Chicago-based McDermott Will & Emery is to close its Seoul office, as the South Korean government plans to cancel the firm’s license to operate a foreign legal consultant office in the city. Seoul was McDermott’s only representative office in Asia.
The firm confirmed it is the second foreign firm to withdraw from South Korea. Recently, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett re-located its Korea practice to Hong Kong last November. The first report came from he Korean news site, Lawtimes.co.kr, reporting that the ministry of justice will cancel the US firm’s license in the coming weeks. McDermott has removed its Seoul office from its website. In a statement, the firms said “While we have closed our Seoul office, McDermott Will & Emery will continue delivering superior service to our South Korean, and Asia based clients, from our more than 20 other global offices.” McDermott’s former Seoul office representative, corporate partner Paul Kim, is now based in New York. McDermott’s former Korea practice group head, corporate partner In-Young Lee, left in 2016 after two decades with the firm and joined leading Korean firm Lee & Ko in 2017. The two partners has relocated from New York to set up the Seoul office in 2012. The Korea report speculates that there was insufficient business for the firm, with some analysts saying that foreign investment in domestic corporations has decreased and sustainability of foreign law firms has “shrunk considerably.”
The closure is the second I recent months, following on from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, which also opened in 2012. The New York-based firm closed its Seoul office in November of last year and relocated its Korea practice to Hong Kong. Currently, there are 29 foreign law firms that have entered Korea since March of this year, comprising by country 23 US, 4 UK, 1 Australian and 1 Chinese law firms. However, two other US firms recently entered Korea. Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer opened an office in Seoul in February with White & Case’s former Seoul office head and litigation partner James Lee. The firm has since expanded the office with two more partners coming in from White & Case’s Seoul office. Shearman & Sterling relocated projects finance partner Anna Chung from Singapore to launch an office last year.