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GAR 100 - 9th Edition

Kim & Chang

18 February 2016

South Korea’s biggest law firm and oldest dedicated international arbitration group is now defending the state at ICSID

People in Who’s Who Legal: 3
Pending cases as counsel: 74
Value of pending counsel work: US$4.25 billion
Treaty cases: 1
Current arbitrator appointments: 18 (of which 14 are as sole or chair)
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator: 11

Founded in 1973, Kim & Chang has had a dedicated international arbitration practice since 1998 that is home to Korean and foreign-qualified lawyers. It is proud to have been the first international arbitration group in Korea (its first case was against the Korean government).

The group has grown from five lawyers to a more than 30-strong team, almost half of whom are foreign-qualified, with a mixture of civil and common law experience. The practice is led by Byung-Chol Yoon and Eun-Young Park, both based in Seoul.

Eun-Young Park is vice president of the LCIA court and serves on the board of directors and court of SIAC. He is also former vice chair of the IBA's arbitration committee and co-chair of its Asia-Pacific arbitration group. BC Yoon is a member of the ICC Court and chairman of the Korean Council for International Arbitration. He is also one of South Korea’s representatives to the Commercial Arbitration Committee at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a special administrative region of North Korea being developed as an industrial free zone between the two Koreas. Both are on the executive committee of the new Seoul International Dispute Resolution Center, where Yoon is secretary general.

Network

The firm has offices in Seoul and Hong Kong.

Who uses it?

The group represents major Korean conglomerates including Samsung, Hyundai, Daewoo, Kia, SK and Doosan, as well as major foreign companies.

Track record

One famous client is the Hanwha Group, for which it conducted the largest Korea-related ICC arbitration on record over the sale and control of a financial services company, seated in New York and heard in Vancouver . The group prevailed against a Korean government agency and won a significant portion of its legal fees.

Other big wins include US$950 million for a US party in two ICC arbitrations against a Korean government entity, a similar amount in an SIAC arbitration and US$40 million for Lone Star Funds in an ICC dispute seated in Tokyo.

It has also advised a consortium led by Canada’s Bombardier in an ICC dispute with the government over a public–private partnership driverless light railway project. That resulted in a US$750 million win for the consortium following a fast-track arbitration that lasted just 16 months. A subsequent costs award went 80 per cent in favour of the client, and the awards have been successfully enforced.

Recent events

Acting for a unit of Lone Star Funds, the firm convinced Korea’s apex court to overturn a lower court’s set aside of a US$35 million ICC award against a subsidiary of Korea’s Deposit Insurance Corporation. The ruling has been hailed as a positive one for Korea’s international reputation, putting straight a decision of the lower courts that had caused concern in the wider community.

The Korean government retained it for a new US$260 million ICSID claim brought against it by Dutch subsidiaries of Abu Dhabi’s state-owned International Petroleum Investment Company. This is only the second ICSID claim Korea has faced. The firm settled a US$500 million shareholding dispute with a multinational holding company for a Korean media client. The Hong Kong-seated ICC dispute was one of the highest value media arbitrations in Korea. It also won the termination of a Singapore-law SIAC claim from a Korean client’s Chilean buyer after arguing delays from the claimant required termination under the SIAC rules.

Two five-year disputes against Korea’s military procurement agency ended with dismissals of 70 per cent of their claims against a European defence contractor claim. Eighty per cent of the client’s contributory negligence claim was accepted.

There was also a favourable award for an European automotive client in a US$80 million ICC joint venture dispute seated in Tokyo. The majority of the client’s claims were upheld and it was permitted to terminate the joint venture after finding the Korean side in breach of its obligations.

It won an interim award from a SIAC emergency arbitrator barring a preliminary injunction action in the Korean courts against the client. It later successfully resisted vacation of the interim award, and afterwards settled the case.

Ongoing work includes a Seoul-seated US$100 million ICC claim against a steel producer for a subsidiary of a French industrial gases supplier. Another Seoul-seated ICC dispute, also for US$100 million, relates to a large power and water project in the Middle East and is governed by English law. It is also acting in a US$10 million dispute over a Brazilian distributorship agreement at the Canada-Brazilian Chamber of Commerce. A potential parallel action in the US is also envisioned.

The firm lost partner Robert Wachter to Lee & Ko, where he now co-heads the dispute resolution group.

Client comment

Andrew Ahn, from autoparts company Hyundai Mobis, says, “Kim & Chang has efficiently managed arbitration and litigation proceedings which involve numerous parties and three different languages. Their strategic thinking and efficient coordination have helped us manoeuvre difficult proceedings. Their in-house capabilities in dealing with multiple language documents and discussions were particularly impressive.”

Ahn says Liz Chung was “instrumental in coordinating strategies and highly technical facts among us and local counsel, so that we’d be all on the same page with the same strategy in mind. She is quick in her responses and, at the same time, very thorough in her factual and legal analysis.”

Corporate counsel for a Korean steelmaking company who retained Kim & Chang for a Hong Kong arbitration says it has “the best teamwork that I have seen”. All three lawyers on the case “had extensive experience in international arbitration, but each of them seemed to have a role and it worked very well in the course of the arbitration proceedings.” Joel Richardson was retained by a US energy company for an arbitration in Korea. A senior corporate counsel says the firm did “an outstanding job” and was helpful in explaining the arbitration process in South Korea and its differences from procedures in the United States.

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