David Lyman is one of the senior partners with the law firm of Tilleke and Gibbins, the oldest (since 1893) and largest independent law firm in Thailand and which, commencing in 1989, opened offices in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Phnom Penh. Lyman lives the law, he eats it, it consumes him, he embodies it and at Tilleke and Gibbins he is the law. Scott Murray had an opportunity to sit down and talk with the noted solicitor.

You have written and delivered a lot of addresses on the environment - how do you see the state of general environmental awareness in Thailand today?

As you go through the environmental educational process you will realize that stage one of indoctrination is to make people aware of the problems and the needs.  Certainly people are a lot more aware today than they were just a few years ago.  So now they are saying "OK, You have my attention.  What am I supposed to do?"

There is a wealth of information out in the marketplace where people can find out what they should be thinking about to help the environment and concurrently maintain economic progress. An example is the Thailand Business Council for Sustainable Development (TBCSD) (I’m one of the founder board members) which is a group of the 60+ top companies in the country. Their CEOs or appointed senior people participate and their companies look to ISO 14000 for guidance. For the middle-of-the-road, or small-to-medium-size companies you have the Thailand Environment Institute (TEI), which acts as a secretariat for the TBCSD but exists separately on its own and is an activist organization.

You also have the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment as well as the Ministry of Industry and the people working in their various departments are very dedicated. There is more and more pressure on manufacturers to comply with ISO 9000 and ISO 14000 standards. There are courses on sustainability available in universities and the private sector. It may take a little effort on the part of the manufacturers to find out what's available but it's out there.

More and more importing countries are requiring compliance with the ISO standards from their suppliers overseas. European firms seem to be more environmentally concerned than the North Americans (remember Chernobyl). The Germans are by far the most environmentally conscious of the Europeans, and they have an enormous influence throughout Europe. Europe is more sensitive as its forests, if not yet decimated, have been heavily damaged by such things as acid rain, and its leaders, such as the former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, are right there on the front line fighting for environmental compliance.

In Thailand there is growing grass roots interest now particularly from upcountry people - villagers who want to save their forests, or villagers who do not want dams built that disrupt their livelihoods. They have taken to protesting against government sponsored projects which are viewed as disruptive, economic or ecological disasters or otherwise unproductive or which are just treasure troves for draining by corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and businesspersons.

Why did you become a lawyer?

As a youth I shunned the idea of becoming a lawyer. For 3 generations my heritage was the legal profession. My father was a lawyer; so was my mother, two uncles, an aunt, and my grandfather, and so on. But I did everything I could to avoid becoming a lawyer. Seeing the amount of time that my parents put into the law, and their devotion to the practice of it, I realized the law was an all consuming profession.

Instead I became a submarine officer in the US Navy, having graduated from university with an electrical engineering degree. I was brash and outspoken, which free thinking style was acceptable only as long as I was just a junior naval officer. But with those characteristics I knew I would evoke trouble for myself as a more senior officer where and when you have to toe the line much more. Back then in 1962 the Navy had a program whereby I could take an indefinite leave of absence for up to three years with no loss of seniority as long as I was enrolled in an educational institution. So I ventured out to test the world before deciding whether or not to make a career out of the U.S. Navy. My foray was to enter Hastings  College of the Law in San Francisco; after my first semester of this three year course I knew I had finally found my calling. It was the law after all. I have never regretted that decision.

Why do lawyers have such a bad reputation?

Unfortunately, as a profession lawyers do have a tarnished reputation, deserved by some individuals but certainly not by all. Very few people love lawyers (mothers and some spouses excluded!). When a doctor fixes your problem there is a tangible result as something in your body feels better. When a lawyer fixes your problem he or she usually saves you from future problems or he or she has gotten you out of a mess of some kind. Over the passage of time some clients tend to believe, "Look, I really didn't need a lawyer in the first place, why should I pay this guy? Why do I have to pay him money." There is a cultural aversion in Asia to paying for any services, much less legal services. But this long standing reluctance is relaxing as services of all kinds are beginning to dominate the world of business and development.

Why are foreigners not allowed to buy land in Thailand?

There is a great deal of national pride surfacing when it comes to foreigners buying land in Thailand. The Thai authorities are scared that many rich foreigners will rush in and buy up lots of land thereby depriving Thais, particularly rural people, of what is, in effect, their birthright.

What other issues are really important to you right now?

