With EU-Korea FTA taking effect from 1 July 2011, the legal market has been opened in three stages and it will be fully opened by 2017.
Legal Services sector in South Korea
With EU-Korea FTA taking effect from 1 July 2011, the legal market has been opened in three
stages and it will be fully opened by 2017. There are three UK law firms which are under
registration process or acquired a license to set up an office here.
South Korea is the fourth largest economy in Asia and 12th in the world. It has a population of
50 million and a GDP growth of 4.5 per cent in 2011. It is one of the G-20 major economies and
a member of OECD. Korea is UK’s 6th largest export market in Asia. UK exports more goods
and services to Korea than any EU country bar Germany. There are already 200 Korean
companies with a presence in the UK, and 15 listed on the London Stock Exchange.
There are about 12,000 lawyers and 7,000 of them are based in Seoul. Over 600 law firms
(including one man offices) in South Korea and top 10 have about 2,000 lawyers. The number of
lawyers is expected to double in the next six to seven years as the Korean Government liberalises
However, about 44 percent of 1,000 trainee lawyers last year remained unemployed when they
completed a two-year mandatory training programme. These figures show that the domestic legal
services market has little room to embrace newcomers. Adding to woes of these unemployed,
there will be more than two thousand law school graduate who will enter the market, mostly as
lawyers, from next year.
Experts and lawyers said Korean firms lack expertise in large international deals, in particular to
compete against European giants, who have decades of legal service history. According to the
leading local newspaper’s survey, the top 10 Korean law firms admitted they were weak in
energy deals, mergers and acquisitions and corporate finance cases. And yet, the fields are some
of the most lucrative in the fast-growing markets, they noted. The Korean firms said they are
more confident in domestic litigation, real estate development, fair trade law, labour issues and
information and technology cases.
Korea’s legal service market is worth about US$ 2-3 billion. Last year alone, Korean companies
and government paid 1.27 trillion won (approx. US$ 1.1 billion) to foreign law firms for their
services up 11.6% from previous year, while Korean law firms earned only 705 billion won
(US$689 million) from foreign clients. This will be the case further after EU-Korea FTA. In a
means to survival, some Korean law firms are seeking to establish partnerships with European
law firms. Among the 10 law firms, five said they are willing to jointly handle cases with
European firms and share profits. Such a trend is stronger for smaller law firms.
About 13 UK and US law firms are under process of setting up an office here or completed their
registration. From UK, Clifford Chance and DLA Pipers are among those names.
The European Union and Korea signed the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) on 6 October resulting
in the removal of 97 per cent of all tariffs cutting €1.6bn of duties annually for EU exporters
from July 1, 2011.
The legal services element of the FTA identifies a three stage process for opening up the Korean
legal system. The stages are time based and will be implemented after ratification:
ξ First Stage: Solicitors and other EU law firms will have the right to establish a branch
office to offer advice in foreign and international law. Foreign lawyers are permitted to
use their home country titles in their home country language. By using their home
country titles domestic and foreign clients can be confident that they are receiving advice
from an attorney legally registered in a specific jurisdiction.
ξ Second stage: This will begin no later than two years after the agreement enters into
force and permits a foreign law firm to fee share with a Korean law firm, either on a
project by project basis or on an ongoing basis.
ξ Third stage: This will begin no later than five years after the agreement enters into force,
will permit Korean and foreign lawyers to go into partnership together and allow foreign
law firms to employ Korean lawyers.
Latest export opportunities in the Financial & Professional Services sector
Latest export opportunities in South Korea
Getting into the market
To enter into the market, you should register yourself as a foreign legal consultant with the
Ministry of Justice. Then you should also with the Korea Bar Association. The requirements to
become foreign legal consultants:
ξ Overseas legal qualification
ξ Not less than 3 years experience in their “home country of license”
ξ ”home country of license” must be contracting party of FTAS or other trade treaties
signed by Korea.
ξ Postal address in Korea.
More about doing business in South Korea
Market intelligence is critical when doing business overseas, and UKTI can provide bespoke
market research and support during overseas visits though our chargeable Overseas Market
Introduction Service (OMIS).
To commission research or for general advice about the market, get in touch with our specialists
in country - or contact your local international trade team.
ξ Jiwon Hahn, British Embassy Seoul. Tel: +82 (0)2 3210 5603 or email:
Contact your local international trade team
UKTI runs a range of events for exporters, including seminars in the UK, trade missions to
overseas markets and support for attendance at overseas trade shows.
Latest events in the Financial & Professional Services sector
Latest events in South Korea
None at present.
More about OMIS and other UKTI services for exporters