The England & Wales Law Society Gazette notes that there’s a draft bill which will be going before the Korean National Assembly later this year which will enable foreign law firms to open up offices in Korea. This has long been lobbied for (London lawyers have been trying to open up opportunities in Korea at least since 2000, according to another item in the Gazette) and was one of Korea’s commitments in the WTO Doha round of talks. Whether the collapse of Doha will result in the National Assembly’s shelving the proposals to open up the legal market a little bit is open to speculation.
The Bill on foreign legal consultants would allow foreign lawyers to set up branch offices in South Korea and advise clients on the law of their home jurisdictions, public international law, and international arbitrations.
That sounds reasonable, until you read what firms are NOT allowed to do:
they would be prohibited from advising on domestic civil or criminal litigation or process, forming coalitions or joint ventures with Korean law firms, or co-operating with or hiring Korean lawyers.
So there’s no reason for the local lawyers to be worried about any competition.
Obviously, foreign firms wouldn’t want to send trainees out to their Seoul office, but nevertheless, the bill requires at least 3 years post-qualification experience. But here’s the weird thing. The foreign lawyers
must fulfil a 180-day residency requirement.
What are these highly paid lawyers supposed to do for 6 months in Seoul before they are allowed to start work? This provision must have been included at the KNTO’s request to boost the tourist industry. Maybe the government should issue passports to foreign lawyers and only allow them to practice once they’ve received stamps from every major Korean tourist attraction. And if they really want to deter foreign lawyers, make the Boryeong mud festival a compulsory visit.
Thanks to Louise for spotting the Gazette item.