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GAR 100 - 9th Edition

Bae Kim & Lee

17 February 2016

There was a change in leadership for the South Korean firm

People in Who’s Who Legal 3
Pending cases as counsel 45
Value of pending counsel work US$14 billion+
Treaty cases 3
Current arbitrator appointments 5 (of which 3 are as sole or chair)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator 3

Bae Kim & Lee got serious about arbitration in 2002 at the suggestion of young partner Kap-You (Kevin) Kim. Since then, it has gone from respected co-counsel working with the big international names, to being one of those big names.

It did so in part by creating its own local opposition: each time Kim took part in an international case, he convened an event to share know-how with local rivals. Together they promoted use of arbitration to their clients and an arbitration culture quickly developed in Korea.

More than a decade later, Bae Kim & Lee sits at the heart of Seoul’s impressively busy arbitration scene. With 25 specialist lawyers of various nationalities including five partners, it is one of the largest dedicated practices in Asia. Its members are highly visible locally and on the global scale, with Kim acknowledged to be a driving force behind Seoul’s effort to become an internationally recognised seat.

The quality of its work, meanwhile, has been summed up by Jan Paulsson as “worthy of Freshfields”, his former firm.

Bae Kim & Lee has also produced the first English-language textbook on the law and practice of arbitration in Korea (along with a similar volume in Korean), and hosts the annual Seoul Arbitration Lecture attracting speakers of the calibre of David W Rivkin and Gary Born.

Having headed the firm’s international arbitration practice group since its inception, Kim has recently become leader of a new overarching group dealing with construction, real estate and international arbitration combined. He is succeeded by the practice’s other founding partner, John Bang.

Network

The arbitration practice is overwhelmingly Seoul-based, but the firm has longstanding offices in Beijing and Shanghai and newly opened ones in Hong Kong, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. It recently gained its first office in the Middle East, in Dubai.

Who uses it?

Thanks to its incredibly strong brand, Bae Kim & Lee is one of the first ports of call for Korean entities facing foreign arbitration. Many are construction firms and automotive parts makers.

Clients have included Daewoo, Dongkuk Steel, Lotte Engineering, Keangnam Enterprises, satellite operator KTSat, LG Display, Olympus, Samsung, Stryker Sales, Daehan, Woori Bank, and Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power.

The past few years have brought more glamorous instructions. The firm launched what it suggests is the first ever investment treaty claim by a Korean investor against an African state. It is also co-counsel to the Korean government (alongside Arnold & Porter) in the first ever investment treaty claim against the state at ICSID, filed by US–Belgian private equity fund Lone Star.

It has been named as counsel to the organising committee of the 2018 Winter Olympics, to be held in the Korean resort of Pyeongchang.

Track record

Along with Debevoise & Plimpton, the firm picked up one of the first ever GAR Awards for its work on behalf of Hyundai Heavy Industries in an ICC dispute worth US$2.3 billion. It helped the client to enforce a punitive call-option in a joint venture agreement, thus allowing it to obtain full ownership of an oil refinery at a sizeable discount.

There have been plenty of favourable awards since.

Recent events

Bang took over as practice head and Kim added another stripe to his international profile as one of the new vice presidents of the ICC International Court of Arbitration

The firm gained an arbitration presence in Vietnam with the transfer of associate Byoung Pil Kim to its Ho Chi Minh City office, where he will work on Korea–Vietnam cross-border disputes.

Kim, Bang, partner Sue Hyun Lim and foreign attorney Matthew Christensen were all named to the SIAC Users’ Council and Lim joined the committee of SIAC’s young practitioners group, YSIAC.

As co-counsel with Addleshaw Goddard, Bae Kim & Lee successfully represented a Korean construction company din a US$100 million ICC arbitration relating to a power plant project in the Middle East after early success in an interim application to restrain a threatened bond call against the client.

It it also won a US$30 million ICC award with costs for two construction clients in a dispute over an African mining and processing plant, defeating a US$15 million counterclaim for liquidated damages.

High-profile ongoing matters include Ansung Housing’s claim against China – the first ICSID claim by a Korean investor and China’s only active case at the centre – and the defence of Korea against Lone Star’s claim.

Client comment

A Korean arbitrator praises the firm’s lawyers for “stellar advocacy and cross-examination that lucidly gets to the crux of the issues even on the most complicated matters.” He says Kim and Bang in particular are “uniquely qualified arbitration specialists who combine a keen understanding of Asia with global expertise.”

An IP client which hired the firm for a complex arbitration spanning multiple jurisdictions, says the firm’s “extensive experience” allowed it to manage the nuances of the arbitration, which was “fundamental” to its future business strategy. “They did an outstanding job, were adept at managing all aspects of our case and effectively dealt with IP issues and fundamental matters of contract law,” the client says. “Attorneys and independent technical and quantum experts assembled by the firm worked in unison as a strong team.”

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