Recently in Seoul, Asian-mena Counsel’s Patrick Dransfield photographed Seung Soon Lim, managing partner of Yoon & Yang, and also asked him a series of questions on behalf of the In-House Community.
ASIAN-MENA COUNSEL: You were actively involved in the merger of Yoon & Partners and Roh & Yang in 2003 and have been managing partner of Yoon & Yang since 2010; can you share any tips regarding successful mergers in the legal sphere and also law firm management, especially for our senior external counsel audience?
SSL: With the purpose of creating a global law firm based in South Korea, Yoon & Yang was established by the merger of Yoon & Partners and Roh & Yang in 2003. Since its establishment, Yoon & Yang has proven to be the most democratic and ethical law firm amongst the major law firms in Korea, and I take great pride in this fact.
All the managing partners of Yoon & Partners and Roh & Yang, and Yoon & Yang after the merger, worked closely together to establish Yoon & Yang as it stands today. In the short period of 13 years since its establishment, Yoon & Yang has become a leading law firm in Korea with more than 360 professionals, including lawyers, and more than 300 staff members employed at the firm. Furthermore, the establishment of the Yoon & Yang Pro Bono Foundation and the Hwawoo Education & Training Centre, as well as the firm’s designation of “Law Firm of the Year” in various Korean and international press, showcases the rapid success and development of Yoon & Yang both qualitatively and quantitatively.
Prior to the merger, Yoon & Partners and Roh & Yang were two very distinct law firms. Yet, the synergy created by the merger of the two firms is a considerable feat unheard of in Korea before this time. I believe such unprecedented success was only possible due to the fixed determination and sacrifices made by the managing partners and founding partners of both firms, including putting aside their vested rights, to create a leading law firm in Korea.
AMC: What do you see as the major challenges for both Korean and international law firms with offices in Seoul?
SSL: This year is anticipated to be a challenging one for both Korean and international law firms. Particularly, the ever-growing competition with international law firms following the drastic increase in Korean lawyers and the continuing liberation of the Korean legal market will undoubtedly exacerbate the difficulties and challenges facing Korean law firms. In such circumstances, Korean law firms should strive to provide high-quality service with top-notch skills and expertise to distinguish themselves from other law firms. Furthermore, Korean firms should not solely seek profitability but also focus on enhancing their role as reliable and trusted partners for their clients.
AMC: South Koreans are famous for engineering and innovation: do you see such innovation prevalent in the Korean domestic legal market and are there new players that are different from the traditional law firms?
SSL: As we live in an era where we face a deluge of information and all types of information can be searched at our fingertips, innovation in legal thinking is crucial to providing high-quality legal services to clients. While South Koreans are exceptionally innovative and such innovative characteristics are undoubtedly mirrored in each and every member of Yoon & Yang, I believe innovation must constantly be improved upon. For this reason, we at Yoon & Yang emphasise the importance of innovation and the spirit of collaboration in choosing professionals we strive to help develop and grow at our firm. We constantly reinforce the idea that “it is important to train one’s thoughts and opinions by thinking ahead to all possibilities prior to searching and deliberate once again on the findings after the search is complete”.
Recently, Yoon & Yang published a book called “Proficiency in Legal Writing” with the publisher Parkyoungsa, and this book was well-received by the legal community. The importance of competence in one’s thinking — ie, innovation — is strongly emphasised in the book. The fact that more and more Korean law firms are emphasising such innovation is, I believe, an encouraging trend in the further development of Korea’s legal culture. As a contributor to this book, I take great pride in the fact that I could partake in the development of Korea’s legal culture.
AMC: When you first began as a lawyer in private practice how was the in-house community at that time? How has the in-house legal community developed? Do you think that there are special challenges facing South Korean in-house counsel?
SSL: After serving as a judge for 18 years, I entered into private practice in 2000. During this time, there were not too many in-house lawyers; in fact, I remember some companies did not even have proper legal departments. Yet, as more and more international companies with in-house lawyers began opening their offices in Korea and the number of lawyers has grown by 1,000 lawyers per year, the number of in-house lawyers also increased rapidly. Following this increase, conglomerates including Samsung and LG began placing lawyers in business divisions, such as their sales and human resources departments. Further, the increase in the number of in-house lawyers also saw the launch of the Korea In-House Counsel Association (KICA), which has been active since its formation. The fact that Samsung Electronics and the Financial Supervisory Service employ as many lawyers as major law firms in Korea bears witness to the fact that lawyers occupy an important role in Korean society.
Furthermore, it is my belief that this increase in the role of in-house lawyers will be the catalyst to the development of Korea’s legal culture and the rule of law, and will also accelerate cooperation between in-house counsel and law firms, and the division of roles between the two.
AMC: In what ways does Yoon & Yang attempt to provide an integrated service for clients and how do you link up with other law firms, both regionally and internationally? How well do you think the firm succeeds and what are the challenges peculiar to the region?
