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Baker McKenzie’s Bold Step: A Decade After Office Launch, a Pioneering Joint Venture in Korea
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Expanding Horizons in the Korean Legal Market

In a significant move within the legal landscape, Baker McKenzie is poised to establish a groundbreaking joint venture with the Korean international dispute resolution law firm KL Partners. This historic development follows a decade since Baker McKenzie first planted its roots in Korea. The newly-formed entity, officially named the Baker McKenzie & KL Partners Joint Venture Law Firm, abbreviated as Baker McKenzie KLP JV, has secured official approval from Korea’s Ministry of Justice and is scheduled to launch later this month, bolstered by a formidable team of over 20 lawyers.

Expanding Legal Horizons


Through the Baker McKenzie KLP JV, clients will have access to a wide spectrum of legal expertise, spanning both international and Korean law. This coverage will encompass critical areas such as energy and infrastructure, cross-border arbitration and litigation, and corporate/M&A. The synergy created by this collaboration is expected to significantly elevate the firm’s client services, delivering an enhanced legal experience.

Pioneers in a Transforming Legal Landscape

Notably, this move makes Baker McKenzie the second foreign law firm to practice Korean law since Korea embarked on the journey of opening its legal market in 2011. This initiative is made possible under the Foreign Legal Consultant Act (FLCA). Foreign law firms within joint venture law firms (JVLFs) are subject to holding no more than 49% of shares and voting rights, while Korean attorneys employed by JVLFs are restricted from appearing in court.

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Ashurst Leads the Way

In the preceding year, Ashurst made history by becoming the first international law firm to enter a joint venture with Korea’s HwaHyun, in the wake of Korea allowing the establishment of joint venture law firms involving domestic and European, and subsequently, domestic and U.S. law firms in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

Strengthened Presence

Baker McKenzie initially established its presence in Seoul back in 2013, led by M&A partner Won Lee, who currently oversees the firm’s Korea practice. The firm further solidifies its presence with two partners based in Seoul—Jae-Hyon Ahn and Albert Joon Kyo Chung. Ahn specializes in the development and financing of international energy and infrastructure projects, while Chung focuses on cross-border M&A transactions, particularly those involving Korean companies’ investments in the energy and social infrastructure sectors.

KL Partners, Baker McKenzie’s Korean joint venture partner firm, was founded in 2015 by former partners from the prestigious Big Six Korean law firm, Shin & Kim. KL Partners, headquartered in Seoul, boasts a team of 21 lawyers who specialize in international dispute resolution and corporate M&A. Notably, before establishing KL Partners, Kim led Shin & Kim’s international dispute resolution practice group, while Yi co-chaired the firm’s corporate group.

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The joint venture will be co-led by Baker McKenzie partner Jae-Hyon Ahn and KL Partners managing partner Beomsu Kim. Won Lee, Baker McKenzie’s Korea practice head based in Hong Kong, will closely coordinate the joint venture and liaise with the firm’s Korea teams in other jurisdictions.

Game-Changing Collaboration

Milton Cheng, Baker’s global chair, expressed his optimism about the collaboration, stating, “In KL Partners, we have a leading full-service firm with a strong client base, complementary practice areas, and shared values. Providing a ‘one-stop shop’ approach in Korea, coupled with our deep presence in key markets important to Korean business, will be a game changer for us and our clients in a market that remains an economic powerhouse and one that is opening up further to international investment, including in our own sector.”

Korea’s Legal Evolution

Korea’s legal market underwent significant changes in 2011, allowing foreign law firms to establish foreign legal consultant (FLC) offices, albeit with limitations preventing them from practicing Korean law or hiring Korean lawyers. Following this development, several global law firms, including Clifford Chance, Ropes & Gray, Squire Patton Boggs, Herbert Smith Freehills, and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, established representative offices in Seoul.

However, a number of these foreign law firms, including Clifford Chance, Simpson Thacher, McDermott Will & Emery, and Squire, have since exited the Korean legal market. Herbert Smith, for instance, announced in February that it would shut down its Seoul office this year after a decade of operations. Shearman & Sterling has also initiated the winding down of its Seoul office in anticipation of a proposed merger with Allen & Overy.

Despite these exits, Korea, ranking as the 10th largest global economy, continues to witness significant legal activity. Notably, Watson Farley & Williams launched its Seoul office in February, featuring two partners from K&L Gates and Herbert Smith. The firm focuses on transactions and matters related to the maritime, aviation, and energy sectors.

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