Firm Profile > Lee & Ko > Seoul , South Korea
Lee & Ko Offices
63 NAMDAEMUN-RO, JUNG-GU
Lee & Ko > The Legal 500 Rankings
Lee & Ko's antitrust and competition department comprises former officials of the Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) and ex-judges of Korean courts, including the Supreme Court. Matters pertaining to cartels, abuse of dominance, merger control, unfair trade practices and antitrust litigation all fall within the remit of the group. Blue-chip clients from a wide range of industry sectors (including semiconductors, automotive, pharmaceuticals, shipping and financial services) regularly instruct the firm. The practice was marked by a recent uptick in investigation work, especially in cases seeing Korean conglomerate 'chaebol' businesses accused of unfair trade practices. Team head Hwan Jeong has a wide-ranging practice. Also highly recommended are managing partner Yong Seok Ahn and Suruyn Kim. Min-Ho Lee departed for Kim & Chang.
Lee & Ko's practice encompasses the full gamut of banking and finance work including project finance, acquisition finance, structured finance, securitisation, trade finance and derivatives transactions. The firm has both major Korean banks and multinational financial institutions on its enviable client list. Woo Young Jung, who leads the practice, has a strong historical record of handling matters related to ship financing, securitization and banking regulation. Yeo Kyoon Yoon and Myoung Chul Kwak are some other key practitioners. Yoon was involved in some of the firm's most recent and significant acquisition financing highlights while Kwak is noted for his expertise in leveraged finance transactions.
Lee & Ko's M&A practice has been a pillar of the firm's work since the firm's inception in 1977. Hyun Tae Kim, Sang Gon Kim and Hyeong Gun Lee jointly lead the team, whose outstanding deal execution capabilities make it a strong choice for Korean and cross-border transactions. Its extensive experience spans a multitude of industries, such as construction, financial services, healthcare and pharmaceuticals, energy, logistics and technology, among various others. In 2018, Sang Gon Kim, Ho Joon Moon, Ki Wook Kang and Seung Hwan Lee were among the advisers to The Carlyle Group on the sale of ADT Caps to to SK Telecom and Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets. In another highlight, Sang Gon Kim, Jang Hyuk Yeo, Sung Min Kim and others acted for LG Electronics and LG Corporation on their acquisition of ZKW Holding GmbH (an Austria-based automotive lighting and headlight systems provider) for $1.25bn. Yong Joon Yoon, Edward Kim and Kyungchun Kim are also notable individuals. Chee Kwan Kim joined from Clifford Chance.
Lee & Ko's depth of manpower underpins its ability to assist clients with large, high-profile and high-stakes litigation, with it housing practitioners active in 40 different practice groups. In addition to being adept in domestic matters, a sizeable portion its team's workload has a cross-border dimension, notably in areas such as white-collar crime, shipping and insurance. A group led by Pyoung Keun Song and Jongsoo (Jay) Yoon recently represented the Korea Communications Commission (KCC) in court proceedings issued by Facebook Ireland Ltd; the case arose from the KCC's imposition of fines because Facebook changed a connection path, which slowed down the speed of users attempting to access Facebook through SK Broadband and LG Uplus. In 2018, the firm acted for Korean Air Lines Co., Ltd in a lawsuit filed by retired pilots seeking a judgment that no debt was due for loans provided by the airline to finance participation in flight training courses. Won Seok Ko heads up the team, which includes administrative litigation head Seon Tae Kim and Chan Ik Jang, who leads on construction and real estate litigation. Seong Won Chang, Yang Suk Han, Jeong Kyoo Han and Sang Yong Ra each have over 20 years of experience serving as judges. Jae Heon Park is another key figure.
Insurance: local firms Tier 1
Lee & Ko's broad practice includes advising on regulations and transactions, as well as representing clients on contentious issues. Jin Hong Kwon is one of three practice heads and has extensive experience in advising on regulatory compliance. Fellow practice head John JungKyum Kim is particularly skilled in advising international clients and works on advisory, transactional and contentious issues. Also leading the team Jae Hwan Kim, who focuses on corporate and commercial insurance matters. Other important members of the team include Jin-Young Jung, who specialises in maritime insurance; Chongsu Seo, who is well known for acting on behalf of insurers in claims issues; and Sae Um Kim, who advises on regulations and insurance claims.
