Baker McKenzie launches Korean joint venture

Bakers to offer Korean law advice through partnership with 20-lawyer KL Partners

Baker McKenzie is set to significantly expand its offering in Korea after forming a joint venture with high-profile Korean corporate and disputes firm KL Partners. 

Known as Baker McKenzie & KL Partners Joint Venture Law Firm (Baker McKenzie KLP JV), the JV will officially launch later this month and will be Korea’s largest international law firm by partner bench strength according to Bakers. Its 20-plus lawyer team will offer clients international and Korean legal advice spanning areas including energy and infrastructure, cross-border arbitration and litigation, and corporate/M&A. 

Milton Cheng, Bakers’ global chair, said: “In KL Partners, we have a full-service firm with a strong client base, complementary practice areas and shared values. 

“Providing a ‘one-stop shop’ approach in Korea, coupled with our presence in key markets that are important to Korean business will be a game changer for us and our clients in a market that remains an economic powerhouse and one that is opening up further to international investment, including in our own sector.”

The JV will be jointly run by Seoul-based Bakers partner Jae-Hyon Ahn and KL Partners managing partner Beomsu Kim. The Hong Kong-based head of Bakers’ Korean practice, Won Lee, will also coordinate the JV along with the firm’s Korea teams located in other jurisdictions, Bakers said. 

Bakers described the JV as a combination of market-proven practices – particularly its own energy and infrastructure development and financing outbound practice – and KLP’s cross-border disputes and inbound corporate practices. 

It represents a significant expansion of Bakers’ on-the-ground offering in Seoul, where the firm currently has two partners according to its website: Ahn and Albert Joon Kyo Chung, both of whom focus on the energy and infrastructure sector. KL Partners houses six partners as part of a wider team of 21 lawyers. 

“Korea is an important market for so many of our multinational clients, and being able to expand our offering for our clients through this joint venture makes sense,” Lee said. 

“We will now have a much greater ability to support our Korean multinational clients with their legal needs in Korea as well as other jurisdictions, and hence provide local law capabilities in all key markets across Asia, positioning the firm as the first choice for legal support when expanding across the Asia Pacific region.”

KL Partners’ Kim added: “As we have worked to secure official approval for our joint venture and bring our two firms together, we have been impressed by the growth focused mindset that Baker McKenzie has brought to the process. With their global reach, practice expertise and world-class client base, we are excited about what the future holds for our joint venture and clients.”

News of Bakers’ JV follows Ashurst becoming the first international law firm to practise local law in South Korea after securing a joint venture with domestic firm HwaHyun late last year. 

And in February, UK firm Watson Farley & Williams added a partner apiece from K&L Gates and Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) to open in Seoul in a move it dubbed a ‘game-changer’ for its Asia Pacific projects practice. 

In the same month, however, it emerged that HSF was shuttering its Seoul office after 10 years and relocating partners to London and Hong Kong to launch a new Korea group. The firm said at the time that its Korea practice had grown significantly over the past decade, but given the international nature of the firm’s work it had decided clients’ interests would be “best served by a new approach”.

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