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American law firm Coudert Brothers has received approval from the Vietnamese Government to open offices in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
Couderts joins UK firms Freshfields, Sinclair Roche & Temperley, Lovell White Durrant and Clifford Chance, and international practice Baker & McKenzie, which all operate Vietnamese practices.
The firm, which now has 10 offices in Asia, has had an unofficial presence in Vietnam since February, when the country lifted its US trade embargo.
One of its senior partners, Owen D Nee Jr, also advised the Vietnamese Government in the drafting of its 1987 foreign investment law.
Michael J Hagan, Couderts' resident partner in charge of the Vietnam offices, says the firm will initially operate with three lawyers - Hagan, Australian solicitor Michael Polkinghorne who has transferred from the firm's Paris office and David Weller from the firm's Shanghai office.
Hagan is involved in discussions with associates in the firm's New York and London offices and wants to recruit Vietnamese trainees.
"Our practice here is developing rapidly. If I try to forecast the next 12 months I could see five to six expatriate lawyers here and an equal number of Vietnamese legal trainees," he says.
He says the firm will mainly be focusing on foreign investment work, with the bulk of the work carried out by the two offices consisting of client referrals from the firm's other Asian practices.
He says Couderts chose offices in both cities because, while commercial activity is concentrated in the country's southern region, the governmental centre remains in the north.
"It was a toss of the coin where to establish, so we decided to go for both cities at the same time," says Hagan. "We started in Ho Chi Minh City and I think that that will flourish early. I think that once we gear up sufficiently in Hanoi, over the long term more than 50 per cent of our business will shift to the north."