GCR 100 - 17th Edition

Korea

10 January 2017

Korea

Korea’s Fair Trade Commission has established itself as the top antitrust enforcer in Asia, and its considerable workload has kept the country’s small but talented competition bar busy with both domestic and international matters.

Elite

The competition group at KIM & CHANG remains the best practice in the country, with the talent and reputation to attract and win the most complex antitrust matters. Led by Who’s Who Legal: Competition nominee Kyung Taek Jung, the team boasts another five Who’s Who Legal nominees among its 36 partners. Unlike some of its rivals, the firm trains its lawyers to work on all varieties of competition cases, allowing them to seamlessly shift from one matter to the next when the work dictates the need. Plus, Jung and his team can call on talented groups in the firm’s litigation and criminal law departments when necessary.

At the top of Kim & Chang’s docket is its significant victory for Oracle, led by partner Gene-Oh Kim, which saw the KFTC in April drop its investigation of the company’s potentially anticompetitive software upgrading practices without filing charges. The firm is one of the few in the Korean market not to advise Qualcomm in one way or another, but that’s no surprise given that its core clients include Samsung, LG, and SK. Meanwhile, the firm’s international merger work continues to impress. It acted for AB InBev in its purchase of SABMiller; for Avago in its purchase of rival Broadcom; for Sanofi-Aventis in its joint venture partnership with Google Life Sciences; for Western Digital in its tie-up with Sandisk; and many others.

Otherwise, the firm says it typically counsels multiple clients in every major KFTC investigation. For example, it advised 12 of the 16 air cargo defendants, and more than a dozen foreign banks in the Forex probe. In the agency’s construction cartel investigation, Kim & Chang advised around half of the companies involved, including Hyundai Construction. Other domestic construction companies on the firm’s client list are Daewoo, Doosan, SK Engineering, POSCO and HHI.

LEE & KO continues to boast a capable and rising antitrust group, led by Yong Seok Ahn and including another 20 partners. The group’s antitrust remit is broad, as it navigates mergers, cartel investigation, dominance probes and follow-on damage claims. For the past year or so, a team of expert economists, led by former US enforcement official Richard Shin, has bolstered Ahn’s team as it helps to build the case for contentious deals and fend off cartel damage claims.

The firm’s workload over the past year included advising in the SK Telecom/CJ HelloVision deal, a deeply complex telecom merger that the Commission ultimately blocked. The SK Group turned to the firm for numerous other matters as well, including advising the company before the KFTC on charges that it gave unfair support to seven of its subsidiaries – one of the quirks of Korean competition law.

The firm is also advising JPMorgan and Deutsche Bank in separate financial investigations, and Standard Charter in yet another financial products investigation. It acted for the leniency applicant in the ramen cartel probe, and for SK Energy in a retail gas cartel investigation – both of which were dismissed in court. The firm also advises companies in the cardboard and construction cartel investigations, among several others, and remains part of Qualcomm’s outside antitrust team.

The team at SHIN & KIM has risen in our rankings due to its steady growth and an impressive workload that includes some of the most difficult antitrust matters in the country. Partner John H Choi says the firm is involved in around 90% of the country’s cartel cases, and it continues to act for companies embroiled in intellectual property and antitrust investigations before the KFTC. At the moment, 16 partners and another 40 lawyers dedicate their time to those matters. Choi says the growth is due to business-side lawyers shifting more of their time to antitrust matters, and a spate of new hires including poaching partner and former Seoul High Court chief justice Youngjin Ahn from Kim & Chang. The firm won GCR’s Regional Firm of the Year – Asia award in 2016.

The firm remains primary competition counsel to Qualcomm, as it has since the company first came under antitrust investigation in Korea in 2006. That experience has provided Shin & Kim considerable expertise in IP and antitrust issues, which it has put to use for other clients, Choi says: “We were there since the beginning.” In cartels, the firm is active in financial services, auto parts, and car carriers, as well as local matters including the ramen noodle case thrown out of court earlier this year. Clients include ANZ Bank, the China National Chemical Corporation, Statoil, HSN and others.

Shin & Kim was also played a role in the SK Telecom/CJ HelloVision deal that the KFTC blocked in July, finding that the tie-up would have given the combined company power in pay television markets across Korea and added to their strength in telecoms. Nonetheless, the firm’s work on the deal demonstrates its ability to take on the most difficult merger matters. Choi says the firm is also advising on several other contentious matters at the moment, including a suspected failure to file the required merger notification paperwork with the KFTC.

Antitrust master Hoil Yoon continues to lead a robust team at YOON & YANG, including one of the largest collection of former KFTC officials and judges in the country’s competition bar. This includes former KFTC secretary general Cholsoo Han, who joined the firm in April and now supports Yoon’s team as a senior adviser. Four other veterans of the enforcer work in expert adviser roles, including former case handlers Sang Hyo Moon and Do Ik Jung, and ex-KFTC vice-chairman In Ok Son.

Yoon says the firm remains deeply involved in all aspects of Korean antitrust work, including the litany of cartel matters before the KFTC and behavioural matters that fall squarely in the IP/antitrust law intersection. The firm remains a key part of Qualcomm’s legal team as the company continues to wrangle with the KFTC over abuse charges stemming from its IP licensing agreements. Intel, Apple and others have taken advice from Yoon & Yang on similar issues. In cartels, the firm acts in almost every major investigation, including financial services, auto parts, commercial vehicle shipping and other cases. Clients for such international probes include UBS, Bosch, Siemens, Cathay Pacific and MAN. In local matters, several SK subsidiaries turn to Yoon & Yang for guidance, as do Kepco, Kumho Petrochemical, Korean Air and many others.