Several. I am on the World Economic Forum’s ad hoc committee dealing with crime and corruption. The World Economic Forum considered developing a set of standards for businesses that have to deal with bribery and extortion. The International Chamber of Commerce, headquartered in Paris, has already developed guidelines in the form of the ICC Rules of Conduct for Preventing Extortion and Bribery in International Business Transactions. I sit on the ICC Standing Committee on Extortion and Bribery. Transparency International, with its head office in Berlin, spends full time on corruption issues and curbing this blight on the social fabric of our society.

Who are some Thais that you admire?

Well, Surin Pitsuwan, the current foreign minister. Also, Dr Charoen Kanthawongs who has been deputy Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives; and Minister of Science, Technology and Environment, and is currently chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Relations Committee. He works with us as “ Of Counsel”. I also admire past Bangkok Governor Bichit Rattakul who is dedicated to environmental causes, and was elected on that platform. And, Anand Panyarachun, ex-Prime Minister, Meechai Viravaidya, and Khun Ying Kalaya Soponpanich, of course, among many others. These are all personal friends of mine.

You are an avid photographer. What places do you like to shoot and why, and how long can you go away for?

Remote areas such as Tibet, and parts of Western China, Nepal and New Zealand, Australia and Pakistan attract me because there are still great natural settings there. Bali is also a photographer's paradise as every place you look is a picture postcard. My trips last for about twelve days; any longer than that and I get nervous about the state of the law firm.

What about your hobbies, health and the things you still want to do?

I am interested in alternative medicine and developing a storehouse of knowledge about the mind, body, spirit, managing stress, coping with aging and developing the potential power of the mind. I've studied a bit about Reiki, which is a healing process for both self-healing and with others. It is a meditation process developed by a Japanese scholar using the chakras and old  Tibetan techniques. Tai Chi (Taiji)/Chi Qong (Chi Kung) are disciplines I’d like to study.

I realize that I won't be around forever. So I am working to prepare the law firm for its leadership position in the 21st century. After many years at its head, it is time for me to step aside so that the firm will be able to survive and thrive under new partners without me. Eventually I want to decrease the time I spend with the law but because it is so intellectually stimulating, and just plain fun, I could never retire from it altogether. By the end of 2001 I intend to become “Senior Partner At Large” leaving all management and operational responsibilities of the firm to my successors.

The nice thing about the law is, as my father taught me, that there is a place in it for every kind of character and personality. As long as you have your brain and mind intact, even though you may have lessened or lost your other faculties, you can still stay with the law.

There is no doubt about it - I am slowing down. I have the same desires and the same drive which have sustained me for years but I don't have the same physical capabilities anymore. I'm not exercising as much I should, though I am eating a much more sensible diet now. And I am in pretty good physical and mental shape, despite a chronic but non-debilitating condition or two.  

More scuba diving, and more underwater photography are in my future. The firm has a large mainland Southeast Asian textile collection and I have a great interest in oriental carpets and textiles, so I want to learn more about them. I also want to learn more about tropical forestry and wild animals as well. Because of such interest I have become the Secretary General of the Thailand Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

As I know that I operate at a level where I can make an impact in this country, one of the things I have helped to set up within our law firm is a reforestation program in conjunction with the Rajapruek Foundation, a Thai NGO. We hope to be able to plant in total at least 500,000 trees. The villagers in the areas we chose have to support the program, and take care of the new forests which will eventually earn money for them. Our first planting was in the buffer zone of the Huay Kha Kwang National Park in the West; our next was 100-200 rai near Loei in the North and now we have started a third reforestation project in Lopburi in the Central part of the country.

What makes Tilleke & Gibbins so successful?

To answer that question you should ask our clients. My hope is they will say that we sell good, reliable, honest and relatively prompt service at a reasonable price performed by some dedicated, knowledgeable and helpful people. A sizable share of good luck also helps.

Any parting comments...?

As for me, I've lead a full and exhilarating life; and I have been extremely fortunate and lucky. Sure, I’ve had my failures, mistakes, losses and wear more than a few battle scars. Now looking at the sunset, there are still many loose ends to tidy up before my next life begins. With regards to Thailand, well, one of this country's saving graces is that no matter how many things go wrong, Thailand always seems to land on its feet. Let’s hope that good fortune continues unabated.