Un Ho Kim leads the IP department at Lee & Ko, which comprises IP trial lawyers and patent attorneys who possess expertise across a broad range of sectors including pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, telecommunications and software. Besides patent and trade mark prosecution, the group also acts for clients in cases pertaining to trade secrets and unfair competition and copyright enforcement. The firm's dedication to further developing its offering was evinced by the 18 new clients who recently instructed it on IP matters, including Korean media giant BigHit Entertainment. Choong Jin Oh and Hui Jin Yang are both highly recommended. Also of note is Young Mo Kwon, whose practice in this area spans over 30 years.
International arbitration Tier 1
Lee & Ko has a growing and varied portfolio of complex arbitration cases, with Sean (Sungwoo) Lim and Robert Wachter jointly leading the team, which acts as the lead counsel in the majority of its matters. David Kim has been instrumental in increasing the volume of construction arbitration work undertaken by the firm, and generates mandates from large construction companies such as Hyundai Rotem and GS Engineering & Construction. Elsewhere, the firm is active in matters with a nexus to shipping, life sciences, sport and energy and natural resources, among other sectors. In one highlight, the team is acting for the CEO of Kyobo Life Insurance in a $2bn shareholder dispute. On the investor-state side, Lim, Wachter, Kim, Sanghoon Han and others are acting as co-counsel to the Korean government in an arbitration brought by Mason Capital LP and Mason Management LLC over the client's alleged intervention in the merger between Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries. The team is also acting as co-counsel to the Korean government in a similar matter brought by Elliott Associates. Sunyoung Kim is another name to note.
Lee & Ko's practice advises investors, insurers, contractors, government agencies and banks in regards to project and energy matters. The firm undertakes domestic and cross border work in power projects and in relation to conventional and renewable energy matters. Dong Eun Kim, co heading the team, represented Shinhan BNP Parisbas Asset Management and Korea Investment & Securities in restructuring financing for Uikeongbu Light Rail. Tom Shin , also a co head, has been active on financing for renewable energy projects, including wind and solar. Hun Ko has acted for financial institutions and construction companies in relation to project finance for renewable energy, PPI projects and real estate work. Hyunsu Kim, experienced in infrastructure projects, real estate development and project finance, is recommended.
Real estate: local firms Tier 1
Besides regularly handling high-value commercial property transactions, Lee & Ko has also developed a strong reputation for contentious real estate work including disputes arising from the construction sector; Chang Ik Chang is the name to note on this front. Reconstruction and redevelopment mandates and Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) related work are some other core areas of operation. Jin Wook Yang is recommended for his real estate development expertise. Yang is joined by Junghwan Lee and Dong Seok Woo, whose practices encompass both domestic and overseas projects, in leading the offering. Also notable is Jee In Kim, who specialises in matters involving overseas real estate investment by Korean institutional investors.
Praised as ‘one of the top firms in Korea for government investigations’, the team at Lee & Ko also handles regulatory and compliance matters in the competition, financial regulation, tax, employment, environment and automobile sectors, among others. With the support of an in-house digital forensics team, the department is split between white-collar crime, compliance and internal investigation practices which are headed by Chang-Hee Suh and Kyunghoon Lee. A standout name to note is Tae Yop Lee who is a market leader for corporate crime liability, foreign exchange and trade-related breaches. He recently formed a team representing Hanjin Group and Koren Air in charges which included criminal breach of fiduciary duty, self-dealing transactions and embezzlement.
