Jingsh will be the first Chinese law firm in North Korea once three new overseas offices are completed in Pyongyang, Seoul and Tokyo, which are expected to open in the first half of 2024.
Instead of piling into the Southeast Asian market like other law firms and facing tougher competition, it is better to build an office in Pyongyang to get a head start in North Korea, said Matthew Jin, Jingsh Law Firm’s equity partner in the Beijing head office and leader of the preparation team for the new branches.
“North Korea is going to develop their economy probably after a slight de-escalation of the North and South Korean confrontation,” said Jin. He cited the example of a DPRK official from the ministry of foreign trade and economic co-operation, who had previously visited China in the hope of attracting investment through the local special economic zones, and for the development of infrastructure, real estate, tourism and other projects.
“They also need lawyers and teams like us to come in and help them improve the legal system and attract investment,” said Jin.
North Korea has conducted a series of missile test launches and nuclear tests, drawing UN sanctions in 2017. Singapore firm Kelvin Chia Partnership and Hay, Kalb & Associates (HK&A), the only two foreign law firms in North Korea, closed in 2018. HK&A is a joint operation between US lawyer Michael Hay and a North Korean lawyer.
“Timing is very important because Jingsh is [moving towards] internationalisation on a grand scale when the pandemic [has gone] and all of the foreign law firms have closed in North Korea,” said Jin. “Even if it’s risky, I’m willing to take it.”
The Pyongyang office will advise on matters including foreign direct investment, North Korea-related dispute resolution, intellectual property rights, home ownership risk assessment, and acting as a legal adviser to the government and foreign enterprises in the DPRK.
“The co-operation between the government and the co-operation between China and North Korea has been uninterrupted. Although North Korea is closed to [countries], the central enterprises developing energy and infrastructure have always been there and, of course, trade is more active,” said Jin.
Despite North Korea’s unstable relationship with the international community, the friendly relationship between China and North Korea lays the foundation for Jingsh’s vision of market opportunities, he said.
Jin, who graduated from Seoul National University, specialises in international trade, cross-border investment and civil and commercial dispute resolution matters, and his team is fluent in Japanese and Korean languages and cultures. He plans to have 10 to 20 lawyers in the Pyongyang office, but the actual situation is subject to consultation with the local government.
The Seoul, Tokyo and Pyongyang offices will be similar in size, with at least two partners. The three offices will co-operate with local law firms when they are officially operational.
Jingsh is one of the largest law firms in China with nearly 6,000 lawyers. This year, in addition to its Kazakhstan office, the firm announced the launch of 25 overseas branches around the world, including Portugal, Paris, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico and others.