Entry into the Korean legal services market on equal terms will be ‘quite challenging’ for foreign firms despite the country’s commitment to liberalise the sector, the UK ambassador to the Republic of Korea said last week.

Charles Hay told the Gazette that a proposed law by Seoul to allow joint ventures was ‘at the restrictive end’ of measures required by the 2011 free trade agreement with the EU. Under the agreement, legislation allowing joint ventures must be in place by July 2016.

Hay said that, while a draft bill may fall within the strict terms of the free trade agreement, it proposes that joint ventures between firms will have to be Korean-majority owned. It also places restrictions on fields where foreign lawyers may practise.

‘That will make it quite challenging for English law firms to get involved in joint ventures,’ he said. ‘We’re working to convince the Korean Ministry of Justice that it is a benefit for Korean law firms to be more open. I’m sure they will be able to compete perfectly well.’

Hay was speaking after a Chancery Lane briefing on doing legal business in South Korea attended by London-based firms. The Law Society says that Korea’s domestic legal market is worth £1.6bn a year.