The KORUS FTA on Foreign Law Firms and Attorneys in South Korea—a Contemporary Analysis on Expansion into East Asia

John, Jeanne | January 1, 2012

South Korea has historically restricted foreign entry into its domestic legal services market, but has finally opened up its market to the practicing attorneys of any country with which it has a free trade agreement. U.S. firms and attorneys have been applying to open offices in Korea since March 2012, when the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement went into effect. The global legal community has been forecasting the moves into Korea as well as the broader effect foreign entry will have on the Korean domestic legal services market. Many point to Germany as the gloomy example of a country whose certain legal markets were dominated by foreign presence. Few recall Japan, where foreign and domestic firms adapt to and complement each other’s market strength, even though Korea has specifically modeled its own liberalization after Japan’s market opening over the last fifteen years. This Comment provides an analysis of the buzz surrounding Korea’s legal services market liberalization, specifically addressing perceptions both for and against it. By focusing on (1) the legal education system, (2) the history leading up to foreign entry and the period of time following foreign entry, as well as (3) the current state of the legal services market in Germany, Japan, and Korea, this Comment concludes with five lessons that suggest that Korea’s legal services market will remain relatively unchanged.