When Kap-You (Kevin) Kim was named as the first Asian secretary general of the International Council for Commercial Arbitration last year it wasn’t merely a personal honour, but reflected the growing importance of Asia, and in particular Korea, in international arbitration. “The world is recognising Korea as a leading market,” Kim himself said at the time.
- People in Who’s Who:
- Pending cases as counsel:
- Value of pending counsel work:
- US$15 billion
- Treaty cases:
- Current arbitrator appointments:
- 3 (of which 1 is as sole or chair)
- No. of lawyers sitting as arbitrator:
Bae Kim & Lee – the firm of which Kim is a partner – is one of two firms that have helped to shape Korea’s fertile international arbitration culture. Today, its practice encompasses a mix of international and regional work, particularly under ICC rules. Work is overseen by co-founders Kim and John Bang – both of whom feature in The International Who’s Who of Commercial Arbitration.
Kim, who is in his late 40s, was included in GAR’s first “45 under 45”. Apart from his role at ICCA, Kim is a member of the ICC and LCIA courts and a board member of the AAA. He is also a listed ICSID arbitrator, senior adviser to the Korean Commercial Arbitration Board and vice chair of the IBA arbitration committee.
Bang is also a recognised figure in the region and has acted in some 50 to 100 arbitrations.
The two partners oversee a group of 15 dedicated arbitration lawyers (out of 300 in the firm as a whole), many of whom are fluent in other European languages as well as all the major Asian languages and several of whom have common law experience. Among them is a former counsel for Asia from the ICC secretariat in Paris, James Morrison. He joined the firm in 2009 after, he said, seeing the firm in action in some 30 cases.
One of the firm’s bigger recent victories is the high-profile ICC case between Korea’s Hyundai Heavy Industries Group (the world’s largest shipbuilding company) and an Abu Dhabi investment vehicle over a jointly owned oil refinery. Bae Kim & Lee ran the case on an equal footing with a Debevoise & Plimpton team led by David W Rivkin. In a favourable award for the Korean side, the tribunal enforced a punitive call-option under the joint-venture agreement, ordering the Abu Dhabi company to sell its 70 per cent stake at a significant discount. Kim and Bang led the Bae Kim & Lee team.
The firm says it also recently defended a US pharmaceutical company in a dispute with a Korean counterpart over a distribution agreement – and was able to reduce the original claim amount by 93 per cent.
Who uses them?
The firm is first port of call for many Korean corporations. It’s also often found working with Debevoise & Plimpton, more recently in a US$180 million post-M&A dispute with a US motor manufacturer on the other side.
The firm has acted for Korea’s largest telecommunications research institute – ETRI – and a Korean LCD display manufacturer in a Seoul-seated IP dispute under ICC rules.
Kim, Bang and Morrison coached Korean students for the 2010 Vis Moot in Vienna, enabling them to defeat teams from the US, Germany and India and progress to a late round of the competition. The firm also held its first annual international arbitration summer internship for 30 law students from Korea’s top law schools – believed to be an unprecedented initiative by an Asian firm.
On the conference circuit, Bang told an audience in Taipei how cultural differences between Asian and non-Asian parties can get lost in translation during arbitral proceedings – providing material for a popular GAR article. Meanwhile Kim chaired a session at the IBA conference in Vancouver, which considered impediments to enforcement under the New York Convention.
Members of the firm are expected to be high-profile participants in the 2011 IBA Arbitration Day in Seoul, Korea.
Dr Soon Song, a business consultant in Korea, offered a first-hand account of Bae Kim & Lee in action, saying that although the cases he had in mind were of only medium strategic significance, he would nevertheless have no reservations recommending the team. “They are very competent, most likely the best [team] in Korea. I would definitely recommend them.” He said one striking difference was “how BKL help experts prepare for cross-examinations”.
A leading arbitrator who works in Asia said that he’d seen Kevin Kim perform against leading advocates from Korean and Western law firms. He said a combination of aggression and flexibility in Bae Kim & Lee’s approach had impressed him a lot and he would recommend the firm “very strongly.”