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Latham prepares sixth Asia office as it signs property lease for Seoul

Within a year of reviewing its Asia strategy, Latham & Watkins is set to join the mass of law firms in South Korea, as it prepares to launch its Seoul office. 

The firm has submitted its application for a foreign legal consultant office and also signed a lease in the One IFC tower in the financial district of Yeouido.

Latham first showed interest in the region in summer last year as part of a wider Asia strategy review. The firm’s eight-person Initiatives Committee, chaired by New York corporate partner Edward Sonnenschein, was tasked with examining the firm’s offering in Asia, as it looked at options to open a Seoul office.

At that time, Latham’s chair Bill Voge, told Legal Business that the firm was ‘taking a deep hard look at Asia’ and that the committee had ‘got some of [its] top, deepest thinkers in the firm’ looking at the region.

The Seoul office will be the firm’s sixth base in Asia adding to its offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo. In 2015, Latham had 30 partners spread across its five Asia offices.  

Voge said in a statement: ‘Seoul is a vibrant business and financial hub with strong and growing importance across the region and globally. We have more than two decades of experience working with a number of key South Korean market players and we are committed to supporting our South Korean clients.’

Following liberalisation of the South Korea legal market, Seoul has seen an influx of law firms in recent years with Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy and White & Case launching last year following the likes of Linklaters, Clifford Chance, DLA Piper and Herbert Smith Freehills in establishing a base in one of Asia’s fastest growing economies.

However Ashurst, which first signalled intentions to set up a base in South Korea back in 2011, said in January it had put its plans to launch in the country on ice.

From July 2016 for EU-based firms and in 2017 for US firms, liberalisation of the legal market will enter its final stage, allowing firms to invest in local outfits and hire Korean lawyers.