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[Herald Interview] Scaling legal service with tech touch

Korea‘s full-service law firm Yulchon opens e-discovery center to address new client demand

Yulchon Managing Partner Yoon Hee-woong speaks in an interview with The Korea Herald at the firm’s headquarters in Seoul. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
Yulchon Managing Partner Yoon Hee-woong speaks in an interview with The Korea Herald at the firm’s headquarters in Seoul. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
More industries are being disrupted by technology, and more companies in South Korea are operating across multiple jurisdictions, often leading to complexities in international legal disputes.

This is reshaping the way Korean law firms deliver legal services to domestic clients, by exploring new industrial trends, organizing its lawyers and creating new legal services for clients in response to the trends, a top attorney of a Korean full-service law firm said.

“Corporate clients increasingly search for multidimensional legal advice,” Yulchon managing partner Yoon Hee-woong told The Korea Herald in a recent interview.

“This brings to light a need for interdisciplinary legal practice of a law firm by combining the traditional field of legal service with the technology credentials.”

In the latest move, Yulchon opened its e-discovery center on July 1, the third of its kind among Korean full-service law firms.

The center comprising 15 professionals is designed to assist a client’s legal representatives in the United States with the technological aspect of presenting evidence with regards to electronically stored information, or preparing a legal defense against the evidence, for the US pretrial procedure called discovery.

Oftentimes, the crucial piece of evidence in lawsuits lies in the way a document or information is electronically stored, or altered by force.

Such evidence can help the US courts identify whether a certain party was found to have misappropriated trade secrets before the trial begins. The electronic evidence can also tell whether multiple parties had colluded with each other to violate competition laws, or whether a party had deliberately withheld information to make misleading disclosures to a cross-border investor.

This raises a need for law firms to detect digitized evidence or track any attempt to destroy it using tools and manpower to handle legal affairs, which is becoming more intricate and sophisticated, Yoon said.

“We are seeing more e-discovery demand coming,” he said. “Korean law firms must understand international legal proceedings, especially e-discovery, to address clients.”

Yulchon, the fourth-largest full-service law firm in Korea by revenue in 2020, had hired foreign attorneys with experience handling e-discovery matters in US law firms such as Haynes and Boone, Dergosits & Noah and O’Melveny & Myers.

The key to action is how to organize the attorneys with hands-on experience and understanding in diverse fields, such as international arbitration and intellectual property, among others.

Yoon stressed that only a well-organized team can define the scope of the documents to analyze and review, cull documents under certain criteria for e-discovery procedures and have the right task assigned to the right case manager in charge.

This will optimize the e-discovery performance of all parties concerned -- attorneys, non-lawyer experts and vendors such as Fronteo Korea and Intellectual Data.

“Veteran attorneys will play a crucial role in identifying the right scope of data to collect, and in accommodating the collected data for the e-discovery process,” Yoon said.

“It is important to organize attorneys, non-lawyer experts, vendors and technicians and direct their activities to streamline the work process.”

The team is now led by Yulchon partner Baek Yun-jae, who also serves as an arbitrator for institutions such as the Korean Commercial Arbitration Board, the Asian International Arbitration Center and the International Chamber of Commerce.

The launch of an e-discovery team shows how the full-service law firm founded in 1997 is scaling its legal service with a touch of technology.

Yulchon has sought to add a tinge of technology to its legal practices with an artificial intelligence software development team called eYulchon. The team, advised by former investment banker Carl Im, has showcased automation apps to allow clients to detect noncompliance in advance, such as a failure to register in a timely manner.

Other AI-powered solutions can streamline attorneys’ manual tasks in transfer pricing, building information modeling and declaring the purchase of foreign currency, according to Yoon.

Yulchon also operates a team of over 10 professionals to help corporate clients at home and abroad deal with Korea’s financial technology rules.

Led by Yulchon partner Lee Jun-hee, the former vice president and deputy general counsel of Coupang, Yulchon‘s fintech team is tasked with addressing compliance issues for companies engaged with businesses ranging across payments, money transfers and peer-to-peer financing. The team is also keen on a building regulation to require foreign financial technology firms to register in Korea to run a business, as described in a pending bill for the revision of the Electronic Financial Transactions Act.

Later in July, Yulchon also launched a team to explore legal uncertainties surrounding digital assets and blockchain technology.

A team effort by professionals of different expertise is a prerequisite to the practice of law in the contemporary days.

“Most of the demand for legal services surrounding financial technology are associated with technology issues,” he said.

“Banking and financial services lawyers must collaborate with attorneys with expertise in the field of technology or intellectual property.”

Yoon has been serving as one of three managing partners of Yulchon since 2019. Prior to his leadership role, Yoon focused on his practice in the field of mergers, acquisitions and corporate finance.

By Son Ji-hyoung (
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