Shipping: local firms Tier 1
At Lee & Ko, Jin Young Jung heads up a specialist team which focuses on shipping disputes. Contentious work spans areas such as marine casualty, ship arrests, marine cargo claims, shipping insolvency and marine insurance claims. In 2018, Jin Young Jung and Lee Sang-hyeop defended Meritz Fire & Marine Insurance Co against a lawsuit brought by Korea Development Bank (as pledgee of the insurance claim) in relation to the sinking of vehicle-passenger ferry MV Sewol. Yang Ho Yoon is also recommended for maritime disputes. Yun Jeong Suh, who leads the shipping finance practice, acts for a mix of domestic and international financial institutions, and shipping companies. Elsewhere, the firm has a strong track record advising on shipping regulation, and ship sales and purchases, among other matters.
TMT: local firms Tier 1
TMT is a core area of practice for Lee & Ko, where the team continue to be involved in the regulatory side; advising on the establishment of legislation and regulatory guidelines aimed at promoting data economy, artificial intelligence, and big data. The practice also has notable expertise across a range of IT, telecom, media, fintech, data privacy and litigation. Department head Soon-Yub Samuel Kwon advises on various corporate, investment and commercial transaction, while Kwang Bae Park has a particular focus on issues arising in the telecom services, media, Internal portal services, open-market platforms, and online advertising. Hwan Kyoung Ko, Ju Bong Jang and Hyunjun Kim are also of note.
Capital markets: local firms Tier 2
Lee & Ko is active in the debt capital markets, equity capital markets, derivatives, private equity and investment funds arenas. Areas of expertise include subordinated bonds, hybrid bonds, securitization, domestic and cross-border IPOs, disputes and regulatory matters. The firm has particular expertise in the fintech and bio-tech sectors and advises banks, insurance companies, securities companies, asset management companies, credit-specialized financial companies, financial holding companies, major corporates and public enterprises. Wonsik Choo is recommended for his experience in equity issuances, IPOs, listing, de-listing, M&A financing and compliance. Hyunjoo Oh is adept at handling securities, structured capital market products, derivatives, capital markets licensing, compliance issues, foreign exchange regulations and disputes.
Lee & Ko advises clients on layoff strategy, collective bargaining negotiations, performance improvement schemes and covers the full spectrum of labour and employment disputes. Sang-Hoon Lee and Chang-Soo Jin jointly spearhead the practice group and recently welcomed consultant Yong Hee Lee from the Ministry of Employment and Labour to the practice. Senior associate William Kim has developed an expertise in advising foreign clients on employment contracts, changes to work rules, sexual harassment investigations, employment discrimination, general compliance matters, employee discipline and terminations, amongs others. He is a key contact alongside Jae-Hoon Choi and Yong Moon Kim .
Tax: local firms Tier 2
Jay Shim and Myung Sub Kim jointly lead the tax practice group at Lee & Ko. The offering spans bespoke corporate tax advisory, assistance with tax audits, tax planning (both inbound and outbound) and customs law cases. On the contentious side, the team handles both administrative tax disputes and tax litigation. A number of recent arrivals further strengthened the bench, which now accommodates 4 former research judges from the tax division of the supreme court; especially of note is ex-chief research judge Sung Hwan Kim, who joined in March 2019. Also recommended are Byeong Jun Son and Sung Hyun Ryu, both of whom possess significant litigious tax expertise.
Lee & Ko > Firm Profile
- Premier full-service law firm in Korea
- Founded in 1977, and comprising more than 700 professionals, organized into 7 practice groups with 40 specialty teams
- One-stop service for all legal needs, based on efficient collaboration among highly specialized team
- Emphasis on responsiveness & practical solutions
- 7 major practice groups: (i) corporate and M&A, (ii) banking, finance and securities, (iii) litigation (both civil and criminal) & alternative dispute resolution (iv) tax & customs, (v) antitrust & competition, (vi) labour & employment and (vii) intellectual property
- 40 specialised teams : Within the firm’s seven major practice groups there are approximately 40 highly specialised teams of legal professionals including the following: anti-corruption & FCPA; antitrust & competition; aviation; banking; bankruptcy, insolvency & corporate restructuring; capital markets & securities; class actions & consumer claims; construction; consumer goods & services; corporate and M&A; corporate governance; derivatives; dispute resolution; energy; entertainment; environment; finance (acquisition finance, asset finance, project finance, structured finance); foreign direct investment; healthcare; industry & manufacturing; infrastructure; insurance; intellectual property; internal investigations; international practice (Chinese, European, Japanese practice); international trade; investment funds; labour & employment; maritime & shipping; overseas investment; private equity & venture capital; privatisation; product liability; real estate; regulatory compliance; tax & customs (tax consulting, audits, dispute resolution, transfer pricing); technology, media & telecommunications; and white-collar crime.
