Two more major L.A. firms launched offices this month in South Korea, which has opened its borders to U.S. firms after the recent passage of a free-trade agreement.

Downtown L.A. heavyweight O’Melveny & Myers LLP opened its Seoul office Nov. 12 after receiving final approval from the South Korean government.

Joseph Kim, head of O’Melveny’s Korea practice, said the new outpost would help the firm service existing clients there.

“This was a natural outgrowth of the work we are already doing for Korean companies,” Kim said. “For years, O’Melveny has been actively representing Korean clients in a variety of areas, including antitrust, patent litigation, other litigation and transactional work, and has achieved many recent high-profile victories on behalf of Samsung, Asiana Airlines and SK Hynix, to name a few.”

Kim is based in Los Angeles, but will also spend time in the Seoul office. Working there will be Jinwon Park and Sungyong Kang, South Korean attorneys who were recruited by O’Melveny.

The move follows a Seoul opening by another downtown firm, Paul Hastings LLP, earlier this month. The seven-attorney office will focus on cross-border mergers and acquisitions; joint ventures; and litigation, including intellectual property and antitrust matters.

“We will be closer to both decision-makers and clients, in particular on cross-border litigation matters where decision-making is handled in the Seoul headquarters,” said office Chair Jong Han Kim. He added the firm hopes to grow the office to 15 to 20 attorneys.

O’Melveny and Paul Hastings are the second and third L.A. firms to open offices in South Korea. In August, another downtown firm, Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP, became the first.

IP Recruitment

Sheppard Mullin isn’t just expanding overseas. The addition of intellectual property litigator Scott R. Miller as a partner in its downtown office last month marks the latest in the firm’s efforts to grow in that practice area. In the last two years, the number of IP attorneys at the firm has gone from about 45 to roughly 85.

Miller, formerly the partner in charge of Wilmington, Del.-based Connolly Bove Lodge & Hutz LLP’s downtown L.A. office, handles patent and trademark litigation for consumer products and telecommunications companies. The 54-year-old said Sheppard Mullin’s growth efforts made it attractive.

“It shows the firm’s dedication in building a world-class group in this area to match the other practices of the firm,” he said.

He follows another IP litigator, Bruce Chapman, who jumped from Connolly Bove to Sheppard Mullin’s downtown office in September. Earlier this year, Sheppard Mullin also poached trademark litigator Jill Pietrini, who was the firmwide head of the intellectual property practice at West L.A.’s Manatt Phelps & Phillips LLP.

Nick Setty, co-chair of Sheppard Mullin’s IP practice, said that the firm’s leaders hope the practice grows to about 120 attorneys in the next year or two, accounting for 20 percent of the firm’s total attorneys.

“IP is an area that continues to be a busy and a high-end practice with all the high-profile criteria that goes with that, whether you look at how profitable or important to our clients it is,” he said.

He also said that the efforts dovetailed with the firm’s expansion in Seoul, where it has done intellectual property work for Korean banks and Samsung Group.

New Boutique

Two former senior associates in the L.A. office of Miami’s Greenberg Traurig LLP are rolling the dice on their own boutique.

Thomas H. Godwin, 36, and Robert Tauler, 34, launched commercial litigation firm Godwin Tauler LLP last month in West Los Angeles with an assistant and a junior attorney.

The two said they were looking for more control after years in the big-firm model.

“As people who aren’t 65 years old in situations that generally channel business to people who are much more senior, we felt the opportunities were limited in terms of the flexibility to grow,” Godwin said. “There was a chance we would fall flat on our face, but we were willing to take that risk.”

Initial costs, which they said hit six figures, included a server, office equipment, rent and hiring an accounting firm.

As with many lawyers who have broken away to start boutiques, they touted the ability to offer clients lower and more flexible rates.

“I saw changes in the market, and starting a practice from scratch was a lot more in line with my goals as an attorney … and it allowed us the ability to make a greater impact on the marketplace,” Tauler said.

The two said they have kept good relations with their old firm, which has referred them business. So far, matters they’ve handled include defending a financial institution in a dispute over a $90 million film slate financing deal and a real estate investment dispute.

Staff reporter Alfred Lee can be reached at alee@labusinessjournal.com or (323) 549-5225, ext. 221.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.