Merger work continues apace. Yoon helped lead the team advising Microsoft in its tricky tie-up with Nokia that required navigating KFTC concerns about the power that patent transfers might give to Microsoft post-merger. The agency cleared the deal with conditions Microsoft suggested, earning the Yoon & Yang team part of GCR’s Merger Control Matter of the Year – Asia award in 2016. The team was also on for Lam Research, which called off its proposed semiconductor deal with rival KLA-Tencor after the KFTC, the US Department of Justice and other agencies saw the deal’s potential to harm competition. Still, the representation affirms Yoon’s willingness to take on the most difficult matters.

YULCHON remains one of the most talented competition groups in the country. It boasts 10 partners and 30 or so associates who dedicate their time to antitrust, while five former KFTC officials act as advisors. Partner Cecil Saehoon Chung says the firm is determined to expand their reach into new markets, such as the sharing economy and platform businesses, to build their client base before any competition law issues arise. The Yulchon group works closely with international firms, and delivers antitrust advice to major multinationals looking to weave Korean legal advice into their wider strategy.

The firm that boasts the highest success rate of any competition group in Korea (according to a recent report from Korean legal publication The Law Times) had a remarkably busy past year or so, particularly in merger work. It acted for GlaxoSmithKline in its deal with Novartis; Dell in its acquisition of EMC; Marriott in a global hotel purchase of Starwood; and Boehringer Ingelheim in a tie-up with Sanofi, among others. It also helped Samsung convince the KFTC to require commitments for the Microsoft/Nokia deal.

The firm also remains locked in most every major cartel investigation before the KFTC at the moment. It helped German parts maker Schaeffler secure a major reduction in a KFTC fine over its alleged participation in the auto parts cartel. Meanwhile, it acts for Daewoo, Hyundai and others in the wide-ranging construction cartel investigation. KB Bank turned to Yulchon to fend off allegations of a conspiracy in the market for certificates of deposit; those allegations fell when the KFTC closed its investigation. Qualcomm also remains a major client, as Yulchon is part of the company’s stable of outside counsel.

Yun Soo Kim and Seong Un Yun co-chair the sizeable competition group at Bae Kim & Lee after taking over from Keum Seok Oh earlier this year. With 16 partners and another 30 fee earners, the BAE KIM & LEE team is one of the largest in the bar, and its workload reflects its size and deep experience defending clients and working at the KFTC. Sang Hoon Shin is the practice’s foreign attorney; after several years at the Korean enforcer, he received his law degree in the US and was admitted to the New York bar. Meanwhile, Woo Sung Kim joined the firm last year as an expert adviser after a KFTC stint, and Jung Hun Kim was promoted to partner in January.

In merger work, the firm is advising both sides in Lotte Chemical’s acquisition of Samsung Fine Chemicals, handling merger filings in Korea, China, Turkey, Indonesia and the US. All of the reviewing jurisdictions cleared the deal save Indonesia, in which it remains under review. And in behavioural work, the firm advised Sharp in its damage action against 10 cathode ray tube makers before the Seoul Central District Court – a case that ended with a favourable settlement last year. Posco and Korea Telecom are also clients, as the firm helps to guide them through unfair corporate assistance proceedings at the KFTC. The rest of the Bae Kim & Lee docket is confidential, but it includes representations in some of the country’s most significant matters.

Firm

Head(s) of competition

Size

Who’s Who Legal nominees

Clients

Elite

Kim & Chang

Kyung Taek Jung

36 partners

Jay H Ahn

Kyung Taek Jung

Youngjin Jung

Sung Eyup Park

Luke Y Shin

Sung Joo Yoon

Oracle, Samsung, LG, SK, AB InBev, Avago, Sanofi-Aventis, Hyundai Construction, Daewoo, Doosan, SK Engineering

Lee & Ko

Yong Seok Ahn

21 partners

26 associates

Yong Seok Ahn

Hwang Jeong

JP Morgan, FedEx, Samsung, Hitachi LG, Ukor, BG Group, SK Telecom, SK Energy, Qualcomm

Shin & Kim

Young Chul Yim

16 partners

40 lawyers

John H Choi

Qualcomm, ANZ Bank, The China National Chemical Corp, Statoil, HSN, CJ HelloVision

Yoon & Yang

Hoil Yoon

14 partners

36 lawyers

Hoil Yoon

Qualcomm, Intel, Apple, UBS, Bosch, Siemens, Catay Pacific, MAN, Korean Air, Microsoft, Lam Research

Yulchon

Sai Ree Yun

10 partners

30 associates

Sai Ree Yun

Sung Bom Park

Seuk Joon Lee

Cecil Saehoon Chung

GlaxoSmithKline, Dell, Marriott, Boehringer Ingelheim, Samsung, Schaeffler, Daewoo, Hyundai, KB Bank

Highly recommended

Bae Kim & Lee

Yun Soo Kim

Seong Un Yun

16 partners

30 lawyers

Seong Un Yun

Lotte Chemical, Samsung Fine Chemicals, Sharp, Posco, Korea Telecom

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