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Seoul searching: Stephenson Harwood hires DLA Piper’s South Korea head Michael Kim

With five of its nine overseas offices in South and East Asia, it is perhaps unsurprising that Stephenson Harwood has become the latest UK firm to make plans to open in the burgeoning Seoul market, with the hire of DLA Piper’s local office head and litigation partner Michael Kim.

Kim brings with him a developed reputation in South Korea and experience in shipping, ship finance, shipbuilding and offshore and general commercial litigation and arbitration matters.

However, the top 35 UK firm today (7 February) announced that it has yet to apply for a license to set up in Seoul and Kim will be based in London initially, in the anticipation of relocating to its latest Asian outpost when permission is granted.

Key mutual clients of both the firm and Kim include the Export-Import Bank of Korea, STX Corporation, Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering and Hyundai Merchant Marine.

Stephenson Harwood’s head of the marine and international trade practice Mike Phillips said: ‘There are significant synergies between Michael’s work and that of the marine and international trade and finance practices of Stephenson Harwood both in London and in Asia. We both work for most of the biggest names in Korean shipping, ship building, finance and trade sectors and Michael’s arrival here will take the firm’s leading reputation to the next level.’

Stephenson Harwood already has offices in Beijing, Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Singapore, as well as a number of associations in the region.

Seoul’s GDP is $1.13trn and since the liberalisation of the legal market in 2012 it has drawn the likes of Baker & McKenzie and Cleary, Gotlieb, Steen & Hamilton, which in 2013 acted for local private equity house MBK Partners on its €1.24bn acquisition of ING Life Korea.

Stephenson Harwood chief executive officer Sharon White added: ‘As the world’s twelfth largest economy and one of the largest in Asia, Korea is a key market for Stephenson Harwood. Michael’s appointment further strengthens our Korea practice and provides us with the opportunity to apply for a licence for an office in Korea, and in doing so, extends our Asia network.’