SSL: Yoon & Yang has an office in Tashkent, Uzbekistan and recently opened another office in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, in November 2016. Yoon & Yang’s Vietnam office will act as a bridge for advancement into the South-East Asian legal market and our Vietnam office will maintain a close network with not only the local law firms, but also the local accounting firms, consulting firms, investment banks and more to provide strategic solutions to companies.
With the vision of providing integrated and comprehensive one-stop legal services to clients, Yoon & Yang has been continuously investing time and resources. We have specialised teams of renowned experts, including our healthcare, TMT [technology, media and telecoms), international trade, legislative consulting, energy and natural resources, and aerospace and defence teams, to provide our clients with comprehensive top quality legal services.
AMC: How should a new major client engage with Yoon & Yang to ensure the best results? Is the firm offering any special arrangements beyond the usual?
SSL: As mentioned above, Yoon & Yang not only provides service to clients in litigation, criminal law, anti-trust, tax and counselling matters, but we also provide comprehensive services and strategic solutions for all legal issues businesses regularly face. Furthermore, we at Yoon & Yang strive to maintain “client-first, client-centric” thinking in rendering our professional services. Overall, I believe Yoon & Yang’s strength is in the democratic and ethical mindset of our employees as well as our principal goal to provide the highest quality legal services to clients.
AMC: On training, what qualities do you think make a good Yoon & Yang lawyer and how does the firm attempt to mould such a person? How does the Hwawoo Education & Training initiative launched by Yoon & Yang fit into the vision of the firm generally?
SSL: We at Yoon & Yang have always recognised the importance of education for lawyers. Therefore, we established the Hwawoo Education & Training Centre eight years ago to provide education to people in the legal profession. The Hwawoo Education & Training initiative provides seminars and education to not only Yoon & Yang lawyers, but also to other legal professionals. One representative example of the education we provide through the Hwawoo Education & Training Centre is the seminars for newly-hired in-house lawyers that commence every May. As a part of this education process, the Hwawoo Education & Training Centre continuously publishes a series of practice guides for all practice areas. Furthermore, it is my fervent belief that knowledge must be shared. By improving people’s knowledge of the law through the Hwawoo Education & Training initiative, we at Yoon & Yang endeavour to contribute to the development of Korea’s legal culture.
Furthermore, the firm also provides senior associates, who have built up experience working at our firm and are soon to be promoted to partners, an opportunity to study abroad. While many associates opted to study in the US in the past, many associates now choose to study in different countries. Moreover, we broaden our associates’ opportunities to allow them to work at overseas law firms before or after their studies as well.
AMC: As well as being a leading authority on South Korean tax, you also advise on succession planning. By that token, where do you hope the firm will be in five years and what do you think are the strengths of the firm’s culture that will take it to the next generation of partners and beyond?
SSL: We at Yoon & Yang stress the importance of “competence” and “consideration of others” in not only our firm’s rising lawyers, but also in each and every member of our firm. We believe the foregoing virtues are essential components in the development of not just the individual lawyer, but the firm and even our society at large.
I believe Yoon & Yang’s strength lies in the fact that Yoon & Yang’s members, especially junior partners, are high-character employees. In this connection, it is my desire that the name Yoon & Yang becomes synonymous with such high-character qualities that are undoubtedly prevalent in our firm’s members.
AMC: What are your interests outside of the firm? How do you control your time so that you can pursue them?
SSL: I enjoy hiking in the mountains, playing golf, reading, listening to music and playing the occasional game of baduk [ie, Go] online. I am also very interested in volunteer work so I try to participate in the volunteer programs provided by the local religious organisations whenever time permits.
Seung Soon Lim is the representative managing partner at Yoon & Yang. Lim is recognised as one of the most prominent tax lawyers in Korea and has led the firm’s tax practice group for more than 10 years. Significant tax cases he has handled include LS-Nikko Copper’s tax evasion case, which was named “South Korea Case of the Year” by International Tax Review in 2010. Before entering private practice in 2000, he handled numerous tax cases during his service as a judge at the Seoul High Court and as a research judge at the Supreme Court of Korea. He also served as a professor at the Judicial Research & Training Institute.
Lim has been recognised as a Who’s Who Legal Expert in tax advisory area for three consecutive years (2013, 2014 and 2015). He was also named “Leading Lawyer” (Chambers & Partners, Asialaw Leading Lawyers), “Best Lawyer” (The Chosunilbo) and “Best of Best Lawyer” (The Korea Economic Daily) in the area of tax law.
He is an author of a textbook, Tax Law, that has been in print for 18 years and which has been most frequently referenced among tax experts. He held positions such as legal adviser for the Seoul Regional National Tax Service, commissioner of the Tax Systems Committee for the Korean Bar Association, counsellor for the Jungbu Regional Tax Office, and commissioner of the National Tax Regulation Examination Committee for the Ministry of Strategy and Finance.