Doing legal business in South Korea

South Korea, officially the Republic of Korea, is a country in East Asia that shares a land border with North Korea.

South Korea is Asia’s fourth-largest economy and the 11th-largest in the world.

The Korean legal servics market was liberalised under the EU-Korea FTA (2011). This was the EU's first trade deal with an Asian country and is one of the EU' s most comprehensive.

In August 2019, the secretary of state for international trade, Liam Fox, signed a continuity Free Trade Agreement with Korea that allowed English and Welsh solicitors to continue to practise in Korea under the terms of the EU FTA.

The liberalisation of the market has led to an increasing appetite for Korean lawyers to work in international firms.

Practising in South Korea

English and Welsh lawyers can register with the Korean Bar Association and Korean Ministry of Justice as foreign legal consultants (FLCs), subject to the terms of the Foreign Legal Consultant Act.

Once registered, FLCs may only provide legal services with respect to:

  • law of their home jurisdiction
  • international law
  • international arbitration

The FLC registration process can take up to three months. To register, a candidate needs:

  • a licence to practise law in England and Wales
  • a minimum of three years of experience in providing legal services in England and Wales (two years of which must be outside South Korea)
  • to reside in South Korea for at least 180 days each year

The vast majority of FLCs are South Korean nationals (or of South Korean descent) who have qualified abroad – most often in the US.

Traditionally, the only way to become a licensed attorney in Korea had been to pass the Korean Bar Examination (KBE) and complete the two-year training course at the Judicial Research and Training Institute. However, the KBE was abolished in 2017.

From 2018, the only route to qualification as an attorney-at-law is to graduate from a professional law school and pass the National Bar Examination.

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