24 Sep 2018

Simpson Thacher first global firm to shut up shop in Seoul

Firm cites strategic reasons for withdrawing from South Korean capital, decision not because promise of open market was revoked.


Simpson Thacher & Bartlett will close its Seoul office by the end of the year, after six years of operation. The US firm is the first of the 28 foreign firms there to do so since South Korea opened up its legal market in 2012.

Hong Kong base

The firm already relocated its Korea practice back to Hong Kong earlier this year. Youngjin Sohn, a corporate partner and head of Simpson Thacher’s Seoul office, will leave the firm. Mr Sohn had relocated from New York to open the office six years ago, and is the only lawyer remaining in the Seoul office after the departures of corporate associates last year.
Simpson Thacher was among the first US firms to launch a physical presences in Seoul after the ratification of the US-Korea free trade agreement. The office focused on capital markets, cross-border mergers and acquisitions, and private equity investments.

Promise revoked

The firms says the Seoul office is closing for strategic reasons but firm will continue serving clients active in Korea from the Hong Kong office, which has five Korean-speaking lawyers. The departures still leaves 27 foreign firms, 21 of which are American, the most recent big law entrant being Latham & Watkins which opened its Seoul office in 2016. That same year, the legislature passed a revision to the Foreign Legal Consultant Act, revoking the promise of fully opening up the market and only allowed restrictive joint ventures between established local practices and foreign firms. To date, none of the 28 foreign firms established such joint ventures. Mr Sohn said the change law did not affect Simpson Thacher’s decision to close its Seoul office.

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