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The prospect of international investors seeking corporate bargains in South East Asia, as the financial crisis eases, has prompted the merger of Clifford Chance's Thailand office and leading Thai firm Wirot International.
The new firm, Clifford Chance Wirot, will have 29 lawyers, including four from KPMG Peat Marwick, and comes after eight months of what Wirot partner Khun Wirot Poonsuwan calls "getting to know each other".
Wirot, a former banking partner at Baker & McKenzie, says the deal is a genuine merger, with no money changing hands. The firm will offer services in financial and commercial law and litigation.
American and European money is expected to flood into Asia, especially Thailand and Korea, over the next two years as the Asian crisis bottoms out. "We need an international name to tap the incoming investment," says Wirot. "We expect Thailand will have a boom this year or next year, so when Clifford Chance approached us back in March 1998 I was delighted."
Wirot says the merger also benefits Clifford Chance, since international firms in Thailand can struggle to get local lawyers and so find it hard to win the trust of local companies. He says: "The Thai legal market is quite unique in that Thai lawyers like big international names like Clifford Chance, but they are scared to work for them without knowing anyone within the firm."
Without Thai lawyers, "Clifford Chance could not expand", he says. "They had trouble handling big projects."
Clifford Chance spokes-man Tom Rose says the firm is joining forces with local law-yers to ensure its international clients are properly served.