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Latham & Watkins looks at South Korea launch amid Asia strategy review

Having tackled New York and London, Latham & Watkins has tasked a group of partners to review its Asia strategy ahead of a push in the region.

The eight-person Initiatives Committee, chaired by New York corporate partner Edward Sonnenschein, is examining the firm’s offering in Asia and the potential to open an office in Seoul, South Korea.

Following liberalisation of the South Korea legal market, Seoul has seen an influx of law firms in recent years with Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy launching in the city earlier this 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.

The firm currently has 30 partners spread across five Asia offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo. Having built up a strong practice in Singapore advising Indonesian clients, the firm is also reviewing whether it needs a local presence to maintain its relevance in the market.

Since opening its Singapore office in 1998, the firm has advised on more than 190 deals involving Indonesian clients, if it does create a presence in the country it would see Latham become one of just a handful of global law firms to open in Indonesia, with Ashurst, Baker & McKenzie and White & Case among the few to have associations with local firms. Latham’s growing Indonesian client base resulted in the creation of an Indonesian liaison team with Bahasa Indonesia-speaking lawyers in Singapore almost a decade ago.

With international law firms having largely failed to conquer a protectionist Chinese legal market, the committee has also been tasked with reviewing the firm’s position in the world’s second largest economy. The firm has just one Beijing partner in the form of capital markets specialist Allen Wang and two partners in Shanghai, corporate lawyers Rowland Cheng and Karen Yan. Developing a new strategy for China is at the heart of the committee’s review, and the team will analyse whether to focus investment in Beijing or Shanghai and how much resource the firm needs in Hong Kong to service Chinese corporates.

Tokyo, where the firm has four partners including the influential Joseph Bevash, is also being reviewed as a growth market amid a boom in the volume of transactions the firm is handling in the Japanese capital.

Bill Voge, chair of Latham & Watkins, told Legal Business that the firm is ‘taking a deep hard look at Asia’ and that the committee has ‘got some of our top, deepest thinkers in the firm’.

For more on Latham’s global strategy see: The firm most likely – can anything halt Latham’s global rise?