Bae Kim & Lee
Helped Korea defeat the bulk of a US$5 billion claim
|Pending cases as counsel||20|
|Value of pending counsel work||US$14.5 billion|
|Treaty cases as counsel||3|
|Third-party funded cases||0|
|Current arbitrator appointments||2 (1 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 22 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).
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 head of international arbitration and litigation, Tony DongWook Kang, who joined the firm in 2006 after working in the Korean judiciary, wasted no time in rebuilding the team – along with fellow senior partner Junu Kim.
Brandon Bang arrived as a foreign-qualified attorney in 2020 after more than a decade at Shearman & Sterling in Singapore, and Chang Hyun 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 11.
The arbitration practice is overwhelmingly Seoul-based, but the firm has long-standing offices in Beijing and Shanghai and in recent years has opened offices in Dubai, Hong Kong, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Singapore, Jakarta 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 Enerbility, Lotte Engineering, Korea Exchange Bank, satellite operator KT SAT, LG Display, Olympus, Samsung, Stryker, SK Engineering & Construction, Daehan, Woori Bank, Hanwha, POSCO Group, Hyundai Home Shopping, Hyundai Engineering & Steel Industries, Pyung Hwa Holdings, Korea Electric Power Corporation, Unitas Capital, Hana Financial Group 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, 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.
Last year, Bae Kim & Lee achieved an outstanding result for South Korea, helping the government to defeat the bulk of a US$5 billion ICSID claim filed by Lone Star in proceedings that spanned more than a decade.
The firm continues to advise South Korea in several disputes – including a treaty claim worth US$350 million brought by a Swiss elevator maker. It is also advising the state’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration in disputes.
It is representing a consortium of investors in a US$1.8 billion ICC dispute against one of the largest insurance providers in Korea.
The firm also successfully represented a large Korean conglomerate in a US$2 billion claim filed by a US real estate investor concerning an international business district, which was dismissed last year.
A South Korean video game developer is using the firm for an ICC dispute with its former partner, in which it had faced a US$2 billion damages claim, reduced to US$1.1 billion in the quantum phase.
Sejin Kim left to join the Korean ministry of trade, industry and energy and Seung-Hyeon (Alex) Kim left to start his own practice, but it 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 Yoon Jeong 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.
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 focused on resolving some of the most complex and cutting-edge issues faced by our clients, regardless of forum, arbitral seat, and governing law.
One-Stop Shop for Clients across All Industries
Ranked every year as one of the top global arbitration practices based in Korea, we have represented clients engaged in a wide spectrum of industries in disputes across all major continents. We differentiate ourselves from the rest of the market by focusing on specialisms in construction and projects, energy, IP, technology, reinsurance, in addition to our broad commercial disputes practice. We also handle some of the most significant investor-state disputes, having led the first ever investor-state dispute on behalf of Korea since 2012.
Deep Bench of Cross-Border Litigation Specialists
BKL is a well-known litigation powerhouse in Korea, with a team of experts in cross-border disputes resolved by courts. 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. Our clients demand excellence and regularly come to us when they face new and difficult challenges involving an international element in both established and frontier jurisdictions.