The Tilleke & Gibbins’ Museum of Counterfeit Goods was established in 1989 at the firm's Bangkok, Thailand office. However, long before that time, the firm already had in hand the main prerequisites to start a museum, in the form of a large volume of counterfeit and pirated goods accumulated over the years from raids conducted on behalf of the firm's clients. The goods, which were used as evidence in court, were then stashed away in boxes, taking up valuable storage space while serving no purpose whatsoever. With the collection growing steadily, it became apparent that a way should be found which would take advantage of  having these counterfeit products and turn them from the liability they were posing to a useful purpose.

The idea of creating an in-house museum took root in the mid 1980s when Tilleke and Gibbins senior partner David Lyman visited the offices of Anthony R. Gurka, principal partner of the Hong Kong investigative firm then called Commercial Trademark Services (CTS). Through Mr. Gurka's efforts, beginning in the early `80s, CTS had successfully built up an internal collection of infringing goods. Upon seeing the CTS collection, it occurred to Mr. Lyman that the counterfeit goods held at Tilleke & Gibbins could very well prove useful as educational tools if properly displayed and accessible for public viewing. Thus inspired, Mr. Lyman worked with members of the firm's Intellectual Property Department - and the Tilleke & Gibbins Museum of Counterfeit Goods came into existence.

At the outset, the collection consisted of approximately 100 displayable items which were separated into four categories: clothing, leather goods, electronics and toiletries. However, with new items gathered on a continuing basis from raids overseen by the firm, plus samples of the genuine goods which the firm obtains, the collection has rapidly grown. At present, the museum shows between 500-600 pieces of infringing trademark and copyrighted goods, making it the largest one of its kind in Thailand, and one of the few in the world. The collection now covers more than ten categories of goods which, in addition to the four mentioned above, include footwear, perfumes, watches, household appliances and equipment, sound systems, automotive and machine parts, decorative ornaments, foods, pharmaceuticals, alcohol, chemical products and stationary.

The Museum of Counterfeit Goods has received both local and international interest, and major television broadcasting companies (CNN, BBC, CNBC, Australian, Danish, Japanese and Thai Television) have featured the museum in their documentaries concerning the counterfeit situation in Thailand. Many local and international newspapers and periodicals have also published articles on the Tilleke & Gibbins museum. The U.S. based Journal of Commerce, for example, featured the museum on its front page.

Intellectual property officers of the Pacific Rim countries have visited the museum as part of a          training course organized by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the Department of Technical and Economic Cooperation in Thailand. Not only is the museum attracting those involved in the intellectual property field, but it is also well frequented by Thai and foreign police, Interpol officers, judges, government officials, law students, clients, and other individuals from the private sector.


In 1989 old ethnic textiles were brought to the new Tilleke & Gibbins Building in Bangkok, Thailand for aesthetic purposes. Little then did the firm realize the significance of this move - creation of a new awareness of local handwoven textiles as an important art form. Soon after, the firm decided to seriously collect and conserve textiles with the objective of assembling a museum-quality collection.

The Tilleke & Gibbins mainland South-East Asian Textile Collection is composed of both typical and rare textiles principally of the Tai, an ethnolinguistic group found in regions of Thailand, southern China, and Myanmar. The collection also includes pieces made by Khmer, Burmese, and Mon ethnic groups, Vietnamese ethnic minorities, and hilltribes. Today, this growing collection consists of about one thousand pieces, which are displayed in the firm’s offices a few at a time on rotation.

While each and every piece in the collection has been selected for its high quality of design and execution of craft, there are a number of textiles of exceptional quality and some pieces that are unique examples of their kind. The pha biang (head cloths) of the Tai produced during the early twentieth century are especially noteworthy, including one extremely rare base indigo cloth. Several Cambodian sampot hol (ikat hip wrappers) and Cambodian pidan (ikat wall hangings) are examples of a very high quality weft ikat that is no longer produced.

Great care is taken in the handling and displaying of the textiles. To prevent deterioration of the textiles caused by the harmful effects of light, ultraviolet filters have been placed over the office light bulbs, and the pieces are on display for only limited time periods. Archival materials are used in storing the textiles.

You can contact David Lyman c/o:

Tilleke & Gibbins International Ltd.
64/1 Soi Tonson
Ploenchit Rd.
Bangkok, Thailand

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Tel: (662) 263-7700
Fax: ( 662)263-7710 thru 7713

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