Recently, Korea has concluded free trade agreements with various Asian, European, and Latin American countries and the much-discussed Korea-United States free trade agreement (KORUS FTA) may be ratified in the near future. One of the provisions within these new free trade agreements allows law firms from that country to establish offices and client bases in Korea, bringing international competition to the heavily protected Korean legal market. This market liberalization may have certain important impacts for both domestic and foreign attorneys and consumers. For example, domestic corporate clients in Korea may benefit from more accessible international legal service, and foreign firms operating in Korea may benefit from legal service provided by attorneys familiar with their native legal system. Increased competition may also reduce the cost of legal service for the clients. Despite these benefits, there may be disadvantages as well. Over-globalization of legal professionals may adversely affect their ability as attorneys and advisors, and the possible domination of the market by American or British law firms may compromise its ability to offer balanced international legal service for clients who originate from non-common-law countries such as Germany and Russia. Due to Korea’s economic size, the impending KORUS FTA, and the increasing importance of international legal practice in facilitating smooth international economic transactions, legal market liberalization in Korea must be closely studied.
“The Legal Hermit Kingdom: The Korean Legal Industry and Its Opening,” is an excerpt from Part III of the 2009 SAIS U.S.-Korea Yearbook.
Jason Park is a first-year M.A. candidate at SAIS concentrating in Korea studies. He holds a B.A. in international studies from The Johns Hopkins University. His academic interests include U.S. policy towards East Asia, economic relations between Korea and the United States, Korean culture, and North Korean issues. After graduating from SAIS, Jason plans to attend law school.