REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Even though Thailand was one of the jurisdictions hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, it still remains among the hottest destinations for Japanese law firms, as organic economic growth led by domestic demand and rising interest from multinational companies are expected for the long term. (日本語は英語の下にあります)

As per data from Thailand's Board of Investment, Japan is now the leading investor in the Southeast Asian country, making up 36 percent of the total in 2021. And with Thailand continuing its recovery from the pandemic, admittedly relatively slow, Japanese companies can expect to be further increasing their investment going forward. As a result, Japanese law firms have been following their clients into Thailand, but it’s no longer only about compatriots.

“Since the integration of CMHM, we have been active to meet needs from Japanese companies in Thailand. Now,  we see more activities involving local companies and multi-nationals,” says Yuto Matsumura, partner of Mori Hamada & Matsumoto (MHM). The firm   integrated its Thai operation with Chandler & Thong-ek Law Offices in 2017 and started business as Chandler MHM Limited and officially opened Ho Chi Minh office in 2018.

Another firm in Japan’s Big Four, Nishimura & Asahi, acquired Thailand’s SCL Group in 2019, while the other two firms maintain substantial offices there.

Thailand has been a major destination for the past few decades not only for Japanese corporations but also multinational companies wanting to expand businesses in ASEAN. And it has attracted international law firms because of the lower barriers to entry compared to many other Asian jurisdictions. As its economy grows over time, “its legal market has matured, which allows foreign law firms relative freedom in operations,” Matsumura observes.

“Given the situation, we chose to utilize the existence of an already-established local law firm rather than building an office from scratch. Chandler MHM had workforce of nearly 50 lawyers at the time of integration, and now its more than doubled to over 100. What we have in mind is to make use of the firm as a kind of platform that can deal with various kind of issues including outside purely legal matters.”

Maturity itself creates new legal demand, says Chisako Takaya, Co-managing partner of Chandler MHM and partner of MHM. “An increasing number of lawyers who provide high quality legal services encourage companies to seek help from law professionals.”

Also, the Thai government’s policy to keep up with evolving international standards in regulations have helped raise demand for legal services, she adds. “For example, the country introduced a privacy protection law in 2020. Such new laws have created new needs for lawyers’ services.”

“Among new trends that we are paying close attention is that the numbers of Thai-national young lawyers who studied latest regulations in counties like the U.S. and Europe are increasing. They are excellent, very talented people with great English ability and bright future, and we are keen to attract them to join us,” says Takaya.

MHM’s and Nishimura & Asahi’s clients tend to be big companies. But for new entrants, services to small- and medium-sized enterprises with reasonably priced, locally based services are one of that prospective ways to go, says Takahisa Nagata, co-representative director at law firm TNY Legal.

“Japanese companies will continue to expand into Thailand, mainly in the service industry, and the number of small and medium-sized enterprises will increase,” Nagata notes. The firm, which focuses on international business mainly in Southeast Asian countries, established an office in Bangkok in 2016; it currently has five attorneys licensed to practice law in Thailand.

“In addition to the general format of establishing new local entities, there will also be more expansion through acquisitions,” Nagata adds. “In fact, our office has recently seen a rapid increase in requests for legal due diligence in acquisition of local corporations in Thailand, especially small cases, and there is clearly more movement toward expansion and reorganization looking ahead post-COVID-19 pandemic.”

With competition intense at the upper end of the market, Nagata feels that the biggest potential for firms of TNY’s size lies in small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). “There is a great need for small Japanese law firms that can provide consultation and respond to requests at a reasonable cost. In addition, even large companies have many needs in the form of requests to small Japanese law firms depending on case and so forth.”

Nagata warns, though, that as it is generally not easy to establish a local base of operations, very few law firms will be able to successfully clear this hurdle and enter the playing field.





「タイでは統合以来、日本企業のニーズが大きかったですが、現在はそれだけではなくタイのローカル・クライアントやインターナショナル・クライアントのニーズも大きくなっていきます」と、森・濱田松本法律事務所(MHM)のパートナーである松村祐土弁護士は話す。MHMは2017年にタイの大手法律事務所であるチャンドラー・アンド・トンエック法律事務所とタイ事業を統合してしChandler MHM Limitedをスタートさせ、2018年にはベトナムの都市ホーチミンに現地オフィスを開設した。



「この状況を受けて、タイに既存の有力な法律事務所を取り込み優秀なチームを作るという選択をしました。Chandler MHMは統合の時に50名弱でしたが、今では100人を超えるチームに育っています。ここをプラットフォームに使って純粋にリーガルなだけでなく多様なサービスを提供していく考えです」

法務市場の成熟自体が新たな法的需要を生み出していると、Chandler MHMの共同経営パートナー兼MHMのパートナーである高谷知佐子弁護士は指摘する。「 ますます多くの弁護士がクオリティーの高いサービスを提供するようになってくると、専門家助言を求めるという需要が増えるのです」