Domestic lawyers taking over market

December 22, 2020 | 17:58
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Vietnam’s lawyer arena is seeing new changes in the order of players, with legal consulting demands projected to increase further on the back of growing global integration from various free trade agreements – but international practitioners still continue to struggle to get to grips with the legal culture.
1523 p18 domestic lawyers taking over market
Foreign lawyers are increasingly outplayed by domestic expertise, Photo:

Having been working for years as a lawyer and policy adviser in the country, Vaibhav Saxena from Vietnam International Law Firm has witnessed drastic changes in the legal market, seeing it become more mature, competitive, and attractive for domestic lawyers at the same time.

“I have experienced the complexities of the continued refinement of the Vietnamese legal system, which has made it more difficult for lawyers from overseas,” he told VIR. “Unlike 10 or 20 years ago when foreign lawyers had an upper hand with their law degrees and English skills, now we see the legal industry in Vietnam has become far more competitive with refined local lawyers who stand on par with international legal standards.”

Vietnam’s legal market has witnessed the participation of foreign law practitioners since doi moi was introduced in 1986. Since then, the legal community in Vietnam has been supporting the domestic and international industry and contributing to improving the business environment.

Economic development and growing global integration have led to strong rises in the number of newly-established enterprises and rising foreign investment, thus resulting in an increase in demands for legal consultation services. Businesses have also been aware of the important role of this kind of service to ease possible risks in the market due to confusion about on-site legal issues and changeable rules.

The legal system continues to develop quickly, and local courts are working on systematising the judiciary database in order to have a better blend in legal brainstorming with the backing of precedence judgments and citations of the case laws.

The demand for legal consultancy services ascended from 67.5 per cent among enterprises in 2010 to 85 per cent in 2015 and to 94 per cent in 2020, with the rate to continue rising in the coming months.

Together with improving the prestige and presence among domestic players, with a number of Vietnamese law firms capturing the domestic market, some new trends among them have also emerged. They tend to join foreign-run lawyers’ alliances, employing international lawyers and improving staff skills to increase competitiveness.

Elsewhere, some even have gone cross-border to set up a liaison office in neighbouring countries to boost dispute resolution practices and offer business opportunities to clients in different jurisdictions. This has been carried out through providing non-legal services and merging business consulting through which the law firms generate indirect business and stay alert to pitch in for any legal requirements in such business consulting transactions.

Pham Duy Khuong, managing director of ASL Law, said the times of Vietnamese law firms being sidekicks to more established international counterparts due to foreign language limitation, lack of standard legal drafting skills, and limited connectivity seems to be over.

According to Saxena, quality and skills of legal professionals always vary in all the countries and same applies to the case of Vietnam. Although, it is very challenging market for foreign lawyers now and require them to pace up with the legal framework and regulations of this country.

“Lawyers on a daily basis experience the complexities with continued refinement in Vietnam’s legal system, and increasing local lawyer expertise has further made it challenging for others to get a hold on Vietnamese laws and practice,” he elaborated.

Industry insiders said that although there are few foreign lawyers in this country who have gained recognition based on their professional capabilities and adapted to match the wavelength of the local Vietnamese mindset, usually international lawyers stay in Vietnam for one to two years and then move to other jurisdictions due to the highly complicated structure of Vietnamese regulations and practical implementation of the laws.

Evidently, a blend of local and foreign expertise can make the legal market more mature and law firms can see an opportunity to attain market leading status at a faster pace and with international standards of the legal services that can create a better mix to support the domestic and foreign businesses.

The insiders point out that the legal service market will continue to be more competitive, and legal consultancy demands will continue to ascend, driven by more inflows of foreign investment and establishment of new enterprises in the future who come to Vietnam to tap into open market entry from free trade agreements, especially the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

By Bich Thuy

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