South Korea’s law firm Lee & Ko has emerged as the strongest contender to beat the country’s largest law firm Kim & Chang, according to a report that reviews law firms and lawyers in 185 countries last year by Chambers & Partners, the world’s largest law firm evaluation agency based on the U.K.
According to Chambers & Partners’ report, Lee & Ko moved to the band 1 group in 2015 from band 2 in 2014 in the white collar crime sector. Another local law firm Shin & Kim climbed to band 1 from band 2 over the same period in the competition / antitrust sector. Meanwhile, Kim & Chang earned band 1 destinations across all 18 sectors.
Chambers & Partners annually publishes a report evaluating global law firms and lawyers of 185 countries in 18 sectors, including corporate/M&A, competition/antitrust and white collar crime sectors, based on in-depth interviews with law firms and lawyers. This year’s report for the world’s law firms will be released in Mumbai, India, on Friday.
The Maeil Business Newspaper, South Korean major business daily, agreed with Chambers & Partners to exclusively report the U.K.-based agency’s annual review of the Korean law firm market starting this year.
According to Chambers & Partners, Lee & Ko earned band 1 destinations in 15 sectors and band 2 in two sectors. Lee & Ko gained attention with its team led by lawyer Park Yong-seok that helped Samsung Electronics employees under investigation for the allegation of interrupting price fixing probe get acquitted.
Kim & Chang earned the highest mark in the capital markets sector after it successfully represented underwriters for Cheil Industries’ $1.6 billion initial public offering (IPO) on the Korea Exchange, including Daewoo Securities, Citi, J.P. Morgan and Woori Investment & Securities. It also obtained band 1 status in the intellectual property sector after it successfully represented Apple in a series of high-profile patent lawsuits against Samsung Electronics, which were settled in August 2014.
Besides the white collar crime sector, Lee & Chang earned the highest score in the restructuring/insolvency sector for the case it represented creditors NH Bank, Woori Bank and Shindongah Engineering & Construction in filing bankruptcy proceedings on behalf of Dream REITs, worth of 1 trillion won.
Lee & Ko is the “renowned group that includes former bankruptcy judges and handles significant contentious and non-contentious restructuring matters,” the report said, adding the law firm is “a popular choice of counsel for matters involving shipping and construction, and well positioned to deal with cross-border restructurings.”
Shin & Kim earned band 1 destinations in seven sectors, band 2 in seven sectors and band 3 in three sectors.
The latest report indicated that the Korean legal market has grown rapidly, but the Korean legal market is facing a number challenges ahead amid intensifying competitions at home and regulations.
“Lawyers that were interviewed agreed that competition between firms has generally become more fierce,” said Nick Fogarty, a senior researcher at Chambers Asia Pacific. “Clients reported that, most of the time, negotiation on fees was possible, with even the top-ranking and long-established firms sometimes offering discounts.”
With pessimistic views on the growth and development of the Korean legal market in the near term, he advised to lift regulations on the local legal market. “Hopefully, the legal market will finally open up in the next decade and shake things up a bit."
By Chun Ji-sung, Kim Se-woong
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