- Recognition & Awards
- “Best Firm in South Korea” – Euromoney (2018)
- “Korea Deal Firm of the Year” – Thomson Reuters (2018)
- “Korea Finance Firm of the Year” – The Asian Lawyer (2018)
- “Korea TMT Firm of the Year” – The Asian Lawyer (2019)
- “Labour and Employment Law Firm of the Year” – Thomson Reuters (2018)
- “Competition Lawyer of the Year” – The Asian Lawyer, Asia Legal Awards (2017)
- “Behavioural Matter of the Year (Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa)” – Global Competition Review (2017)
- “Transfer Pricing firm of the Year” – Euromoney ITR Asia Tax Awards (2016)
- “Korea Patent Firm of the Year” – Asia IP Awards (2018)
- “Korea Trademark Contentious Firm of the Year Award 2019” – MIP (2019)
- Tier 1 in all or a majority of practice areas by Asia Pacific Legal 500, IFLR 1000, Asialaw Profiles and Chambers Asia
Staff FiguresNumber of fee-earners : 700+
LanguagesKorean English Japanese French German Chinese Spanish Russian Vietnamese
KFTC Enhances the Predictability and Clarity of Decisions but Potentially Increase the Overall Administrative Fine Levels
Facing continued criticisms that the existing rules allowed overly broad discretion to the Korea Fair Trade Commission (the “KFTC”) in setting the amount of administrative fine, the KFTC amended the Notification on Detailed Standards for Imposition of Administrative Fine (the “Notification”). The amendments (the “Amendments”) were passed by the KFTC’s full Committee of Commissioners on December 21, 2016, and came into effect on December 30, 2016.
Greater Reforms for Promoting Work-Life Balance – Changes to the Gender Equal Employment and Work-Life Balance Support Act
Starting 1 October 2019, employees would benefit from significant changes to the Gender Equal Employment and Work-Life Balance Support Act (“GEEA”), particularly concerning paternity leave and workhours reduction for childcare and family care. These changes are also expected to have material implications for employers with regard to general compliance obligations and require employers to review their practices in engaging employees and other workforce flexibility measures to adapt to the legislative changes. We have summarized the notable changes as follows.
First- Ever Decision by the Supreme Court of Korea to Find Copyright Infringement in the Selection, Arrangement or Combination of Game Elements
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
In light of the recent amendment to the internal policies of the Financial Supervisory Service of Korea (FSS), companies that file a “Report on Material Facts” on or after April 29, 2019, will also be required, as a matter of principle, to disclose the underlying transaction documents in full.
Successful Challenges to Korean Health Insurance Regulator’s 13-Year Old System of Automatic Reduction of Original Drug Price
The Seoul Administrative Court and the Seoul High Court issued orders suspending the automatic reduction of the price of the original drug “A” upon generic entry claiming patent non-infringement and the automatic reduction of the price of the original drug “B” upon generic entry claiming patent invalidity, respectively. The automatic price reduction of the original drug B has been continuously suspended since the Administrative Commission’s suspension order issued in April 2018.
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).
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.
Korea strengthens protection against IP infringement and unfair competition (Amendment of the Patent
Korea strengthens protection against IP infringement and unfair competition (Amendment of the Patent Act and the Unfair Competition Prevention Act)
On December 7, 2018 the Korea National Assembly approved a bill to amend the Patent Act and the Unfair Competition Prevention and Trade Secret Protection Act (“UCPA”). Highlights of the proposed amendments include stronger penalties for patent infringements and further relaxation of the burden of proof for patent holders. The amendments are to be effective on July 9, 2019.
