6 ASIAN LEGAL BUSINESS – APRIL 2024 WWW.LEGALBUSINESSONLINE.COM BRI EFS Government lawyers and in-house counsel are stereotypically known for having an easier life than private practice lawyers, with greater perks and better work-life balance. But lately, the South Korean legal market has witnessed a rise in “moving private,” a trend that has seen judges, government lawyers and corporate counsel left for private practice. In February, Yoon & Yang landed Jae Woo Jeon as a construction, engineering and public procurement partner from Daewoo Engineering & Construction, and poached Samsung Electronics’ head of legal Sam Park as an employment partner. Around the same time, Shin & Kim has been on a hiring spree from the judiciary, adding former Supreme Court of Korea judges Dong-kyu Kim and Huntae Doh to its partner bench. Earlier, the Korean Big Six firm also hired Jong-In Yoon, the former chairman of Korea’s Personal Information Protection Commission, as a senior advisor to spearhead its AI-related practice group. In markets such as the United States, “moving private” is not something new, as lawyers working in the government often consider leaving for lucrative private-sector opportunities. The litigious culture and strict regulatory oversight of the U.S. also perpetuate Big Law’s appetite for insiders from government agencies to help corporate clients navigate operational and regulatory hurdles in sectors they operate. Now, the same demand for regulatory expertise is being witnessed in South Korea, propelled by an intensified focus on corporate investigations and regulatory oversight from government authorities, according to Hee Woong Yoon, co-managing partner at Yulchon. Yulchon is another one of the Korean law firms that have been hiring aggressively in recent months, raiding big corporations and the judiciary to bolster its partner ranks, especially in disputes. In February, Yulchon tapped Sang Mook Kang, a former senior prosecutor with the Busan District Prosecutor’s Office, as a criminal investigations partner. Kang’s addition followed the arrival of two other former prosecutors, Wook Jin Rah and Woo Young Choe, both of whom left the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office to join Yulchon’s criminal bench in December last year. “The current administration’s focus on increasing regulatory efforts and corporate investigations has led to law firms hiring more individuals capable of handling regulatory, compliance, and risk management matter. Hence, it has led to a rising demand for individuals from the public sectors such as judiciary, prosecution, and police,” Yoon explains. Most recently, Yulchon has responded to the rise in IP disputes by hiring JongCheol Lee, an executive vice president and former chief legal and compliance officer at Samsung Electronics, as a partner. In August last year, the firm also poached Chae Jooyup, general counsel and vice president at biotechnology company SK Biopharmaceuticals, to lead its medtech and bio team in Seoul as a disputes partner. Yoon explains that the hiring of Chae and Lee demonstrated the necessity for law firms to facilitate the development and management of relationships with corporate clients. “It is increasingly recognised that fulfilling client needs requires more than just legal advice; therefore, there is a keen interest in recruiting candidates who can leverage diverse experiences, expertise, and personal networks to serve as true business partners for clients,” says Yoon. As the barriers between private practice, corporate legal departments and the public sector became more porous, Yoon admits that with easier movements come greater competition amongst law firms for seasoned government lawyers and business-savvy in-house counsel. Proficiency in foreign languages, especially English, is also a highly coveted qualification as Korean law firms set their sights on international expansion. “The competition for exceptional resources is intense, particularly highlighted by recent recruitment of Wook Jin Rha, a senior prosecutor with fluent English capability and extensive international experience,” says Yoon, while emphasising Rha’s international exposure from his upbringing in Hong Kong and London. “Recent hires like Jooyup Chae and JongCheol Lee, who came from esteemed Korean corporations namely SK Biopharmaceuticals and Samsung Electronics respectively, possess the requisite skills to adeptly navigate international matters, thereby enhancing our firm’s global capabilities,” Yoon adds. He says that last year, Yulchon outstripped all the other Big Six firms in growth rate and achieved the secondhighest revenue per partner. And the Seoul-headquartered firm has showed no sign of stopping in its expansionary track. “We aim to further enhance our ability to deliver excellence and support our clients both domestically and internationally,” says Yoon. REGULATORY HURDLES DRIVE KOREAN FIRMS TO HIRE MORE JUDGES, IN-HOUSE LAWYERS Image: wichayada suwanachun/