The Korean Bar Association formally announced on June 18 that Ropes & Gray partner William Yongkyun Kim has been registered as the very first foreign legal consultant in Korea, a historic milestone that sets the stage for the first-ever establishment of a foreign law firm in Korea.
“I am honored to have been selected as the first lawyer from any country outside of Korea to receive permission to work in Korea,” said Mr. Kim. “This is a historic moment for Korea, for the legal industry, for Ropes & Gray, and for me.”
Ropes & Gray has more than 1,000 lawyers and 10 offices around the world. In Seoul, Ropes & Gray will focus on practices of particular importance to Korean companies: corporate transactions, intellectual property, complex business litigation and arbitration, and U.S. government regulatory issues. The firm will only practice U.S. law, as dictated by Korea’s regulations governing international law firms.
U.S. law firms were permitted to apply to open offices in Korea after enactment of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement earlier this year. Under Korea’s Foreign Legal Consultants Act, attorneys who will head up international law firm offices must first receive Korean Ministry of Justice approval and then receive approval from the Korean Bar Association and be registered as a foreign legal consultant. Both the approval from the Korean Ministry of Justice and the approval from the Korean Bar Association are required for foreign lawyers to work in Korea. The registered foreign legal consultants can then apply for a license on behalf of their firms. Mr. Kim received the Ministry of Justice’s preliminary approval on May 7 and the formal approval on June 11. Immediately after the Korean Bar Association’s formal announcement of Mr. Kim’s registration on June 18, he filed the necessary documents for Ropes & Gray with the Korean Ministry of Justice. Ropes & Gray’s application will now undergo a preliminary review and then a formal review from the Ministry of Justice.
“My being the first lawyer registered and recognized by the Korean Bar Association to work in Korea demonstrates Ropes & Gray’s serious commitment to Korea and to Korean companies,” said Mr. Kim. “Taking the necessary steps to set up the Korean office as quickly as possible reflects the decisive way in which we will move heaven and earth to serve our clients and advocate on their behalf.”
Mr. Kim, 56, is uniquely positioned to establish an international law office in Seoul. Born in South Korea, he moved to the United States 45 years ago as a child in elementary school and was raised and educated in the United States. During his legal career of more than 28 years, he has worked for premier U.S. corporate law firms representing Korean, U.S. and European companies, and for the U.S. federal government as a litigator. He has also worked in Korea from 1993 to 1997, serving as general counsel and managing director of the second-largest Korean conglomerate at the time, the Daewoo Group of Companies, at its Office of International Legal Affairs.
At Ropes & Gray, he leads the firm’s Korea practice, which consists of more than 30 lawyers.
“We have a deep commitment to Korean companies, as illustrated by our quick, decisive action in applying to open an office in Seoul as soon as it was possible to do so,” said Mr. Kim.
“We pride ourselves at Ropes & Gray on the high level of service we offer to clients, and we believe our office in Korea will bring many immediate benefits to Korean companies. Korean clients can work with highly trained and experienced U.S. lawyers from our law firm without having to leave Korea, in real time, and in Korean or English. As our lawyers in Korea will have a deep understanding of Korean culture, customs and ways of doing business in Korea, our clients will be able to receive more effective legal service, cost-efficiency and convenience.”
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