South Korea’s first arbitration boutique has had two new instructions in investor-state disputes
|Pending cases as counsel||13|
|Value of pending counsel work||US$10 billion|
|Third-party funded cases||0|
|Current arbitrator appointments||1 (1 as chair or sole)|
|Lawyers sitting as arbitrator||1|
New to the GAR 100 last year, KL Partners launched in 2015 after three partners in the arbitration practice at full-service firm Shin & Kim – Beomsu Kim, John Kim and Eun Nyung Lee – decided they’d be better off on their own. All three are well-known figures in the Korean arbitration community with significant expertise in the field.
Beomsu Kim is a member of the ICC court and president of the Korean Council for International Arbitration. He is also a member of the management committee of the Seoul International Dispute Resolution Center and advisor to the KCAB international arbitration committee. He regularly serves as arbitrator under the auspices of the ICC, the LCIA, SIAC, the HKIAC and the KCAB.
John Kim, who once served as general counsel of AIG investments in Korea, is a member of the SIAC users council South Korea committee and is on the panel of arbitrators at the KCAB.
Eun Nyung Lee specialises in commercial arbitrations, aided by his experience in M&A, private equity, acquisition financing and real estate transactions. His knowledge of Korean financial and commercial law means that he is also playing a lead role in the firm’s investor state cases.
Who uses it?
The firm’s main users are sophisticated foreign and domestic clients with high-stakes claims and a keen understanding of international arbitration.
Based on the partners’ prior experience and background as leading corporate/M&A lawyers in Korea, the firm handles many post-M&A and corporate-related disputes.
It is also known for its ability to handle investor state disputes – it is advising on three investor-state disputes against Korea, including representing Lone Star Funds in the first-ever ICSID proceeding brought against the state (at the time of filing, the largest claim in the history of ICSID).
The firm has advised some well-known international names including H&M, Starbucks, Chevron and Universal Studios.
As co-counsel with Quinn Emanuel, KL Partners won their first award in a Hong Kong-seated ICC arbitration for one of Korea’s largest private equity firms, MBK Partners – a post-M&A dispute over the sale and purchase of ING Life Korea. On the back of that, they’ve now been instructed by another private equity firm, VIG Partners, facing a similar case.
Nearly four years on from its inception, the new firm has been impressively busy. KL Partners is representing private equity firm Lone Star in a US$4.7 billion ICSID claim against South Korea (Shin & Kim continues to co-counsel on that matter). Lone Star has gone on to retain the boutique in a Singapore-seated ICC case against a Korean financial group.
Its name in the investor-state arena has also led to some new instructions. US hedge fund Elliot Funds has asked the firm to represent it in a claim against South Korea, which is thought to be the largest claim to date under the Korea-US free trade agreement. The claim relates to Korea’s intervention with the US$8 billion merger of Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries. KP Partners is advising as co-counsel with Three Crowns and Kobre & Kim.
In another claim relating to the Samsung merger, again brought under the Korea-US free trade agreement, the firm is advising US private equity group Mason Capital Management as co-counsel with Lathan & Watkins.
Other work includes an UNCITRAL arbitration relating to a major Seoul real estate project, which the firm recently brought to settlement, and a Seoul-seated KCAB arbitration over a Korean restaurant chain in Vietnam.
Last year saw Young Suk Park join from Seoul-based private investment company Atinum Partners where he oversaw outside counsel with regard to international and domestic disputes. He previously practiced at Kim & Chang’s international arbitration practice group for over 10 years. Park is a registered arbitrator with the KCAB and the chair of the arbitration committee of the Korea In-house Counsel Forum, an organisation devoted to educating in-house counsels and promoting in-house practice.