world, and its high technology boom and rapid economic development is thanks to its very motivated and educated workforce. Koreans place great value on establishing and nurturing business relationships and is an attractive place for foreign businesses. It is also a regional hub for many industries, most notably the textile and steel sectors, shipbuilding, automotive manufacturing and electronics (especially semiconductors, of which Korea is the world’s largest producer. The Korean legal system, based on Germany’s legal system and partly influenced by the American legal system, is not easy to understand especially for foreigners, which makes it imperative for both domestic and international businesses to seek legal assistance when navigating the regulatory environment.

The Korean legal market continues to be one where clients seek out good lawyers, rather than good law firms. Perhaps this is because of the respect and trust individual lawyers have built and nurtured in lawyer-client relationships, and more importantly, their reputation by name, which far outweighs their firm’s brand name or actual size, factors that are predominant in more developed jurisdictions.

It is against this backdrop that Asia Business Law Journal presents its A-list of the top 100 lawyers (including foreign legal consultants/advisers/counsel) practising in Korea (see the list of all 100 lawyers and the key practice areas for which they are endorsed).

The list is based on extensive research conducted and nominations received from in-house counsel based in Korea and elsewhere, as well as Korea-focused partners at international law firms based outside Korea. Nearly all of the A-list lawyers are located in the country’s capital, Seoul. This may reflect the premium on lawyers who are well placed to have their ear to the ground with regard to developments among the financial and sector-specific regulators, and within the corridors of power in government.

As would be expected, the heads of Korea’s top law firms are on the A-list. These include: Sung-Keuk Cho, managing partner of Cho & Lee; CJ Kim, managing partner of Choi & Kim; Seung-Moon Park, managing partner of Darae Law & IP Firm; Ju Myung Hwang, chairman of HMP Law; Beomsu Kim, managing partner of KL Partners; Sinseob Kang, managing partner of Shin & Kim; and Sai Ree Yun, managing partner of Yulchon.

A-list women lawyers

A-list lawyer Hyunju Helen Pak, a senior foreign attorney at Shin & Kim, received praise from Phil Geon Lee, head of legal at Korea Investment Corporation, who says: “[Helen] has expertise in fund work (private equity & real estate), corporate matters and investment issues … [she] is extremely thorough and trustworthy—she simply gets the job done.”

Not to be outshone by their male peers, a small portion of the A-list was filled by Korea’s leading women lawyers including: Sae Youn Kim, a partner Yulchon, who previously served as a judge at various Korean district courts including the Seoul District Court, the Daejeon District Court, and the Suwon District Court; Liz Kyo-Hwa Chung, head of corporate, external and legal affairs at Microsoft Korea (formerly at Kim & Chang until November 2018) who has extensive experience representing both Korean and multinational corporations in international arbitration disputes; Hyun Joo Oh, partner at Lee & Ko, whose expertise is in the areas of securities, derivatives, and capital markets; Young Kim, a senior partner at Kim & Chang, who practices in all aspects of IP law and serves on ICANN’s Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Committee of WIPO, the International Arbitration Forum (NAF), and Asian Domain Dispute Resolution Centre; and Yully Kang, partner at Jipyong whose main areas of practice include M&A, corporate & cross-border, and finance and securities.

Accolades aplenty

Simon Dokyung Lee, attorney of Pureum Law Office, has received praise from clients such as

Taekyoung Lee, manager of Korea Development Bank, who says: [Simon] has devoted years of providing legal assistance to foreigners living in Seoul. He specializes in criminal defence, immigration law, and family issues foreigners involved. He has saved many expats … with his service.”

Eun Young Sung, SCS specialist of the US Embassy in Seoul, says: “[Simon] is professional, willing to assist, and has a deep knowledge of both the Korean and US legal system.”

Similarly, Daniel Lee, country managing partner at DLA Piper in Korea, received admiration from his clients. Jaechan Kim, CIO of MDM in Korea, had this to say about the Korean A-list lawyer: “Daniel Lee is truly a trusted business advisor and provides steady guidance through all circumstances. He has exceptional understanding of the business context and is extremely experienced in dealing with corporate transactions.” Seung Yeob Ryou, CLO, senior vice president of Samsung Engineering, says, “[Daniel] is very much client friendly, a lawyer who is always listening to the voice and needs of the clients.”

Up and coming

Included in the A-list lawyers is also Korea’s young legal talent. Suakbuam Hong, senior associate at Yoon and Yang, is described by Edward Rimmington, managing director of Gogozing Migration in Australia as having “exceptional knowledge in the area of competition and consumer law.” Seje Lim, legal and compliance of LOTTE in Korea adds: “[Suakbuam] absolutely understands what clients need, and has comprehensive knowledge in competition and consumer law fields.”

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Esther Cho, executive director at Australia Korea Young Professionals Association in Australia, says “Suakbuam is an outstanding lawyer and a leading specialist in competition and consumer law at one of South Korea’s top law firms … He is currently playing a pivotal role in establishing market and business links between Australia and Korea as an extension to his completed [Masters] studies through networks such as the Australia Korea Young Professionals Association and Australia-Korea Business Council.”

Satisfied clients such as these are what make a lawyer or foreign legal consultant/counsel/adviser one of Korea’s top 100.

Compiling the A-List

The A-List is based on extensive research conducted by Asia Business Law Journal. To identify the top 100 lawyers in Korea, we turned to thousands of in-house counsel in Korea and around the world–as well as partners at international law firms–and asked them to tell us which lawyers should make the cut. Nominations were made by professionals at a wide range of Korean and global companies, financial institutions and law firms, including: Australia Korea Business Council; Busan Iron Cast; Daewoo; FedEx; Herbert Smith Freehills; Hyundai E&C; Hyundai Motor Company; KB Insurance; Korea Development Bank; Korea Expressway Corporation; Korea Investment Corporation; Korea National Oil Corporation; LG International; LOTTE; POSCO; Samsung; Shinhan bank; Tesla; Bank of Korea; University of Melbourne; US Embassy, Seoul; and many more. The nominations process was backed up by thorough editorial research.

The final list reflects the nominations received combined with the Asia Business Law Journal editorial team’s more than 30 years of collective experience in documenting and analyzing Korea’s legal market. All Korean private-practice lawyers were automatically eligible for inclusion in the nominations process and, as always, there were no fees or any other requirements for entry.

The names and photographs of all 100 A-list lawyers are published here. In addition, each A-list lawyer was given the opportunity to include their biography and contact details, for which a publishing fee was charged.

It is important to note that while the compilation of the A-list was based solely on independent editorial research, the biographies and contact details that appear alongside many of the listings have been written by the participating lawyers and the content has not been independently verified by Asia Business Law Journal.

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