Continues to represent Korea in high-stakes disputes
|Pending cases as counsel||20|
|Value of pending counsel work||US$12.5 billion|
|Treaty cases as counsel||3|
|Third-party funded cases||0|
|Current arbitrator appointments||2 (0 as chair or sole)|
|Lawyers sitting as arbitrator||2|
South Korean firm Bae Kim & Lee got serious about arbitration in 2002 at the suggestion of partner Kap-You (Kevin) Kim. Since then, it has gone from being respected co-counsel working with the big international names to being one of those big names.
Bae Kim & Lee boasts a team of around two dozen specialist lawyers, one of the largest dedicated international arbitration practices in Asia. It 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.
The group prides itself on its expertise in two areas that were not previously catered for by Korean law firms: international construction and engineering claims; and investor-state disputes.
The practice faced upheaval beginning in 2019 when the highly respected Kim left to start a new firm. He was joined soon after by John Bang, who had co-led the team with Kim and succeeded him after his departure. Several other partners also left around that time.
The new head of international arbitration and litigation, Tony DongWook Kang, who joined the firm in 2006 after working in the Korean judiciary, has wasted no time in rebuilding the team – working with fellow senior partner Junu Kim.
Brandon (Hyung-Sik) Bang arrived as a foreign-qualified attorney in 2020 after more than a decade at Shearman & Sterling in Singapore, and Changhyun Lee joined the following year after almost two decades in the Korean judiciary. It also promoted several new partners, bringing the total in the international disputes group to 12.
The arbitration practice is overwhelmingly Seoul-based, but the firm has long-standing offices in Beijing and Shanghai and in recent years has opened in Dubai, Hong Kong, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Yangon.
Who uses it?
Thanks to its incredibly strong brand, Bae Kim & Lee is one of the first ports of call for South Korean entities facing foreign arbitration. Many are construction firms and automotive parts makers.
Clients have included Daewoo, Dongkuk Steel, Hyundai Heavy Industries, Doosan Heavy Industries & Construction, Lotte Engineering, Korea Exchange Bank, satellite operator KTsat, LG Display, Olympus, Samsung, Stryker Sales, SK Engineering & Construction, Daehan, Woori Bank, Hanwha, POSCO Group, Hyundai Home Shopping, Hyundai Engineering and Steel Industries, Pyunghwa Holdings, Korea Electric Power Corporation and Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power.
Perhaps the biggest compliment that can be paid to the firm is that the South Korean government has relied on it in multiple high-stakes disputes.
In 2019, the firm helped Korean banking group Hana defeat an ICC claim reportedly worth US$1.4 billion. It also successfully defended state-owned entity Korea Electric Power Corporation in an LCIA dispute with a Hyundai–Samsung joint venture over the construction of a UAE nuclear power plant.
Along with Debevoise & Plimpton, the firm picked up a GAR Award in 2010 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.
As sole counsel, the firm won a SIAC arbitration for a long-time engineering client in 2017 over a high-rise construction project in Mongolia. In a Singapore-seated ICC case, the firm won a US$53 million award for a Lotte entity in a post-M&A dispute relating to a Chinese hypermarket chain.
Bae Kim & Lee continues to advise South Korea in several disputes since being appointed in 2012 to the first treaty claim the state faced – a US$5 billion ICSID claim filed by Lone Star, which is still awaiting an award.
The firm is also advising Korea in a more recent treaty claim worth US$265 million brought by a Swiss elevator maker, and has advised the state’s Defence Acquisition and Procurement Agency in disputes.
South Korean steelmaking group Posco is using the firm in two ICC disputes: one a US$2 billion claim filed by a US real estate investor concerning an international business district and the other relating to the supply of steel for a Canadian bridge.
The firm is also representing a South Korean video game developer in an ICC dispute with its former partner, in which it faces a US$2 billion damages claim in the quantum phase. The firm continued rebuilding its partnership with the promotion of Hangil Lee in Seoul.
Jaejun Lee, a manager at South Korean construction and engineering company DL E&C, says Bae Kim & Lee stands out from other firms by making its clients feel protected. He recommends partners Woojae Kim, Brandon Bang and Hangil Lee and senior foreign attorney Yoonjeong Park in Seoul for their “significant professionalism”.
Another South Korean company, for which Bae Kim & Lee obtained a SIAC award that they later enforced in the Chinese courts, says that the firm’s work is fast and accurate. They praise Junu Kim for his “unmatched” skill.
Another client also praises Junu Kim for his tactical nous and fellow partner Sejin Kim for his work, ranging from fact-finding to preparing written pleadings.
Korean Law Firm Truly Dedicated to International Arbitration Practice
BKL was the first law firm in Korea with a fully dedicated, specialist international arbitration practice since 2002. Now combined with our leading cross-border litigation specialists, BKL’s global disputes practice is deeply focused on resolving some of the most complex and cutting-edge issues faced by our clients, regardless of forum, seat of arbitration, and governing law.
One-Stop Shop for Clients across All Industries
Ranked every year as one of the top global arbitration practices, we have represented hundreds of clients engaged in a range of industries in disputes across all major continents. In addition to our broad commercial disputes practice, we differentiate ourselves in the market with specialisms in industry-focused dispute practices in construction, energy, IT and technology. We also handle some of the most significant investor-state disputes, having led the first ever investor-state dispute in Korea since 2012. Recognized as a “pioneer in arbitration in Asia” by Who’s Who Legal, BKL’s arbitration team continues to lead the market.
Deep Bench of Cross-Border Litigation Specialists
BKL has established a team of top litigators in Korea with extensive experience in in-bound and out-bound litigation. Our litigators are former members of the Korean judiciary, former US judicial clerks and lawyers trained in a wide range of legal systems, and they bring together a depth of experience unparalleled by our peers in and outside the courtroom – our clients demand excellence and regularly come to us when they face new challenges in both established and frontier markets across multiple jurisdictions.
Seoul, Republic of Korea (Head Office)
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Jakarta, Indonesia (Korea desk, in collaboration with Makarim & Taira. S.)
Tony DongWook Kang
Head, International Arbitration & Cross-Border Litigation practice group
E. [email protected]
Senior Foreign Attorney, International Arbitration practice group
E. [email protected]