Lawyers fear proposed Thai law could restrict foreign practices

Foreign lawyers in Bangkok have expressed concern at a new draft consultancy paper which, if enacted in legislation, could see foreign practices restricted.

The draft was prepared by local lawyer Khun Chavalit, a partner in International Legal Consultants Thailand (ILTC), on behalf of local lawyers.

Chavalit was unavailable for comment as The Lawyer went to press, but it is understood the draft recommends barring foreign law consultants from being able to advise on Thai law and requires firms to be wholly owned by Thai lawyers.

The proposed law is still in its early stages, and international firms with offices in the country would make no official comment on its potential impact.

But privately some lawyers are expressing alarm about the move. One said that if it was enacted, the law would mean that “strictly speaking, if you had a Thai law contract, then you'd have to have a Thai law firm involved”.

Another foreign lawyer said of the proposals: “In a way, the Thai legal fraternity would prefer we weren't there.” He added that no one knew how far the proposals had got or what impetus was behind them, and that the local firms were adopting a “wait-and-see” approach.

“Lots of proposals are put forward but many never see the light of day,” he said.

However, firms fear that if there is a recession or a “serious downturn in the legal market”, such proposals may be activated, he added.

Foreign lawyers currently enter the country as consultants and law firms are registered as Thai companies.

There are tough visa requirements for those wishing to practice as consultants. In addition, 51 per cent of a Thai foreign office must be owned by Thai lawyers and the offices are regulated by the Foreign Investment Ministry, not the Ministry of Justice.

Foreign firms in Thailand include Baker & McKenzie, Clifford Chance, Freshfields and Johnson Stokes & Master.