Shin & Kim is becoming one of the names to know for arbitration in Korea.
- Pending cases as counsel:
- Value of pending counsel work:
- US$80 million
- Treaty cases:
- Current arbitrator appointments:
- 2 (of which 1 are as sole or chair)
- No. of lawyers sitting as arbitrator:
The 230-lawyer firm was established in 1981 and was one of the first Korean firms to incorporate the Western-style partnership system. Even before it built a specialist practice group, the firm had collected solid international arbitration experience, aided by its presence in Beijing and Shanghai. However, it was the arrival of former Shearman & Sterling arbitration specialist Benjamin Hughes – and the founding of a stand-alone practice group – that propelled the firm into the GAR 100 in 2009.
Hughes is a US national who has spent much of his life in Korea and reads law at Seoul National University. His association with the firm began while at Shearman & Sterling in Singapore, when he was co-counsel with it on a vast dispute between a Middle Eastern investment fund and a Korean oil firm.
Hughes now heads the group with Beomsu Kim, a former judge and M&A partner who, like Hughes, sits as an arbitrator. In the past two years, it has added several multilingual Korean and foreign licensed attorneys, and says there will be more hires soon. It has also become the first Korean firm to offer a Latin America service, led by David Yang, a Korean national who lived and practised in Argentina for 25 years and speaks fluent Spanish and Portuguese.
The result of these steps is that Shin & Kim is now spoken of in the same breath as market leaders Bae Kim & Lee and Kim & Chang when it comes to international disputes, and appears just below them in the rankings.
Who uses it?
While it won’t name names, the firm says it is currently representing one of the largest global providers of satellite broadcasting encryption software and services; the Korea CEO of a global accounting firm (in a case brought against him by his current employer); an Italian munitions manufacturer; a Korean hotel concessionaire (in a dispute with a luxury chain); and a special-purpose business entity established by a Korean city (which is in dispute with a US joint venture partner).
In the past, it has also represented clients in the banking, chemical, car-parts and steel sectors.
The Latin American capability, meanwhile, has produced a number of Latin American instructions. It’s currently representing a Brazilian heavy machinery company in a dispute with a Korean joint venture party, and has also had clients from Argentina and Bolivia.
The firm is more about “win-win” than ultimate victory. That is to say, it prides itself on settling cases on terms that, while favourable to the client, still allow for the resumption of a a business relationship – an approach not usually seen in Korea. “We vigorously pursue our clients’ cases so that we can negotiate from a position of strength, but we believe our willingness to proactively investigate settlement possibilities on a win-win basis sets us apart from other firms in Korea,” it says.
Seung Min Lee – who was a pop star in Korea before training as a lawyer – returned from a year in London, where she served as counsel to the LCIA secretariat and completed a secondment at Weil Gotshal & Manges under the firm’s global head of arbitration, Juliette Blanche.
Benjamin Hughes was elected to the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators’ regional committee in Hong Kong and taught the first CIArb courses to be held in Seoul. He is also part of an international advisory committee of eight foreign-licensed lawyers established in 2011 to promote the KCAB as a regional centre for international arbitration and is responsible for the institution’s recent rules revision.
As of 1 August 2011, it was handling seven contract-based international arbitrations worth some US$80 million. It is also representing a large US company in an enforcement action against a Korean conglomerate for an award of US$110 million. To date, no party has successfully resisted enforcement of a New York Convention award in Korea.
In-house sources at one client, Simmel Difesa, say they were impressed by Shin & Kim’s speed and accuracy, describing it as “a very serious” firm that they would recommend to others.
Another client says the firm was reliable and offered good advice, their approach to the dispute was “reasonable”, and they had good mastery of the documentation. The client adds that the case eventually settled as a result of the “well-organised negotiation” without the need for any hearings. “The firm has experienced manpower and good worldwide connections,” the source says.
Young Kwon, senior counsel at LINA Korea says he was impressed by Benjamin Hughes’ “expertise and skill as an advocate and adviser; he always tried to find the most practical, business-oriented solution for us.”
A final referee said Shin & Kim partners were “knowledgeable about the arbitration process and demonstrated a high standard of professionalism in dealing with their counterparts. They didn’t try to complicate the issues in the dispute in expectation of higher legal fees, nor did they emulate the opposing lawyers in using tactics designed to irritate. I definitely feel I can focus on day-to-day business with Shin & Kim there to protect my interest in the arbitration.”