Korean TR, Finally and Officially Coming Soon
Korea is finally adopting a trade repository (“TR”), which is an infrastructure that collects and stores data related to over-the-counter (“OTC”) derivatives transactions. The Financial Services Commission (“FSC”) has decided to implement the TR system by making amendments to the Regulations on Financial Investment Business (which is aligned with Article 166-2(2) of the FSCMA), instead of making amendments to the Financial Investment Services and Capital Markets Act (“FSCMA”) or its Enforcement Decree, and has approved the amendment as of January 31, 2019. As a result, the TR is expected to be activated in July, 2020 as scheduled. Korea is introducing the TR system in order to improve transparency and systematic risk management in its OTC derivatives market as part of its effort to adhere to the G20 accord.
Key Changes to Korean Labor Standards Act in 2019
In 2018, Korea experienced major reforms to the employment laws including, but not limited to, the Labor Standards Act. For example, many employers scrambled – many are still struggling – to adjust their work hour structures to comply with the new 52-hour work hour limit. In 2019, legislative reforms and amendments proposed in 2018 have taken effect. For your information, we have highlighted two major changes in the employment law landscape for 2019.
Direction of Financial Regulatory Environment of Korea in 2019: Legislation Supporting Financial Inn
Direction of Financial Regulatory Environment of Korea in 2019: Legislation Supporting Financial Innovation and Reform of Supervisory System
For 2019, it is expected that the financial regulatory/legislative environment will see further developments along two key tracks, with one track consisting of the enactment of special laws favoring new business initiatives aimed at promoting innovation in the financial business sector, and the other track consisting of legislative activity aimed at reforming and improving the existing financial supervisory system to promote greater efficiency and integration. The following specific examples of legislation are representative of the overall direction planned for the financial regulatory environment in the year ahead.
Korean Financial Regulators Advance Legislation to Introduce Regulatory Sandbox to Spark FinTech
The 2018 year in review in Korea was notable for the sluggish overall economy, uncertainty surrounding the geo-politics and impact on Korea due to the global trade wars, on-going concerns related to the lack of jobs and unemployment, increased taxes and burdens for businesses and families, and no meaningful improvement or clarity in the current situation for 2019. In response, the Korean National Assembly passed a legislation called the Financial Innovation Support Act (the “FinISA”) on December 7, 2018 to spark the financial services industry in conjunction with FinTech products and services. The FinISA, which will soon take effect in March 2019, is intended to lay the legal foundation to introduce a regulatory sandbox for innovative financial services, where FinTech firms test their new products and services without certain regulatory oversight pursuant to exemptions for a limited period of time (“Sandbox”). As the FinISA exempts or defers application of existing finance-related regulations for new financial technology, products or services with the purpose of fostering the creation of innovative and new financial products and services, it will also support the stabilization of such services in the financial services market at the end of the testing period and is expected that the FinISA will support a revitalization of the FinTech industry which experienced sluggish growth in recent times. In particular, as companies and investors become more interested in security tokens and Security Token Offerings (“STO”) which are regulated by the Financial Investment Services and Capital Markets Act (the “FSCMA”), there have been on-going discussions and debates as to whether the FinISA could lead to a breakthrough in the crypto-asset industry based on blockchain technology. Crypto assets encompasses those assets which utilize blockchain technology where the asset is digitalized by utilization of cryptography, peer-to-peer networks and a public ledger of verified transactions resulting in a ‘units’ of such a crypto asset without any involvement by middle-persons or brokers (e.g., cryptocurrency.
Flying Under the Radar: Companies Must Increase Awareness of the Potentially Dormant and Disruptive Changes to the Minimum Wage in Korea
Korea has experienced unprecedented yearly increases to the statutory minimum wage since 2017 in addition to changes in the applicable legislation. While companies are aware of the more patent impacts of the recent major changes to the Labor Standards Act and have initiated proactive measures to ensure legal compliance, companies often overlook the impacts of the significant changes to the statutory minimum wages and associated legislation until it is too late. And as an employer may face criminal sanctions (i.e., imprisonment up to 2 years or criminal fine not exceeding KRW 20 million) for unpaid wages, companies must be aware of the changing legislation related to the statutory minimum wage and – as with changes to the Labor Standards Act – take proactive measures to ensure continued legal compliance.
