Expert Insights: Tim & Yaera from Dr&Aju on Entering South Korea from a Legal Perspective

We are back again with this week’s Expert Insights article. Today we are sitting down with Timothy Dickens and Yaera Jeon from Dr&Aju. In this article, we dive into some of the insights and advice from these lawyers around setting up a business in South Korea and some of the key areas to consider when entering the market and as a foreign company.

Thank you so much for your time both during the Rainmaking Expand: South Korea program and for this interview series. To start off with, would you both be able to introduce yourself for our online audience.

Tim: I am Tim Dickens and work in the international transactions team at DR&AJU LLC. Although my main areas of specialty are disputes, commercial transactions and African related projects, one area that I focus on is data protection and technology related issues. This particular area of practice grew organically as many of our foreign clients had requests and required advice in regards to data protection compliance in South Korea and as such our tech and data protection team grew to accommodate these needs. It also helps that I have an interest in technology related companies as there is such a diverse offering of services and business models and the sector is constantly changing. Being involved in this area gives me the opportunity to meet some amazing people with even more amazing ideas and businesses models. It really is a time in our history which includes massive jumps in technology and our world is changing under our feet even as we speak!

Yaera: I am Yaera Jeon, currently working in the international transaction team at DR&AJU LLC. I am a dual-qualified attorney, admitted to the South Korean bar and New York bar. I have comprehensive experience in general corporate law with various litigation and transaction practices. After graduating from law school, I gained experience as a litigation attorney representing clients in various transactional disputes, including hostile M&As, and advised them on corporate governance strategies. And after my LLM from the US, I joined this team and expanded the client base to assist international clients. I have been working with foreign clients related to inbound and outbound cross-border commercial and corporate transactions. Throughout my career, I enjoyed liaising with different people speaking different languages. At the beginning of my career, I helped business people understand legal professionals’ language and vice versa as I had to persuade the judges at the court about the specifics of the business world. And now, with the clients facing international issues, I could also learn a lot from a variety of people with diverse interests and perspectives. It is challenging indeed, but, at the same time, sure is exciting and rewarding to tailor the professional services in different shapes and sizes according to the clients’ needs as there are no same matters and clients.

Thank you, that is really amazing to hear so much about your backgrounds and some of the nuances to what you do. During your workshop in the program, you walked us through some of the detailed steps that companies should be aware of in the South Korean market. From your experiences, what are some of the mistakes you’ve seen and how can companies avoid it?

Yaera: It can be different by sector, business, and each company’s case. But if I have to pick one, I would say that the Korean legal system or regulations can be more stringent and change slower than you might expect. Korean society changes at a swift pace, and people are generally very sensitive to trends. And I believe that is one of the reasons that startups are keen to enter the South Korean market. However, in most cases, the Korean legal system is based on the ‘positive regulation’ where the regulation specifies what is permitted by laws and disallows everything else. Therefore, please thoroughly check the laws and regulations relevant to your industry and business.

Tim: I agree, I really think this is a case-by-case matter. Every sector, industry and area of business each has their own unique elements which ranges from licensing requirements, competition, market saturation, target market and incentives etc. I would say that generally, it would be advised that if deciding to enter the Korean market, that the basic groundwork and diligence is done. This requires research, local partners, understanding the relevant regulations and possible future regulations, understanding the business culture and finding the right people to help guide and nurture their company. I would thus say that sometimes startups are too eager to launch without first making sure that they fully understand the risks and opportunities from a holistic viewpoint. Hopefully, this is where our team can assist across all areas to guide, assist and risk manage clients looking to enter the Korean market. (Learn more about identifying Product Market Fit in our interview with Devin Graber)

That’s really insightful, and I completely agree. There is a lot of nuances when it comes to entering a new market. For those reading here, what advice would you share with companies who are looking to enter and set up a company within South Korea?

Tim: Listen and Learn – Doing business in a foreign country is always going be complex in some aspects. Although the language and business practices may be different and foreign to some degree, it is essential to listen and learn from all people and sectors as information and knowledge are critical to ensuring good decisions and directions.

Local partners – I think it will always be essential to try to get local partners onboard. Having people who have a deep understanding and knowledge of the market is critical to assist in the decision making process of the company and to ensure that the best possible information and knowledge is available.

Patience – Lastly, I think it is essential to remain true to your direction and goal by remaining patient and being consistent. Patience is key to success. In the current world we all want fast solutions and results. However, if we are truly interested in succeeding, we need to have patience and build relationships, projects, trust and business over time through consistency, tenacity, loyalty and responsibility. Nothing good in life comes without hard work and dedication. The key thus is to be patient and to be consistent.

Yaera: Professional Firm – If you can find an excellent professional firm (law firm or accounting firm), that is great. But if it is not a financially viable option or if you could not find a good one yet, I recommend getting information and help from KOTRA (Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency) for a starter. It is a state-funded organization operated by the Korean government and can help you figure out where to start.

Meet people – South Korea is a small society, so I often say that everyone knows everybody in South Korea. As in any other place in the world, throughout your business in South Korea, it will be beneficial if you know the right person for the problem you might encounter. So please meet a lot of people and do not hesitate to ask any Korean you know for help. Korean people are generally very much willing to help others when asked and also have a lot of affection towards other people. We even have a particular word to call the general love that Korean people have towards others, called “Jeong.” So, meet a lot of people and build a relationship in South Korea. And do not hesitate to ask for help.

Patience – Please be patient and learn about South Korea from a long-term view. (Of course, I know this will be the same wherever you go!) South Korea is, for sure, a fast-paced, advanced country with dynamic vibes. Please note, however, that as South Korea has grown faster than any other country in the world, the culture you will encounter here will be a mixture of outcomes from various stages of societal development. So, it will take some time for you to understand its intricacies and multi-layer characteristics. But if you are patient enough and continue learning, I can assure you that South Korea will be one of the most exciting and attractive countries in the world!

Thank you so much Tim, Yeara, your insights have been amazing.

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Written by
Meghan Bridges
August 23, 2022
Marketing Director, Rainmaking Expand