Herbert Smith Freehills to shutter South Korea office

Anglo-Australian firm launches new Korea group as Seoul-based partners relocate to London and Hong Kong
Gangnam square,South Korea

By CJ Nattanai: South Korea

Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) is set to shutter its Seoul office after ten years and launch a new Korea group. 

The group will be led by current Seoul partners Mike McClure, who later this year will relocate to London, and Dana Kim, who will relocate to Hong Kong. 

HSF said its Korea practice had grown significantly over the past ten years, but given the international nature of the firm’s work it had decided clients’ interests would be now be ‘best served by a new approach.’

‘As a result, we have established a group with deep Korea expertise drawn from across the firm's network, and will wind down our physical presence in Seoul this year,’ the firm said. 

Alongside McClure and Kim, whose practices cover dispute resolution, international arbitration and corporate crime with a focus on the oil and gas, energy and infrastructure sectors, HSF’s Seoul office currently houses a counsel and a trio of associates as well as a team of support staff. 

The firm said that more than half of the office’s 14 people had been offered the chance to relocate to other offices in its network, while others would leave the firm. 

The Seoul-based team has worked alongside HSF’s Australia Korea practice, which advises Korean businesses on their investment and operations in Australia. Clients include KEPCO, Korea Investment Corporation and steel-making conglomerate POSCO Group, which it advised on a number of deals including the acquisition of a stake in ASX-listed Black Rock Mining in 2021. 

HSF emphasised that it would continue to provide advice to its Korean clients through the new model and said that ‘looked forward to maintaining strong local firm relationships’. 

The new group’s members will visit Seoul as required by clients and matters, HSF said, and will draw on the knowledge of lawyers across its network including global and Asia energy leaders Lewis McDonald in London and Hilary Lau in Hong Kong.

News of HSF shuttering its Seoul office comes just a few weeks after partner Phillip Kim left the firm to open an office in Seoul for Watson Farley & Williams focused on maritime, aviation, energy and disputes work. 

The top 40 UK firm, which described the move as a ‘game-changer’ for its Asia Pacific projects practice, also added partner Eugene Chang from K&L Gates for the launch. 

In December, meanwhile, Anglo-Australian rival Ashurst announced it was to become the first international law firm to practise local law in South Korea after securing a joint venture with domestic firm HwaHyun.

However HSF’s decision to give up an on-the-ground presence in South Korea echoes Clifford Chance closing its Seoul office in 2021 following a ‘detailed review’, nine years after becoming one of the first international law firms to set up shop in country. 

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