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CITY firm Lovell White Durrant has opened its new Vietnam office after the country's authorities granted a license earlier this month.
The office, to be based in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), signals a departure from the normal route taken by UK firms moving into Vietnam. The majority of firms have chosen to base themselves in the governmental centre of Hanoi.
Lovells Hong Kong partner, Stephen Hayward, will head the office, splitting his time between the two countries, while UK-trained solicitor Jennifer Lay, recruited in Vietnam, will staff the office on a full-time basis.
The firm has also signed an agreement with Vietlaw Limited, the first private law firm to be established in the country since 1975, to provide two lawyers on full-time secondment.
The new office will provide a full corporate service, including guidance on the establishment and operation of joint ventures, and work on construction and project finance. Lawyers will also work in areas including banking, energy and insurance.
Corporate partner Gavin McQuater, who recently returned from Hong Kong, is expected to handle the firm's Vietnamese interests in London.
McQuater says the firm chose Ho Chi Minh for its office because "we believe that it is the real commercial hub that will develop in the country".
"Hanoi is the government centre, but we believe that if we're based in Ho Chi Minh City, we will be in place to tap the commercial developments within the country," says McQuater.
"We will still be within close distance of Hanoi and the governmental work if we need to get there."
McQuater says the firm is keen to expand its team within Vietnam, although specialists will be flown in to deal with particular aspects of the legal work.
"At the moment we are doing everything to get well established with a good core team. We hope to build in accordance with the work," he says.