Anglo-Australian law firm Herbert Smith Freehills has reregistered its Korea practice as Australian in anticipation of Brexit disqualifying UK firms from the EU-South Korea free trade agreement.

The firm, which is the product of a merger between the UK’s firm Herbert Smith and Australia’s firm Freehills, will operate under the Australia-South Korea FTA instead.

After temporarily closing its Seoul office ahead of its re-registration, a spokesperson confirmed the firm received its new license today and is fully open for legal services.

"We are delighted for our lawyers and clients in Seoul that we are now back to business as usual," Asia managing partner Justin D'Agostino said in a statement.

"Our team is particularly grateful to the South Korean Ministry of Justice and the Korean Bar Association for their quick consideration of our application, and to the British and Australian embassies for their support since this issue first arose." 

HSF, which opened its Seoul office, in 2013 is one of the largest foreign law firms in Korea, with eight lawyers and two partners working in Seoul. The other UK-headquartered firms operating in the market are Clifford Chance, Linklaters, Allen & Overy and Stephenson Harwood.

The EU-South Korea FTA, which allows firms to establish representative offices in the market, was signed in 2011. But after Brexit, this may no longer apply to British firms, who may be forced to wait for a UK-South Korea FTA.

Although it was originally slated for March, Brexit is set to be delayed three months, after the UK parliament overwhelming voted to request an extension rather than leave the EU without a plan.

Other UK firms are currently staying quiet on their plans. 

A Linklaters partner in the firm’s Korea office said he was unable to comment, meanwhile in a statement provided to Asian Legal Business, Clifford Chance said the firm continues “to monitor developments carefully” in the lead up to Brexit. The firm remains “committed to continuing to support our Korean clients”, the statement said.

 

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