Stephenson Harwood will open its Seoul office in autumn this year after the Korean Ministry of Justice awarded the firm a licence to practice in the region.
Although a late entrant to launch in the burgeoning Seoul market, the firm’s interest in the region first emerged when it applied for a licence earlier this year in a bid to boost its marine, international trade and ship-finance work in Seoul.
The firm also hired DLA Piper’s local office head and litigation partner Michael Kim in February 2014 to oversee the management of the office following its opening. So far, Kim has been based in the firm’s London headquarters and will now relocate to the new branch in South Korea.
The launch comes as the firm looks to increase its footprint across the Korean shipping, ship building, finance and trade sectors. Kim has experience in shipping, ship finance, shipbuilding and offshore and general commercial litigation and arbitration matters. 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.
Since the liberalisation of the legal market in 2012, Seoul 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.
Kim said: ‘Korea is a key market for Stephenson Harwood and one where both the firm and I personally have many clients. Our new office will enable us to further strengthen our presence and provide closer contact to these clients.’
Stephenson Harwood chief executive officer Sharon White added: ‘We are very pleased to have received approval from the Korean Ministry of Justice. South Korea is a very important market for us and having Michael head our new office further bolsters our presence and capability in the region, bringing us closer to our clients and the local market. The new office will create further business opportunities for our existing offices and associations in Asia and for our wider international business.’
Stephenson Harwood already has offices in Beijing, Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Singapore, and a formal law alliance with Virtus Law in Singapore. The firm also has associations with U Tin Yu & Associates in Myanmar and Christian Teo Purwono & Partners in Indonesia.
The firm will officially open the Seoul office once it obtains the additional regulatory clearances required.