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President Moon's new administration has gradually restored confidence to the South Korean economy and gradually reduced geopolitical tensions with China and their northern neighbours. The results of which is that domestic and foreign investors and businesses have greater confidence to proceed with large-scale deals in South Korea.

The financial space saw a growth in refinancing deals, largely due to private equity funds being able to increase the value of their portfolio companies, which in turn allows them to increase the debt exposure through refinancing. In the aviation industry, there has been an uptake in the commercial financing and particularly leasing of aircraft through secured finance. Although South Korean banks have a dominant hold on the market, there is increasing pressure by the Chinese financial institutions which are aggressively seeking to expand their presence.



Yulchon is a full-service international law firm headquartered in Seoul, Korea. It employs over 360 professionals, including more than 60 licensed in jurisdictions outside of Korea. The firm’s perspective is international and its reach is global. It has represented clients from six continents and has helped companies expand around the globe. Yulchon strives to provide the most innovative solutions to the complex legal challenges confronting its clients.

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South Korean investors are continuing to look for outbound opportunities which generate higher yield; notably in renewable energy and solar power in Australia and Chile. A rapid growth in the construction sector has also brought on a steady volume of commercial arbitration, with contractors now being much more involved with overseas construction and project-related disputes. Lawyers also report an increasing number of investor-state filings and demand for representation in disputes by outbound domestic and inbound foreign investors.

President Moon has directed government policy on greater wealth distribution, enhanced protection of workers’ rights and sought to address issues surrounding the work-life balance, resulting in amendments to labour and employment legislation. A key change was the implementation of a maximum 52-hour working week for companies with 300 or more employees from 1 July 2018, along with wage increases. Executive departments have also been granted significant powers of enforcement, to conduct investigations, audits of compliance and with greater resources and legislative power. Meanwhile, the appointment of a new liberal-leaning chief justice is expected to impact the outcome of pending cases before the Supreme Court.

These reforms have been largely welcomed by the public but have also brought on a flood of work for lawyers with labour, regulatory and compliance, and criminal practices, as large businesses, keen to avoid costly investigations and disputes, increasingly taking extra precautions to ensure compliance with the new regulations.

Elsewhere, pharmaceutical patent disputes continue to dominate the IP sector, largely due to the patent-approval linkage system implemented in March 2015. South Korea has also concentrated its efforts to promote itself to international parties as an attractive ‘hub’ to resolve patent disputes. The Korean Patent Act was amended to allow for enhanced discovery procedures to prove patent infringements and damages. In addition, to attract foreign parties, the patent courts and the Korean Intellectual Property Office have taken great strides to conduct hearings in English. Also of note, The National Assembly passed an amendment to the Court Organisation Act, creating the International Tribunal of the Patent Court, effective from June 2018.

In other news, Shearman & Sterling LLP confirmed it will open an office in Seoul later this year, the first new US entrant to the market since Latham & Watkins LLP launched its outpost in 2016. Meanwhile, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP moved its Korea practice to Hong Kong earlier this year and has announced it will close its six-year-old office in the South Korean capital by the close of 2018.

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Dinner with GC -
Korea 2018

  • China and Hong Kong GC Powerlist

    In May, The Legal 500 and GC Magazine added another country to the list of destinations for their exclusive Dinner with GC series, as South Korea’s elite in-house counsel came together at Mugunghwa in Seoul, for a closed-door discussion on the realities of the role.

    Dinner with GC - Korea 2018

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Legal Developments in South Korea

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  • Greater Reforms for Promoting Work-Life Balance – Changes to the Gender Equal Employment....

    Greater Reforms for Promoting Work-Life Balance – Changes to the Gender Equal Employment and Work-Life Balance Support Act
  • Lee & Ko successfully represents Big Hit Entertainment against unauthorized use of BTS’ photos

    Lee & Ko, on behalf of Big Hit Entertainment (“Big Hit”), obtained the first-ever decision in Korea to recognize the entertainment companies’ right to independently request for injunction against those who free-ride on the customer attractiveness that is based off of popularity and fame of the artists managed by the companies. This landmark decision is expected to serve as an important pedestal in protecting the legitimate interest of entertainment companies (domestic as well as international) that manage famous artists and entertainers and remain vulnerable to unfair competition of free-riders.
  • First- Ever Decision by the Supreme Court of Korea ...

    First- Ever Decision by the Supreme Court of Korea to Find Copyright Infringement in the Selection, Arrangement or Combination of Game Elements
  • Key International Tax Law Amendments in the Draft 2019 Tax Revision Bill

    On July 25, 2019, the Ministry of Economy and Finance publicly released the 2019 draft Tax Revision Bill (the “Draft Bill”). The Draft Bill is expected to be sent to the National Assembly on September 3, 2019 for deliberation and adoption.
  • Russian Court’s Judgment Recognized for Enforcement in Korea

    Recently, based on the premise that requirements for “mutual guarantee” or “reciprocity” in relation to the recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments can be allowed between Russia and Korea, a District Court of Korea rendered its decision which allowed a judgment concluded by a Russian court to be enforceable in Korea (see Changwon District Court, Decision 2018Gahap51099 held on January 17, 2019).
  • Korean National Assembly Passes “Blind Hiring” Bill to Reform Hiring Culture

    Recently, the National Assembly of Korea passed legislative amendments to the Fair Recruitment Procedure Act (“FRPA ”) as part of the reform efforts to address the country’s recruitment culture. The latest amendment – dubbed the “blind hiring” bill – expands the FRPA to prohibit any type of recruitment irregularities (e.g., improper solicitation, coercion, pressure) and, more importantly, bars employers from asking jobseekers to provide any information unrelated to the position and the applicant’s merit. The amended FRPA will go into effect starting July 17, 2019.
  • Korean Financial Supervisory Service Mandating Disclosure of Transaction Documents When Filing Repor

    Korean Financial Supervisory Service Mandating Disclosure of Transaction Documents When Filing Report on Material Facts
  • Successful Challenges to Korean Health Insurance Regulator’s 13-Year Old System...

    Successful Challenges to Korean Health Insurance Regulator’s 13-Year Old System of Automatic Reduction of Original Drug Price
  • Korean Supreme Court Confirms Licensee’s Standing to Challenge Patent Validity

    On February 21, 2019, the Supreme Court of Korea issued an en banc decision overruling its prior precedents on the issue of whether a licensee who is continuing to make royalty payments under an existing license agreement nevertheless has standing to challenge the validity of the licensed patent. In short, the Korean Supreme Court held that absent special circumstance, a patent licensee is an “interested party” eligible for challenging the validity of a licensed patent, despite the lack of any threat or potential threat posed by the patent holder against the licensee’s right to use the patented invention. (Supreme Court En Banc Decision No. 2017Hu2819).
  • Amendments to the KFTC Merger Review Guidelines

    The Korea Fair Trade Commission (the “KFTC ”) recently amended its Guidelines for Merger Review (the ”Guidelines ”), which took effect from February 27, 2019. The Guidelines now provide for particular issues relating to “innovation markets” and “big data” that will be considered during the KFTC’s review of mergers within R&D-intensive (i.e. innovative) industries.

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