Watson Farley & Williams opens in Seoul after hiring partners from two rival firms

Partners join from K&L Gates and Herbert Smith Freehills to lead office with focus on maritime, aviation, energy and disputes work

Top 40 UK law firm Watson Farley & Williams (WFW) has added a partner apiece from K&L Gates and Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) to open in Seoul in a move it has dubbed a ‘game-changer’ for its Asia Pacific projects practice.

Eugene Chang and Philip Kim have joined from K&L Gates and HSF respectively to open the office, which will focus on maritime, aviation, energy and disputes work. 

WFW said the new office, its fifth in Asia, would expand its offering across the region and also enable the firm to develop its existing South Korea-based relationships and establish a strong presence in the country. 

“Having an office in Seoul is crucial to maintaining and growing our Korean business and is key for boosting integration across our other offices in Asia,” said WFW senior partner George Paleokrassas. 

“With South Korea having one of the strongest economies in Asia and being one of the largest shipbuilding nations in the world, as well as a renewed focus on energy transition, there has never been a better time for WFW to open in Seoul.” 

Chang joined K&L Gates in Seoul in 2018 as partner from Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe. His practice focuses on cross-border energy and infrastructure project developments, structured and project finances, and M&A. 

Over the course of his career he has represented major Korean developers and sponsors including Korea Development Bank, KEPCO, POSCO, SK, Hanwha and Hyundai Heavy Industry in connection with their outbound energy projects. 

WFW said that Chang will split his time between the firm’s Seoul and New York offices.

“[WFW] has an excellent international reputation and I look forward to cementing existing relationships with clients that we already share and to undertaking new and exciting challenges with my colleagues to help the firm continue to grow and build on its existing successes,” Chang said. 

Meantime, Kim spent six years with HSF in Korea before joining WFW last November as a partner, initially in London ahead of relocating for the launch. He is an international arbitration practitioner with expertise in post M&A, technology and public international law disputes and has an established disputes and technology practice in Korea.

“Our new Seoul office represents a real game-changer for our Asia Pacific projects practice, giving us a presence on the ground in one of the region’s most dynamic and active markets in sector,” said WFW Asia projects and corporate group head, Linh Doan. 

Kim added: “I look forward to helping WFW build a substantial and sustainable international commercial arbitration practice. The firm’s practices in arbitration, insurance, energy and shipping complement my existing practice wonderfully given the high and consistent demand for legal services in these areas in South Korea.”

WFW’s Seoul debut follows UK rival Ashurst announcing last November that it had secured a joint venture with Korean firm HwaHyun, becoming in the process the first international law firm to practise local law in South Korea. 

That followed the co-head of Ashurst's Korea practice, Peter Kwon, moving over to UK law firm RPC in Hong Kong last January to lead its newly-formed Korea desk. 

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