New Legislation: Amendment to the Enforcement Decree of the Act on External Audit of Stock CompaniesNew Legislation: Amendment to the Enforcement Decree of the Act on External Audit of Stock Companies
The amendment to the Act on External Audit of Stock Companies (the “Act”) and the enforcement decree thereof (the “Enforcement Decree”), whose key feature pertains to the external audit and disclosure requirements for limited liability companies, became effective as of November 1, 2018. Certain provisions relating to the category of targets of external audits will become effective with respect to the fiscal years that commence on or after November 1, 2019. Therefore, for the majority of companies whose fiscal years begin on January 1 and ends on December 31 of each year, the revised category will become effective with respect to the fiscal year that begins on January 1, 2020.
On July 30, 2018, the Korean Ministry of Economy and Finance (“MOEF”) announced the proposed tax law changes/amendments for 2019 and beyond (“Proposals”). The Proposals are expected to be reviewed and finalized by the Korean National Assembly in December 2018.
Some key Proposals that should be of great interest to private equity funds and other investors relate to the Korean taxation of a foreign collective investment vehicle, referred to as an Overseas Investment Vehicle (“OIV”) in the Korean tax law. An OIV is broadly defined as an overseas vehicle that raises funds through an investment offering, manages investment assets, derives value from the acquisition and disposition of such assets, and distributes such derived value to its investors. Consequently, partnerships, limited liability companies and other types of collective investment vehicles (e.g., trusts) would likely be included in the definition of OIV.
The key provisions of the Proposals in relation to an OIV that will impact tax planning for foreign funds are summarized below.
Korea’s competition authority, the Korea Fair Trade Commission (the “KFTC, has announced a proposal to expand its existing enforcement authority to the courts and prosecutors through a full-scale reform of the Monopoly Regulation and Fair Trade Act, Korea’s primary competition statute. If all proposed reforms are passed by the National Assembly as currently drafted, the impact on the Korean economy and antitrust enforcement will require companies doing business in Korea to tighten their risk management and compliance measures, as the scope and penalties of Korean antitrust enforcement would be broadened.
South Korea: Employment & Labour Law
Published: August 2019
Authors: Sang-Hoon Lee Jae-Hoon Choi William Kim
This country-specific Q&A provides an overview to Employment & Labour Law laws and regulations that may occur in South Korea.
South Korea: Insurance & Reinsurance
Published: August 2019
Authors: John JungKyum Kim Jin Hong Kwon Hyo Min Cho Yeon Ho Chang
This country-specific Q&A provides an overview to Insurance & Reinsurance laws and regulations that may occur in South Korea.
South Korea: Technology
Published: August 2019
Authors: Soon-Yub Samuel KWON Hyunjun KIM Kunho BAE
This country-specific Q&A provides an overview to Technology laws and regulations that may occur in South Korea.
South Korea: Patent Litigation
Published: December 2019
Authors: Hui Jin Yang Tae Hyung Kim Hayoun Chun Esther Inhae Chung
This country-specific Q&A provides an overview to Patent Litigation laws and regulations that may occur in South Korea.
South Korea: Fintech
Published: November 2019
Authors: Jongsoo Yoon Hyunkoo Kang
This country-specific Q&A provides an overview to Fintech laws and regulations that may occur in South Korea.
South Korea: Private Equity
Published: January 2020
Authors: Daehoon Koo Kyuseok Park
This country-specific Q&A provides an overview to Private Equity laws and regulations that may occur in South Korea.
Top Tier Firm Rankings
- Antitrust and competition: local firms
- Banking and finance: local firms
- Capital markets: local firms
- Corporate and M&A: local firms
- Dispute resolution: local firms
- Insurance: local firms
- Intellectual property: local firms
- International arbitration
- Labour and employment: local firms
- Projects and energy: local firms
- Real estate: local firms
- Regulatory: compliance and investigations: local firms
- Shipping: local firms
- Tax: local firms
- TMT: local firms