Lee & Ko

South Korea

Review

Dispute resolution

Lee & Ko excels across all areas of dispute resolution. Its team of talented and experienced litigators is led by no less than 25 partners and 70 litigators who together encompass over 40 different specialties. The disputes team frequently collaborates with an extensive roster of practice area specialists, from construction to insolvency, and employs the expertise of industry specialists such as economic analysts, international trade experts, accountants, tax specialists, patent attorneys and regulatory analysts. The group comprises over 80 former Supreme Court Justices and assistant Attorney Generals, among others. With healthcare and pharmaceutical litigious matters on the rise, Lee & Ko has grown this sector specialisation.

Won Seok Ko, Seong Won Chang, Sang Yong Ra and Heon Myung Jeong are key figures for general corporate disputes. Antitrust litigators Pyoung Keun Song, Young Hoon Jung and Eulhwan Kang are the main contacts for contentious competition matters, while Chan Ik Jang, Joong Hoon Kwak and Jin Wook Yang are core figures in the construction litigation offering. In intellectual property, Jae Hoon Kim, Young Mo Kwon, Un Ho Kim and Choong Jin Oh are the senior figures.

Sean Sungwhoo Lim and Robert Wachter lead the international arbitration group alongside David Ki and Sanghoon Han who co-head the construction arbitration practice group. On the product liability and recall side, the main partners include In Sang Kang, Jin So and Ho Joon Moon. Jay Shim, Ok Hyun Ma, Byeong Jun Son and Sung Hwan Kim are the key tax disputes contacts, while Yeong Seok Park and Tae-Ki Ghil head up the white-collar crimes group.

The firm represented the chief executive of SK Chemicals in a high-profile criminal case concerning a humidifier sterilising agent and led the client to a not guilty verdict in January 2021. This matter is the most representative case in South Korea in product liability, holding a manufacturer criminally liable for product defect injuries to its customers. Another big win for the product liability team was its successful defence of KleanNara Company in a class action lawsuit regarding hazardous material found in sanitary pads.

Another highlight saw the firm’s litigators represent Banpo Complex 1 Reconstruction Association in a $9 billion lawsuit in relation to the reconstruction project of 5,000 homes. It also recently worked with Hyundai Heavy Industries for compensation of loss against the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) and helped it retrieve $13 million for its client. This case is significant as a precedent as it recognised DAPA’s responsibility in relation to its failure to guarantee a reasonable project period.

In a seminal case, the firm’s antitrust team represented Mitsubishi Electric Corpration in a lawsuit it filed against the Korea Fair Trade Commission seeking a cancellation of a specific corrective order and related fines. The client was victorious and the case is currently pending at the Supreme Court since the competition regulator appealed. This matter sets an important precedent as to whether the act of voluntary reporting to foreign competition authorities affects domestic fair trade law procedures. Another noteworthy case saw the litigation team secure a Supreme Court win for Lotte Himart in its lawsuit against its former chief executive. The case is awaiting hearing at the appellate court and serves as an important precedent to the decision-making process for directors’ remuneration.

The Lee & Ko employment litigation team was successful for Korea Development Bank in another precedent-setting case that helped define the scope of legal obligations under the Act on the Protection of Temporary Agency Workers. The Supreme Court ruled in favour of KDB in April 2021 after a case was initiated by dispatched labourers about their employment status.

The international arbitration team continues to go from strength to strength. It counselled the government of Korea in an investment treaty arbitration under the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) and 2013 United Nations Commission on International Trade Law Arbitration Rules brought by American hedge fund Elliott Associates. At the time, the matter was the first investment treaty arbitration case initiated under the KORUS FTA and the fourth case against the Republic of Korea. This case was the first transparent investment arbitration proceeding to be conducted against the Republic of Korea pursuant to the transparency provisions in the KORUS FTA.

Another international arbitration highlight was the team’s successful representation of Chang-Jae Shin, the chairman and chief executive of Kyobo Life Insurance Company. The arbitration was commenced by Guardian Holdings, Apfin Investment and Hoenir against the firm’s client in relation to a shareholder agreement dispute.

The disputes team bolstered its expertise with numerous senior-level hires, most of whom served in their former capacities for nearly 20 years. These include former chief judge at the Seoul High Court, judge at the Seoul Central District Court and director general of criminal cases at the National Court Administration, In Seok Lee; former judge in the Korean judiciary Da Joo Jung; and a former patent court judge and Supreme Court research judge, Heon Lee. Several prosecutors from the prosecution service and Korean National Police Agency were also recently recruited.

Client feedback

“Lee & Ko is an exceptionally well-oiled machine. They are extremely dedicated and provide swift turnaround on their work product and advice, which is often exceptional in quality. They are specialist IP and patent litigators and are highly regarded in South Korea. They know their stuff and are top-notch in providing great client service.” – Intellectual property

“1) understanding of client needs; 2) development and execution of litigation strategy; 3) consultation regarding legal issues in the biopharma industry.” – Intellectual property

“They have a deep bench. The cases on which I have worked were led by Robert Wachter, the co-head of the arbitration team, but effectively managed day to day by associates and senior associates. Even relatively junior members of their team are highly capable and very hardworking (Saemee Kim - recently made a partner; Grace Yoon; Han Ah Lee). I am also impressed by their style of advocacy - from what I have seen, they present the case in a clear way, both in written pleadings and oral submissions.” – International arbitration

“Provided high quality legal documents.” – Labour and employment

“Responsive, good technical advice, and good understanding of tax insurance product.” – Tax

“Provided alternative arguments and laid out all arguments clearly.” – Tax

Park Gyung-Ho

“He always gives very kind and easy advice.”

David Kim

“He is an excellent communicator. English is his first language as he is from Canada and qualified as a Canadian lawyer, but he also understands Korean culture and business practices.”

Jae Hoon Kim

“Excellent statesmanship in leading and driving forward litigation strategy.”

Tom Kwon

“He is responsive, gives sound technical advice, and had a good understanding of tax insurance products.”

Jay Shim

“Jay Shim is the best tax lawyer. He tries to find the best option for the client.”

Robert Wachter

“He is a strong advocate in both written and oral form. He manages a relatively large team and I understand that it is because of his leadership style that the team is well-organised and efficient. He has made the international arbitration team more international through his recent hires and he himself brings an international perspective to the team (while also being very knowledgeable about Korea – he has lived and worked here for many years).”

Hui Jin Yang

“He is knowledgeable in the development and execution of patent litigation strategy. Good legal counselling regarding issues in the biopharma industry.”