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Oct 09

Retaining Foreign Legal Counsel In Thailand

As one of the largest cities on the planet and a central hub for trade in Southeast Asia, Bangkok is the spoke in the proverbial wheel for anyone seeking to do business in the Far East. When living, working, or investing in Thailand it may become necessary to retain legal advice. For Thai legal matters, it is always advisable to retain a Thai attorney. However, in transactions involving multiple jurisdictions, it may be necessary to hire an attorney licensed in a jurisdiction other than Thailand. A major obstacle often faced when searching for a foreign attorney: separating the, “wheat from the chaff,” because Thailand has no mechanism for registering and regulating foreign lawyers.

In Asian jurisdictions such as Singapore and Hong Kong (to name just two) the authorities have promulgated legislation for registering and monitoring the activities of practicing foreign lawyers. The upshot of this system is a foreign legal community that is transparent and above board. In Bangkok, the operations of non-Thai lawyers and “legal advisers,” are constricted and not specifically delineated. Thailand, as a member of the World Trade Organization, has signaled its intent to open its market to international trade and services. Nevertheless, the Kingdom of Thailand has not yet carried out many of her obligations required of members of the World Trade Organization specifically, and of particular import for the purposes of this piece, those requirements dealing with foreign lawyer registration.

Pursuant to relevant sections of the foreign business act which was promulgated in 1999, non-Thai nationals are restricted from the practice of law. However, a non-Thai could theoretically acquire a foreign business license granting the conferee the right to administer a “legal service business,” as specified in the third section of the appendix of the Thai foreign business act. Thailand legislation seems to have distinguished between the practice of law and the opaque term, “legal service business.” The difference in meaning of these terms would thus seem to turn on whether a firm or individual is engaged in litigation.

Due to Thailand’s inaction with regard to her WTO obligations, the question as to foreign lawyers practicing foreign law in Thailand is precarious. The consequence of this small legal eccentricity is that someone, be they Thai or foreign, seeking foreign legal counsel is put at risk of getting advice from one who has not be formally trained in law. By implementing regulations and creating a framework for foreign lawyer registration, other governments have sought to make certain that those practicing non-domestic law are qualified to practice law in some jurisdiction. By not having such legislation in place, laypeople could be easily duped by someone who has no business dispensing legal advice.

Please note: Nothing in this article should be utilized as a substitute for legal advice from a duly licensed attorney in your jurisdiction. The reader should not make the assumption that an Attorney-Client relationship has been established by reading this piece.

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